Madden 12 review

Mike Vick’s had a rough game, and it shows. A paint-scarred helmet and a grass-stained uniform bear the scars of an afternoon being abused by the Packers’ defense at Lambeau Field. Between the half-dozen sacks and countless other knockdowns, the Philly QB looks weary as he steps to the line. Despite the beating he and the Eagles have taken, they’ve dished it out pretty well too and trail by four points with a few ticks left on the clock. The call is for a pass out of a shotgun formation, hoping to open up the field for Vick to make one last dash for the goal line.

As the ball is snapped, it’s apparent that – at least for a moment – the strategy worked. The linebackers back off and the d-backs follow their receiver targets, opening up a small but clear patch of green; Vick takes off running at full speed. A quarter-second later, Packers corner Sam Shields reverses direction and chases his prey. The quarterback sprints for the goal line and jumps in the air; Shields meets him and the two collide in a spectacularly violent collision that leaves both men pointed in drastically different directions than they were moments ago. When it’s all over, the referee raises his arms and the game is done. On this afternoon, at least, the Eagles have won.

Madden 12 is full of moments like these, in many ways because of a clear direction to please its core constituents. Casual fans will love the updated tackling animations, streamlined play-calling, and the visuals showing the wear and tear players receive throughout the game. Deeper-searchers will appreciate significant additions to the offline franchise mode and the updated single-player Superstar. Online-heavy users finally get to manage their own communities within the game itself, with walled-off settings, stats, and player management free from the constraints of the otherwise-unchanged online franchise. Newcomers will… not understand anything, especially with no tutorial in sight for such a complicated game. EA clearly isn’t worried about first-timers this go-round.

More than ever, the on-field experience depends on the flip of a switch. Playing the game on default settings, we tear it up like the ’84 49ers, moving the ball at will on the ground or in the air. The updated tackling engine produces some great moments of violence, as mid-air collisions and direction-reversing gang tackles made us happily wince on a regular basis. Turn up the difficulty one notch to All-Pro, though, and most of those hits happen in our backfield. The updated blocking mechanics heavily favor the defense, and games featuring a dozen combined sacks and scads of interceptions are normal. Even the best offensive lines seem to struggle, and a slow-footed QB is a recipe for disaster. Of course, skilled Madden players will overcome the obstacles and learn the nuances of the game, assuming they are willing and able to spend the time to do so.

EA is touting its new presentation heavily, but it’s a mixed bag. Visually, player models are crisper than ever, and the new camera angles liven up the game a bit. Gone are most of the oft-repeating in-game scenes from last season. Even so, there are still the occasional gaffes, such as split-second hiccups before and after the snap and the never-solved problem of players magically melting into referees (and each other). Even worse – and less forgivable – is the commentary. Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth recycle more material than a Poison-Ratt-Cinderella summer amusement park concert, and make flat-out mistakes on a regular basis too. By about our third game, we were already sick of it. It’s a terrible oversight that takes away from an otherwise solid presentation.

Offline franchise has lots of new features, including scouting, preseason cuts, and auction-style free agent minigames. Each of these breathes a bit of new life into a mode that’s mature, even though they’re either incomplete (you can’t change scouting options once you’ve set them) or non-effectual (the screens to cut players don’t let you keep track of who’s on the chopping block). The updated Superstar mode feels great at first – building up your stats RPG-style by practicing during the week – but will make your rookie a starter above clearly-better players instead of having you learn from the sidelines for a year or two. That simply doesn’t happen in the NFL.

While we’re happy overall with Madden 12, and it’s a notch better than last season’s game, it remains a far-from-perfect experience. Those of us that plan on spending a hundred hours or more playing online franchise and community games will surely compile an enormous laundry list of issues – but in the end, we’ll still play all those games. Even so, we’re left wanting much more than we’re getting from EA’s venerable football series.

Aug 25, 2011

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