For a lengthy period of time, many fans thought that the National Football League would never see an opening kick-off to its 2011-2012 regular season. At that time, it looked like the only way for fans to enjoy professional football from their favourite league, would be to purchase a copy of Madden NFL 12 – the latest in the incredibly popular pigskin gaming franchise.
However, that isn’t the case anymore. Due to some collective bargaining wizardry, with some thanks owed to a bit of helpful court assistance, the show will go on. Once again, its virtual companion will be just that, and not a substitute. Though, it has to be said that it’s one heck of a companion.
Releasing early next week for just about every device one could hope to play it on, Madden NFL 12 is not just a slightly revamped game set for its yearly update. There are a lot of new updates, changes and additions, which make this a pigskin classic that sets itself apart from the pack (its predecessors). You see; EA Tiburon weren’t going to be satisfied with just bringing an updated roster and some slight tweaks out on a newly pressed, sixty dollar disc. Instead, they went back to the drawing board and thought hard about how to make the game even more realistic than last year’s iteration, and it shows. Let’s step onto the field, get in a huddle and discuss our new options.
Pre-determined tackling mechanics have been thrown out the window this year, with an all-new, momentum-based system included instead. As with EA Sports‘ NHL franchise, hits and their animations will occur based on the momentum of the offensive player and his defensive attacker(s). This allows for incredibly realistic tackles, which look like they’ve been pulled out of a highlight video from a real-life game. If you see a half-back taking off from the line of scrimmage, with a ton of speed on his side, it may take more than one defensive lineman to take him down. That is, unless that defender happens to overpower said runner.
Just by creating a new tackling system, the development team has taken this franchise to the next level. There are one hundred new animations which show a new side to the pulse-pounding pigskin carnage. Taking the players’ sizes, weight differences and speed into consideration, the game calculates each collision. Direction also plays a role in this decision, with the actual location of the tackle taken into consideration as well. A lot of factors go into the result of one diving tackle, pulldown or thunderous collision. Not only is that quite interesting, but it’s also very entertaining to watch in action.
With the change, the potential for thunderous, jaw-dropping tackles and takedowns has also increased. The group tackles are especially fun to watch because you get to see an offensive player attempt to use his speed and momentum to break free when there are two or three guys trying to haul him down. There’s the odd time where there’s just too much going for the score-driven player for his torso to be pulled to the ground. However, most of the time, a few good pulls on different parts of the body will bring an attempted runner down.
In addition to the new calculated collision system, the development team has also tweaked the defenders’ artificial intelligence with over a hundred different enhancements. This change is quite noticeable as it really does seem like the defensive players know their roles, routes and important targets even better this time around. Football has always been a game of strategy both in real life and on the virtual field. With Madden NFL 12, it’s even more important to think before you act. One poorly picked play could mean a major loss of yards, losing a game or even losing the Super Bowl. How’s that for repercussions?
What is really neat about this year’s game is the fact that its virtual pro athletes are not just more intelligent – they’re more dynamic too. In real-life, all types of athletes go through hot spells and cold droughts. This is reflected in Madden NFL 12, as players gain or lose confidence during games, depending on their success. What is altered is their abilities. A slumping player will see his overall rating drop significantly, while a man on fire will see his stats heighten with a boost. It’s all dependent on realistic factors, so please don’t take the boost term literally. This allows the game’s experience to accurately reflect the highs and lows of a real National Football League game and season. Franchise mode roster updates will alter ratings throughout the year, based on performance.
Since sports games have always been about allowing gamers to live out their life-long dreams in virtual space, EA Tiburon have gone a step further to make the armchair footballer’s dream even more customizable. Custom playbooks are now available for creation, allowing fans to cull different plays together from various teams’ offensive and defensive books of secrets.
Mix and match to your heart’s desire and see what you can come up with, then take it on the field. There, your play calling options consist of the basic three play grid sheet or the Gameflow system which lets you quickly cycle through some suggested plays. It quickens the pace a bit for the casual crowd, while still allowing the in-depth statisticians to search for their favourite play in the book.
All of the aforementioned tweaks, alterations and additions are available through a myriad of different gameplay modes. There’s the in-depth and addicting franchise mode with its new rookie scouting feature and insane free agent bidding mode (which will both certainly appeal to the hardcore statisticians and want to be managers). Plus, there’s your Play Now option for a quick jump into the action, as well as some practice style minigames, Superstar mode and a separate practice mode, to name a few.
Madden Ultimate Team also returns and is improved, with expanded rosters allowing for 70+ players per team and a new interface, plus new cards and some new collections. The limited Hall of Fame Edition of the game ships with a free legends card pack, which contains some of the series’ most explosive players such as Shaun Alexander (2007), Ray Lewis (2005) and Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. That’s a great incentive if you’re into the card collecting mode and would like a great team to start off with, or some very tempting trade bait.
Online play has been expanded and changed to allow for more of a community experience, with the ability for between two and two thousand players to join together as one to take on rival groups. This works with the Online Team Play option, which is really cool. What’s even better is the fact that this mode has its own community leaderboards, allowing gamers to keep tabs on how they’re doing in comparison to the other groups around them. This is something that all sports games need, as it really turns them into a worldwide experience, allowing for people to team up or go head-to-head against teams of friends who may have been playing together for years.
If it sounds like Madden NFL 12 is the most realistic and complete football experience on the market, it’s because it is. This game is amazing. It’s well-made and full of content, with hours upon hours of replayability over any mode you choose to play. Though, there are a couple rough edges, they’re nothing to worry about. The only major issue I noticed while playing this entry was a lengthy delay when I’d move from team to team or to an options menu in the exhibition mode. For some reason, there was a lot of lag there, which EA will hopefully address. Other than that, there was the odd visual hiccup or route screw-up. Then again, the latter happens in real-life.
Making the experience resemble the broadcasts that come into your living room via high definition television broadcasters, Electronic Arts utilized camera angles and presentation cues from major network presentations. Games are now shot with new and interesting camera angles, in addition to the popular classic ones. Not only that, but every one of the 32 teams has its own unique entrance. The obvious end goal was to bring the most authentic NFL experience possible to our home consoles and that’s certainly what the development team succeeded at doing. It’s hard to think of one area where they didn’t improve a bunch of things.
In terms of visual and audio fidelity, there’s a lot to like here. The players look great from afar and during their close-ups, though a few seemed to have over-exaggerated eyes. Every stadium/field type, weather effect and shadow looks like it should and is reflected in the on-field action.
All of this is wrapped up with licensed music from bands like korn, Foo Fighters and Tinie Tempah, and some pretty good commentary. Though there is the odd time where the wrong comment will be used. There also didn’t seem to be enough variety at times, as the announcers would say the same thing quite often. Despite the odd issue, the commentators’ audio is clear and sounds like a real broadcast. Its accompanying music and sound effect (including on-field chatter) quality is also impressive.
What it all comes down to is the fact that Madden NFL 12 is the best football game on the market. Sure, there’s the odd glitch and perhaps an issue here and there, but the game is exceptional in what it offers and delivers. I’ve never played a more complete or immersive game of pigskin. Everything an NFL fan would want in a virtual representation of their favourite sport is here, and then some. If you purchase this game, it may be hard to put it down, but that’s okay. You’ll certainly get your money out of it. Just try to remember the actual, real-life season. Don’t become too immersed and forget about your favourite team’s opening game. Hut!
Madden NFL 12 will be released on August 30, 2011. This written review is based on a copy we received for review purposes.