2011-08-26

Madden 12 – The Road To Perfection

by Yo Snyder

Not that long ago, we weren’t even sure if there was going to be an
NFL season this year. However, as depressing as that thought was, one
thing that sustained football fans such as myself was that even if there
wasn’t actual NFL, we’d still get a chance to enjoy the virtual NFL
with the always excellent Madden football game. As Spring passed and
Summer waned, it looked more and more like perhaps Madden NFL 12
would be the only way fans could experience their favorite past-time
this year. Fortunately, the owners and players figured out how they
could all comfortably be even richer than they already are and decided
they’d be happy to continue enjoy their success through taking the money
of fans such as myself. Whatever; I just want some football. All that
aside, I’m so glad that Madden NFL can be relied upon to consistently
deliver an enjoyable football experience each and every year; often with
out any labor disputes (and by the way, EA, that’s one feature I don’t
want in my game). Madden NFL 12 delivers on that once again, with some nice tweaks and improvements to enhance an already solid sports sim.

First off, let me just say this is one of the toughest Madden
experiences I’ve had in recent memory. According to the press packet I
got on all the improvements made this year, there are over “100
defensive A.I. enhancements resulting in the smartest Madden defense
ever.” No kidding. Last year I played Madden 11 on All-Madden and
had a solid but enjoyable challenge. Maybe I’m still adjusting, but
there are times when I’m ready to tear my hair out playing on All-Pro in
Madden 12. The defense is smart, it reacts quickly, and at times
it seems to know what play you’re doing even before you do. This the
first time I can think of where there were plays where I didn’t know
what to do because all my receivers were well covered. I just hadn’t
encountered that much before, so I’d scramble around, eventually
remember I could just throw the ball away, but by that time I was 
sacked. Other times, I’d think I could squeeze a pass in, only to have
it intercepted. Interceptions seem pretty high, or I’m pretty bad.
Everyone from linemen to linebackers to the guys in the secondary have
picked me off; sometime in a split-second. The ball is fired off and I’m
sure it’ll pass over the defend, then in blink of an eye, they snag it.
This year you’re going to need to play smarter, know your outlets, and
remember sometimes it’s best just to throw the ball away. Running’s no
picnic either; but if you have a good line and running back with talent,
you’ll get still get some big plays, just not very often.

Aside from a smarter defense, much of the gameplay on-field should
feel very familiar. Gameflow is back, with a much appreciated
improvement. It shows you what play is being called and gives you the
option to pick something else without opening the playbook. Also, you
can use GameFlow with fully customizable playbooks. Don’t want a certain
formation called, take it out completely (which means no random Wildcat
formations at inopportune times anymore). Gameflow was a nice
introduction last year, and I think it’s living up to more of it’s true
potential with the improvements made this year. Other on-field
improvements include better lighting that more realistically reflects
changes in the time of day, uniforms can get dirty and scuffed as the
game goes on, there’s better collision and tackling animations which
gives everything a much more fluid flow, and the overall presentation
has more of a game day, TV broadcast feel to it, which is a nice touch
(I especially like the blimp shots of the stadiums; not a big deal, but
it’s an appreciated flair to the presentation).

One of the biggest new features this year is the introduction of
Online Communities. Personally, I never much played Madden online beyond
playing with friends because the few times I did, it was obviously with
a former pro-football player and current pro-gamer; or with someone who
just didn’t want to lose or play in a way that made much rational
sense. With Online Communities, you and your friends can set up games to
play against each other with your own leaderboards (no more ranking
75,456,789th overall if you don’t want to) and with your own rules.
Plus, Online Communities can also us Team Play, so have some friends
over and compete together against other friends. It’s all very friendly,
and a nice addition gamers like me who enjoy playing online but aren’t
ace professionals or super-mega competitive about it but just want to
enjoy some fun football.

