I sunk a lot of time into this year’s NCAA college football game before posting a review. Well, I probably doubled that for Madden 2011. I’ll start by saying I really like college football and in general, football games, but I am a huge fan of the NFL. I have anywhere from 3-5 fantasy football leagues every year that I participate in. I can name the starting qb and hb and #1 wr for pretty much any team in the league. My first real exposure to football was the dual-discovery of Barry Sanders on Sundays and early Madden and Tecmo Super Bowl games. I spent way too much time using the Lions and/or Buffalo Bills during the Tecmo Super Bowl game for my NES. I would rack up some pretty incredible single season stats. I’m also someone who tends to pick up Madden every year, despite the cries of those who feel that Madden is nothing more than a yearly roster update that should be offered for $10 or $15 downloadable content instead of a full $60 game purchase. So, I will try to look at this game and review from a few different angles, making comparisons to last year’s iteration and this year’s college football at times. I also kept quite a few stats from the majority of my first season of Madden, including comments and notions I jotted down. Basically, I made it a lengthy homework assignment. The aspect of the game I get the most mileage out of is the Franchise mode, but I will touch on the others as well. Here goes:
Graphics – 8.0:
This is sort of a personal preference, but I actually liked the look of NCAA’s player models better. Somehow they looked grittier to me, a bit more real. The Madden models seem so bright in some of their uniforms that they almost look cartoon-like at times to me. That’s not to say that they are bad – just sort of a personal preference/observation. The animations get better all of the time it seems, and this year was no different. Many of the tackling animations looked really good, and there were some really good catch animations. All in all, it looks really good, though I don’t know that it is a huge improvement from last year’s version on this front – but it is better. I did see some weird stuff going no with hands from time to time – but that’s probably to be expected. Still, every now and then you see hands going through a player’s body, or a ball ‘sticking’ to a hand that has some transparent space between them, which makes the fingers look oddly unrealistic as well. Still, this is nitpicking an overall great engine.
Sound and Music – 8.0:
The commentary is good. For those who follow the series, you know it started with John Madden and some of his Bang! and Pow! Maddenisms many years ago, and then over the years they began to layer on actual commentary in response to the action on the field. There have been some ups and downs in this area (including taking the voices overs out completely during the first year’s release on the current gen systems) – but the addition of Gus Johnson was a solid one I think, and I’ve always liked Chris Collinsworth in real life as well, so hearing these two talking about the action on the field is actually quite nice.
However, it’s probably time to update the system in some fashion. Basically pre-recorded ‘clips’ get assigned to the action on the field, and it doesn’t feel as fresh or ‘real’ as it did years ago. They did the same thing for Joe Montana’s talking football many moons ago – a couple of system generations back. Obviously this is much better, but maybe they can find ways to break up the pieces just a bit more and put them together a bit more fluidly. Because right now you hear most of the commentary the game has to offer in a single game or two, and I find many of the same things get said about the same guys over and over again. This is probably more pronounced when you do a franchise of some sort than say, online play where you might change the team you are using frequently, because you are using the same players game in and game out.
The music soundtracks they use are just fine – generally consisting of rock music that is a bit older like Crazy Train, but as that is some of my favorite music I can’t say I mind, and many of the songs compliment the game’s hard-hitting action. They primarily play during menu screens or between kickoffs – you don’t really hear it during the game action.
Gameplay – 8.5:
Madden has traditionally been a pretty smooth game to play. You won’t see a ton of innovation here on this front overall. Menus are still easy to navigate, your players control well. The addition of locomotion – using both analog sticks to control your ball carrier’s body a bit more precisely – feels good however. I love running the football. I probably have about a 60 or 65% run rate for my offensive plays, so this was a welcome if somewhat subtle change for me. Raising the game level in difficulty does tend to strain reality a bit once in awhile (watching a middle linebacker pull off a 1-handed stretching interception of a bullet pass on Madden difficulty is one of those blood pressure raising events that Madden has always been able to annoy me with). The blocking has been greatly improved as well. As a fan of pounding the run game down my opponent’s throat – that’s a nice, subtle change as well. Better yet, they seem to have addressed one of my biggest grips from Madden games of years past and even this year’s college football. The pancake numbers seem much more in-line between played teams and simulated ones.
