|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Tiburon||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: EA Sports||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Aug. 10, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-8||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Caleb Newby
Its time for that yearly ritual again. If youre a sports fan, you know the one. It often starts with a pang of sadness as you realize there is more of summer behind you than ahead. You start to pay attention to the football season as it nears. No, no, not futball, or soccer as us Yankees call it, though you may have enjoyed the World Cup for what it was. No, youre getting ready for American football. And, if you are a gamer of any sort, youre counting down the days until EA Sports releases its yearly behemoth that is the envy of every publisher, Madden NFL.
The Madden franchise is a cash cow for EA. Ever since obtaining the exclusive rights to the NFL brand in video games Madden has become a lock to sell millions of copies every year, making the jump from merely a yearly release to an event. Not many game series can claim that, particularly games on a yearly release time table. Yet for all its pomp and circumstance, there are very real criticisms of the series.
The biggest backlash against Madden are accusations of the yearly release being not much more than a glorified roster update. As in, supposedly, you are paying $60 each year for updated team rosters and incidental game improvements. The funny thing about this is, while it seems this is accepted as a near universal truth and a part of the series history, a quick look at the aggregate scores of past installments shows each game in the past decade tending to average roughly 85%, not bad at all for a game that supposedly only spits out incremental changes. Either the roster update criticism is a myth or reviewers and consumers alike get swept up in the hype during release each year. So, where does Madden NFL 11 stand, objectively? Is it a significant improvement on the series or largely more of the same?
Lets get down to brass tacks and state the obvious; Madden 11 is going to be like Madden 10 and all derivations before it. Its still NFL football. Any changes or improvements will hinge on either the off-the-field aspects or tweaks to the on-the-field gameplay.
Of the new features introduced this year, the one EA is pushing the hardest is the all-new GameFlow play calling system and the corresponding reduced game times. What GameFlow basically does is select a play for you without going into the famous Madden play select screen and instead going right back to the field. According to EA, this cuts down the average time of a game from sixty minutes to roughly thirty. That may be true, as there was definitely time savings to be had, but the game didnt seem to pass significantly faster than I remember before GameFlow. Maybe I selected my plays much faster than normal.
GameFlow plays can also be customized in playbooks for specific situations, allowing for multiple variations should you be looking for that kind of time investment. I was content to go with the default playbooks and accept what was called for me, though I could see the benefit of some adjustments. At the end of a winning game, I dont think there are too many NFL coaches who would keep running the ball when taking a knee would suffice. Not that I minded, as padding stats was just fine with me, but it was hardly realistic play calling. For such a pushed feature, GameFlow comes across as something that would be more of a secondary enhancement instead of the prime focus of how Madden is better than ever. Its certainly a nice option to have, and even better its not forced on you should you want to select your own play at any time during the game, but achieves the same result as the Ask Madden option from years past, with a few seconds extra time savings.
As for actual in-game changes, the big news is the removal of the sprint button, or at least its the big news to me. The sprint button has had a long history in the series, with a generation of gamers raised on hammering the x button every time they took control of the ball carrier. EA must have realized the redundancy of having a sprint button when thats all anyone was going to press. They removed it and put players on auto-sprint. Now, every button press has to do with spinning, stiff arming, and juking. Its a change that takes some getting used to (I still hold down the x button out of habit, which is the stiff arm command now) but it should go a long way to streamlining gameplay.
Graphically, Madden is looking as sharp as ever. Clipping seems to be at an all time low and player movement and momentum is more realistic than ever. For example, when taking control of a receiver running routs, making a hard change if direction isnt the flawless movement it once was; your wideout now needs to plant a foot and change direction more deliberately. Also improved is the offensive line blocking. Running up the middle doesnt resemble the mess it used to be a few years ago; instead actual viable holes open and your blockers seem more intent on opening a functioning gap. Even the pocket forms more naturally around the quarterback, allowing for more planting and throwing and less mad dash scrambling.