Franchise mode returns with a few improvements of its own. Players
can now go on hot and cold streaks that may have an impact on the game.
There’s a new free agency bidding period where you have to know who you
want and how much you can pay them while in the midst of a frantic
bidding war with other teams. You also have the option of monitoring the
progress of rookies during the pre-season and you get to decide who
gets cut. Still, Franchise mode remains pretty close to what we’ve
enjoyed in past season. The new interface isn’t quite as nice looking as
NCAA’s Dynasty Mode interface, but it gets the job done. Superstar Mode
is also back with some minor tweaks, including the ability to earn
experience points in games and practice to help improve your player. It
doesn’t feel quite as involved as NCAA’s Road To Glory Mode, but it’s
still enjoyable.

All of the little tweaks and improvements made to the Madden
franchise is actually similar to what God wants to do in each of our
lives. Philippians 1:6 tells us that he’s begun a good work in us (which
starts when we surrender our lives to Jesus) and that he’ll carry it on
to completion; meaning God’s going to continue to help us improve until
we reach perfection, and that’s a cool thought. Of course some might
wonder why we need God to help us do that in the first place. Well, the
fact of the matter is, whenever we’ve tried to take matters into our own
hands, we generally make things worse. Adam and Eve tried to do that,
to be more like God on their own terms, and they ended introducing sin
and death into the world, condemning us all. However, God wasn’t willing
to give up on his creation, and so out of his love for us, he sent his
son to pay our penalty for sin, thereby cleaning the slate and giving us
a chance to start over and let God work in our lives to restore us, and
after all, as our creator, he would know best how to do that. It’s kind
of like how modders and hackers may try to improve Madden on their own
terms, but EA Sports is the only one with the official code and they are
the only ones who can officially tweak and improve it because they’re
the ones who created game.

It’s not easy to deliver a new Madden each and every year. Fans
constantly want something new, something better, but they also want the
things they liked to stay the same but still be better while still being
the same. That’s not easy to deliver on. Madden 12 looks better
and plays better than last year, but it still feels very similar to what
you’d expect in a Madden game. Nothing’s been radically altered but
there are enough improvements to give it a slightly different feel. Some
may feel like there aren’t enough changes and it’s too similar to last
year. Others may feel that while there’s plenty of changes, there aren’t
enough of them in the actual gameplay (which is really tough to do
because it plays so well already) and therefore the changes are all
merely window dressing (but is there anything wrong with a nice looking
window?). Personally, it’s enough for me that the presentation elements
have improved, that there are more online options for playing with
friends, and that the minor tweaks on the field merely refine what’s
already a pretty darn fun football game. Is it an improvement? Yes. Is
it a radical one? No, but it once again takes something good and makes
it even better, if in marginal ways. That’s good enough for me.

Score out of 7:

Graphcis: 5 – It’s the annual “best looking Madden yet” statement;
but it is. Better lighting, better presentation, smoother animations; it
all looks great. There’s some stiffness to the fans and extras during
team introductions, and the U.I. for Franchise and Superstar mode isn’t
as nice looking as in NCAA, but this is still a pretty (can you use that
for this manly sport?) looking football game.

Sound: 4 – Commentary gets pretty repetitive, and the new segments to
blend with older ones. Also, I miss having commentary in Superstar mode
after I got used to having that option in NCAA’s Road to Glory (but
maybe I just didn’t see where to turn it on). Still, all the on-field
action sounds solid, and big hits sound like they hurt.

Gameplay: 5 – Just as solid as ever, and even tougher than ever. The
defensive A.I. is tough. Fluid animations make games flows better than
ever, and things like dynamic player performance, player roles, hot and
cold streaks adds some unpredictable variables to keep things
interesting.

Controls: 6 – As tight as ever, and with plenty of options to tweak to suit your preference.

Story: N/A

Content: 6 – Aside from some mild lyrics in menu songs (which can be
turned off), scantily clad cheerleaders (which you can’t see in any
detail any way), and of course the violence on field, nothing to worry
your family here.

Final Score: 5 – Madden 12 does the usual thing that Madden games
do; makes incremental improvements to try and make things better while
not breaking anything that wasn’t broke to begin with. It’s another
solid, fun addition to the franchise, with even more options to connect
and play with friends. Any football fan or Madden fan will be happy with
this year’s edition.