In years past (all but 1 or 2 in fact, once they added/tracked the pancake stat, which is when an offensive player lays out a defensive one with a block), the simulated teams would get tons of pancakes. League leaders would get upward of 150 on the season. Meanwhile played teams might get 1 or 2 a game. 3 if you were really ramming the ball at them 70 or 75 percent of the time. This really affected your player’s development since you could not build up good stats in this area. Now? I’m finding that my mediocre Lions line’s best pancaker is finishing out the season well out of first place, but by a margin that’s a bit more realistic. At the end of year 1, my leading blocker had 6 pancakes. Not a great total, but the Lions line is very ‘meh’. League leader? 23. So the discrepancy is not bad at all. Of course, it may be a moot point if you consider that stats really don’t factor into development now, but I’ll go into that in a bit.
There are a lot of customization here as well – sliders for various aspects of the game for both the player and the computer, difficulty settings, volume controls, etc.
One of the newest features being plugged by EA has been Game Flow. This was a feature I was very skeptical of when I first heard of it. Basically, it’s a dressed-up version of the long-standing “Ask Madden” feature where it tries to select the play from your playbook that best suits the situation. I don’t always find myself agreeing with those choices, but most of the time they’re fine. It also does seem to speed up the game a bit (roughly 10 minutes per game), and does lend more variety to your attacks on offense and defense. This is also a handy feature for newer players, or so I would imagine. It saves having the player fly around the playbook frantically looking for a play that might work while being pressed for time. There’s also a bit of audio commentary with play selection that breaks down what’s happening on the field. I don’t really gain anything from it, but my kids seem to so it serves a purpose depending on your level of skill.
Intangibles – 8.0:
I love Franchise Mode. I take my poor beleaguered Detroit Lions to the Super Bow that they will never likely reach in real life, and watch as their young, high draft picks from recent years turn into amazing NFL superstars. But I don’t feel like there was much change to the franchise mode this season. If anything, some stuff got stripped out. They used to approach player progression in different ways years past. You could do drills before the season or during the week (depending on how far back in the annals of Madden you want to go) to give you some customized development of your young talents. In other years they offered improvement around every 4 weeks or so, based on your statistics. In other years they only did it once, at the end of the year, based on your season stats (in what other world could Joey Harrington become a 99 overall QB? In the one I play football in!). This year sort of strips all of that out though. I much, MUCH preferred the beginning of the year training camp drills with bigger boosts than the much smaller, incremental boosts that came with weekly training. Now? You get neither. Also, the only progression takes place at the end of the year, and from what I’ve seen, it has a lot more to do with their ‘potential’ rating than any impressive (or pathetic) numbers they hung up over the course of the season. I really preferred the every four weeks route myself with a smaller gain at the end of the season, but to have my stats mean little to nothing? It feels cheap, and there’s a lot of people online who insist that stats don’t factor at all – that it’s strictly potential-based, which would be a mistake.
Online Team play is something I don’t do much of, but it’s done pretty well this year. It’s the kind of feature I’d have used more probably in years past when my friends kept up on the current versions of Madden, but they tend to fall into the ‘it should be a yearly $15 roster update’ category. There’s mixed feelings about the ‘boosts’ you can get. For example if you play WR and play it really well, you will gain statistical ‘boosts’ when you play that position in future Online Team games.
Next up is the Superstar mode. This is probably my 2nd favorite mode. So that it, like Franchise Mode, doesn’t feel any different – that’s a pretty big disappointment to me, honestly. I like that you can import your Road to Glory player from NCAA 11 into the Superstar mode, but that’s not a new feature and I’d like to see it get a bit more attention sooner than later.
