The latest American Football offering from the Madden series.
The first thing I need to say and clear up before I get deep into this review is that coming into this game I am someone who watches American Football once a year, if that, for the Super Bowl. Even then it is mostly for the half time show or the hope of a wardrobe malfunction and for the occasional glimpse of a cheerleader. Yes, that is the kind of guy I am. But during this I do actually watch some of the game and, coupled with the knowledge I have gained from video games, I have a basic understanding of the rules. Players have four attempts, or downs, to gain at least ten yards distance up the field, as the other team attempt to stop them. If they manage that distance or greater, then the four downs and ten yards begin again from where they got the ball before being stopped. The goal being to reach the oppositions end zone and score. If a team fails to gain said ten yards, the ball is turned over to the other team. There are many other rules, which I won’t go into here, most of which I was unaware of going into the game. But one thing the game does is teach you those rules, whether you realise or not.
Another point I must make here is that I have not played a game in the Madden series for many years now. When I say that, I mean the last time I played one I cannot even remember what system it was on. It was either the original PlayStation or could even have been the Sega Megadrive. Yes, it really was that long ago. It’s not that these were bad games, far from it. In fact I am led to believe that the Madden series includes some of the best American football games released on various consoles. The point I am making here is that I go into this review with nothing to compare this game to, other than what friends have told me about the previous years title and the brief play I had with the demo of NFL 10.
So, armed with a basic knowledge of the sport, we take a look at the latest incarnation of the Madden series. There are some big changes this year, most notably with the control system. The new game has dropped a lot of the button pushing in favour of a new streamlined dual analogue stick “locomotion” control system, with the left stick moving your player as you would expect and the right stick controlling his body weight. Although this may sound complicated to begin with, in reality it works really well. Push it forward and your player moves his body forward gaining momentum and distance, pull it back and you can come to an abrupt halt, where as moving it left or right jukes your player to the left or right to avoiding tackles. It even goes as far as spinning your player 360 degrees if you spin the stick. It’s an interesting system and, given a chance, becomes second nature. What would have been nice however was a choice between the new control system and the classic system as I have already had an American friend tell me that although he can play with the new one, he would much prefer it if they had kept the old system, missing especially the sprint button which has been present in the series up until this point. Although you can disable auto sprint and assign it to a button, the game keeps the speed increase to a more realistic pace in comparison to the rest of the game. But as a newcomer to the series auto sprint along with the two stick control system seems to work really well and given time I think even old time fans will come to prefer it.
Something which may overwhelm players new to the series is the number of plays to choose from. It is a little more complicated than choosing whether to run, pass or kick the ball. In this latest incarnation of the game there are over three hundred and fifty plays to choose from. When you first start out it can be a very daunting experience to someone who does not know how to play. Let’s take running plays for example – you need to decide which way your ball carrier is going to run and ensure the majority of your blockers work to give him as much cover as possible, or you can choose a play that has your players faking as receivers, therefore drawing some of the oppositions blockers away from the runner. Following me so far? Because now it gets even more complicated when you add to the huge number of running plays just as many, if not more, passing plays. The passing plays have not changed, with each receiver being assigned a face button and it’s the players job to spot which of them is free from opposing players and fire off the pass. TheÂ huge choice of plays can be overwhelming until you grow accustomed to it, but thankfully again the game caters to newcomers.
The number of options stumped me at first. Choosing my first few plays actually led to me receiving a penalty for taking so long as I browsed the options available. New players need not worry though, as another new feature to the series is the quick flow option. When choosing plays, the quick flow can be looked upon as a virtual team manager or coach who assesses the current in game situation and automatically chooses a play for you to run, depending on what is happening game wise. Then, as you become a little more comfortable with how it works, you can move onto ask Madden, which is more reminiscent of the Madden games I remember playing, in that it gives you a choice of three or four plays to choose from and is the simpler method I personally like to use. For more advanced players who understand the game a little better, the choices are vast going so far as allowing you to create, practice and use in matches your own plays which you can even take online. Further adjustments to your plays can be made as you prepare for the play to start using the d-pad and right stick. Playing defence, you can tell players to follow hot routes back to cover possible receivers, concentrate on blitzing the opposition or on trying to sack the quarterback. The same method can be used when playing offence, telling your blockers to provide more protection to the left or the right depending on the play you are going to be running, giving you the most protection possible.
Up until now it has all been good with both the the controls and game play doing an admirable job of catering to both long time fans of the series, once they get used to the new control system that is, and also to newcomers. It has been pretty much flawless. That’s not to say the game is without faults however and to find those you need to look at the visual side of things. Although these problems do not detract from the fun of the game, there are things that you will notice. The first of these problems is something that, over the course of five full length matches, I have witnessed twice and that is players and characters standing on the sidelines of the field having not fully loaded and instead are black body like shapes with no textures except bright white numbers on their chests. Not a game breaking problem by any means, but certainly an unsightly one which seems to hit when you are forced out of bounds and the game is not expecting it.
The second problem, although again not game breaking, is purely visual and does not affect the game play. The problem I am outlining here is mostly noticeable in replays. If you are looking closely, occasionally body parts will pass through others and, in a worst case scenario, I have seen a player walk clean through a referee. Again I reiterate, these two small things do not harm the game in any way and it almost verges on nitpicking on my part. But you can and do notice them. One other issue with the looks of the game is a missing group of people on the sidelines. We have players waiting for their turn in the game, coaches and managers and even photographers and film crews. But sadly missing from this line up are something I consider to be part of the sport, cheerleaders. Really EA, shame on you.
Staying on the looks of the game, the graphics overall are like most recent EA sports games, as polished as ever, with both the arenas and teams looking sharp and well drawn. Again the only real problem is in the replays. As you zoom in and out, details on players seem to go from low quality to medium to high the closer you zoom in and the crowds could do with a little work. But with that many people in an arena that is not an easy task. This and the other few visual glitches are mostly just nitpicking at the smaller things, as the game generally looks good. Compared to the previous game in the series however, it’s not a huge jump. In fact, some would say that NFL 10 still has this beaten on looks.
The game also does everything it needs to do sound wise. The crashing of helmet on helmet and hard hitting tackles, along with the roaring of the crowd which gets louder the more intense the on field action is, coupled with the running commentary throughout your matches, all goes towards making you feel like you are taking part in a televised game of football, without the commercials. Although there is actually some product placement, Old Spice smell like a man and Doritos Crunch Time. It all goes towards making the game feel even more like a televised event.
So we come to the point where we look at the game as a whole package. Is it worth playing? The answer is yes. But like many of Electronic Arts sport series games, is there enough of a change over last years title to warrant buying a new version? The answer to that all depends on how big a fan you are. If you are a huge fan of the sport then of course you want the latest title with the latest team rosters and such. If, however, you are happy with the previous game, you may be better sticking with it or one of the previous titles. If you are still not sure, why not grab the demo and try before you buy. One of the good points of Madden NFL 11 is that the developers have made the game easily accessible to new players by revamping the control system and by making the choosing of plays as simple or as complicated as you like, while retaining the depth of the older games so as to appeal to veterans of the title. This makes it the ideal choice to introduce you to the series, as it does a perfect job of easing you in and then opening up into a more complex game as you play. Pick this one up if it’s the first American football game you plan on playing or if you are a die hard fan of the series looking for the annual update.