EA has an interesting and unique challenge in front of them each year. They’ve got to put out a Madden game that does not deviate from the proven method of success, but that also contains enough improvements and new features to keep gamers happy and willing to shell out new money. Inevitably, there will always be criticism centered on complacency, lack of innovation, and the concept of “cashing-in” on another roster update. However, EA continues to do an excellent job of pacing its updates, year after year, and keeping us happy.
In Madden 12, EA has focused on making a big leap forward in gameplay performance, visual appeal, and realism. The result is that some gamers will be dissatisfied with the lack of new gameplay modes, a laundry list of new “features,” or additional game modes. The more important result, however, is a game that feels as good on the field as any iteration to-date.
When you launch into a game, you’ll be impressed by the animations that appeal to the hardcore football fan in you. Each team’s introduction, entrance, stadium, cheerleaders, mascots, etc. are represented to a tee, and it’s a blast to see. It may not sound like it would be a vital aspect to the game, but it adds so much to the overall atmosphere that once you’ve experienced it, the game would feel empty without it. When this presentation is coupled with EA’s partnership with CBS and ESPN to portray an official broadcast presentation, the experience gets real. Cameras fly around the field, we hear orders being barked, and we’re shown close-up shots of sideline discussions – all of the aspects of a television broadcast.
Normally I get into visuals near the end of my reviews, but the presentation here is the perfect lead-in. None of the aforementioned presentation features would come across effectively if the game looked like (insert favorite expletive). Fortunately, this is not the case. The expected improvements are all here: player models are marginally more lifelike and shaded, environments are more true-to-life in terms of spectators, sidelines, referees, weather effects, shadows, and even grass.
But the biggest visual achievement this year, in my humble opinion, is how players’ jerseys, helmets, and overall appearance will change over the course of a game, depending on performance and even weather conditions. On a sunny day, with the offensive line doing its job and Tom Brady staying on his feet, his uniform and helmet will not be any worse for the wear. If it’s muddy and raining, however, and the defensive line is getting sacks and knockdowns, then Brady’s jersey will be brown by the third quarter, and his helmet will show the scuffs and stains. The effect is magnified for the guys in the trenches as well. Again, you might only consciously realize a visual feature like this every now and then, but make no mistake – it is adding to the experience.
Though the presentation and visuals certainly steal the show here, the development team has managed to improve certain features to keep the gameplay fresh. “Gameflow” was the most touted addition to Madden 11 last year, but was underwhelming. This year, its implementation is more effective due to a much more accessible interface and quicker selections. You’ll be able to pre-customize your offensive and defensive playbooks, and then access those same plays and tweaks at the line of scrimmage depending on what you see without having to sort through hundreds of formations, lineups, and plays to find what you want. It works well on both sides of the ball, and gamers have more control than ever before.
The collision system has also been ramped up in realism to represent the variety of hits in the NFL today. This year’s game is the first time I’ve truly felt (most of the time) that I have complete control of the runner or defender all the way up to the time the players are going to the ground. Bigger players will be able to win the pushing match against lighter players. Short defenders will be better off tackling low on a taller wide-out. This freedom also translates into the running game as well, as you’ll no longer be stuck in canned animations for seconds at a time. As you’re pulling off a juke move, you can instantly decide to attempt a stiff-arm on a defender, or go into a spin-move. This freedom adds to the notion that you truly are controlling the action, as opposed to simply initiating animations that will take over.
One of the biggest criticisms that will be fired at Madden 12 is that there are no new game modes. When I really thought about it, this really is not that big of a deal – although it is exciting to try out the new offering each year, and the omission of anything distinctly new is noticeable at first. As stated above, this is a result of the focus on gameplay and presentation that the developer chose. What is here is similar to last year’s game: Franchise, Ultimate Team, Online, and Superstar.
The Franchise mode has seen the biggest bump in performance since last year. Pre-season is much more in-depth, team activities are more engaging, individual performances are scrutinized and weighed more heavily, and management options are more thorough and important than ever. You’ll spend hours fiddling with your roster, adjusting your depth chart, managing your coaching staff, boosting morale, and trying to keep egos in check before you even play the week’s game – and unlike past years, it doesn’t even feel totally like a chore.
The online mode is, more or less, the same as last year’s version, with the one main addition being the ability to create groups in which you can build a posse of gamers with whom you enjoy playing, with customized game types, settings, and teams. It’s not extremely involved yet, but definitely is a good start for the community feel EA is going for here. Online Franchises are also largely unchanged. The biggest improvement has come in the form of the upgraded management website which allows you to hop on your computer, view stats, and talk trash with your friends.
Superstar mode is the runt of Madden 12. It’s not a terrible experience, but if you are a fan of the individual-focused career modes that are being packaged into sports games these days, you’ll be slightly disappointed by the offering here. Clearly, EA has decided to weigh its efforts heavily on the Franchise mode, which for most Madden fans is sure to be a good thing. In Superstar mode, there simply are not that many options and features to hold one’s attention for too long. The mode feels a bit like a rushed, shallow role-playing game. Perhaps there is an overhaul coming next year.
Madden 12 does a lot of things very well. I can say without hesitation that the new and improved presentation, animations, movements, and overall NFL atmosphere of the game are enough to warrant the new purchase. Superstar mode was a bit of a disappointment for me, but I cannot justify too much of a hit due to this, as Franchise mode is the cream of the crop for Madden fans – and Franchise mode really does shine. If you are a Madden fan and/or football fan, don’t hesitate to pick this one up.