There’s a new Ultimate Team Mode – think of it as getting virtual football cards to help design a team to play against other teams. It’s a cool concept, but it doesn’t feel like it was fully fleshed out. It also feels like a bit of a money grab from EA in that you can spend actual money to buy more virtual cards. It, like many of the boosts you can buy for your teams (seriously – improved development, keep a player from retiring, etc?) – these are paid for features you can apply to your franchise modes – both offline and it looks like online. I have to speculate on this feature because there’s no way I’m paying more money just to improve my players, but there’s going to be people out there who do, and that’s doubly annoying in my mind, since your opponent may be getting better due to a credit card payment, not actual skill. I have a small complaint about the way Madden and EA in general have been handling these extra money grabs in general – I am a huge opponent to the idea of online passes where you have to buy the game new, or if you want online access you have to go online and pay for a code that grants it to you. I buy almost all of my games used. Madden is one of the few I actually do buy new, but on principle it gets me riled up as they apply it to more games like Mass Effect 2 and the Cerberus network. Anyway, end of rant, but that mode led up to it perfectly.
There’s a lot to do and there’s a lot of ways to do it. That generally makes Madden a pretty good value. Here’s the question when considering intangibles – do you have last year’s game? If so, then it may not be worth it to you to pick up this year’s game. Most of the new changes are well implemented, but if like me you spend most of your time in a relatively untouched Franchise mode, you’re essentially getting a few general engine changes and a roster update. If you’re someone who likes to play online, then there’s a lot more mileage to get out of the game. If it’s been a couple of years and you have an NFL itch this year? Then you’re looking at a quality game that should keep you entertained for quite some time.
Overall – 8:
Overall, it’s a good game. Is it perfect? No. Is it a huge change and improvement over last year’s game? Not really. I took a lot of note on stats, things that happened, how long games took, etc – to give you an idea of some of the settings as well. I’ll put those down here in the Overall section, in case they’re of interest to you at a glance.
Game #2 of the season (pro difficulty):
Stafford had 17 completions for 357 yards and 5 tds. I had 96 yards running with no TD’s on my primary halfback. Both my TE and #1 WR had over 100 yards and 1 td’s. I won 62-3 and the game took 40 minutes to get through while skipping most of the replays while using Game Flow to make my play selections
Game #4 of the season (pro difficulty):
Stafford ha 8 completions for 239 yards, 5 tds, and my rb had 205 yards, 2 tds. The score was 70-31 and I called my own plays throughout instead of using Game Flow. It took 48 minutes to finish. There were 2 very cool animations in this game:
#1 – A TE tried to make a leaping sideline catch, bouncing up and down on one leg like a human pogo stick as he tried to stay inbounds to make the highlight catch, but was unable to get the 2nd foot down inbounds.
#2 – I threw a bomb to the endzone with a DB and WR jumping up for the ball and colliding in the air, hitting the nearby ref and forcing him to the ground to crawl away as they landed beside him. Cool stuff.
Next game was with all default settings – speed, using Game Flow throughout, watching the replays and Pro difficulty. The results:
I won 52-10. Stafford threw for 11 completions and 171 yards with 3 tds, though no receivers broke 60 yards receiving. My running back, Best, went off for 252 yards on 24 carries and 2 tds. The game took 51 minutes to complete. Some more observations I made while taking notes after the game:
I experienced an audio oddity – after a fumble recovery for a td by my defensive end, Collinsworth went straight from talking about how hard it is to scoop up one of those footballs and run with it, into talking about what a perfect route he ran for a touchdown catch.
There was a cool animation showing a WR getting hit after getting both hands on the ball, and then a 2nd defender came in to knock it out of his hands for the incomplete
Game Flow failed to recognize that the opposing team was doing an onside kick, lining me up for a traditional return, so I had to call a time out and manually call this one play.
Cool yet annoying animation when fielding a deep kickoff in my own endzone – but a would-be blocker motions for my returner to stay in the endzone and down the ball. It was neat-looking, but on the next play I came out anyway and this blocker was now way out of position.
Neat cut scene – it was Rams at Detroit, and there was a fan wearing a Rams’ player’s jersey (Jackson’s) – with 7 seconds left in the 4th during a dead ball. It showed the player wearing the losing team’s jersey shuffling toward the exit , visibly disheartened.
As I increased the difficulty, the scores certainly got closer. In Madden difficulty I had a few games decided by less than a touchdown, so that felt considerably more authentic than the default difficulties, which makes perfect sense really.