It's that time of the year again - Fall! Seriously, this is without a doubt my favorite season of the year. Up here in Michigan, the leaves turn colors, the humidity goes away, the temperature lowers, it gets dark just a bit sooner, I start to use the slow cooker more and the NFL season begins. That last point I cannot stress enough. I'm a huge NFL fan, the lockout this summer worried me to no end, but luckily they pulled it out and I have been able to enjoy my NFL Sundays - pretty much the only TV I watch with any degree of regularity throughout the year.
With NFL Sundays comes another iteration of EA's well-known Madden series. I'm one of those people who buys it just about every year. Yes, I realize that many people consider it nothing more than a glorified roster update, and sure I'd almost always like to see more change from one year to the next than I do, but Madden and NBA 2k are the two sports series I pick up most years where as Hockey, Golf or Baseball I can get by on doing every few years, usually picking up a release that's a year or two old.
So, what does Madden 2012 bring to the table this year that's different from last year? Here's a handful of items right off of the bat that come to mind:
- Dynamic player performances: A player performing very well, or very poorly in a game, may have a hot/cold streak the following week that can impact their overall stats in either a positive or negative fashion. These streaks can only last a handful of weeks and then reset.
- Player Roles: injury prone, playoff performer, underachiever and more - basically these roles can have an impact on the player, and on their teammates depending on the role.
- Trading Ultimate Team Cards can be traded now
- The progression system has been revamped
- Expanded rosters, cut days, altered free agency and scouting for the Franchise Modes
These and a bit more are among the considerations I make while writing my review
Graphics - 8:
This is the best-looking football game out there in my opinion. Some of the attention to detail such as jerseys sporting grass stains, the appearance of the grass, player animations and more look great. That is not to say that the presentation is flawless. Sometimes arms move through bodies (I got a laugh out of a referee waving off a catch as his arms went through Calvin Johnson's helmet) and sometimes stuttering performance mar the presentation. The crowd, while a small thing, also feels very dated. The small details, like lights reflecting off of helmets and visors and the effects of a rainy game do a nice job of immersing you into game day though, and generally compensate for some of the lesser technical failings.
Seriously, I need to kill the game on this one. The music select is, as it generally is, okay. The sounds sound good, there's a fair mix, some fit what's going on better than others. The on-field sounds are quite good for the most part, if not terribly varied. But, there are three parts of the audio presentation Madden brings to the forefront, and both are absolutely horrible.
- I had to include "for the most part" above though. Every now and then, the audio starts to 'pop'. At first, I thought 'maybe my disc', but I've noticed it at my friends' house, and it's not just my PS3 copy - he has the 360. He seems to think it's attached to the audio commentary, because he has not noticed it since turning that off.
- The coach speak on things like Superstar mode: The guy's voice bugs me a bit - I realize it's supposed to sound like it's coming through on a headset but the tinny quality of it just sounds odd. Aside from that, he is often very, very inaccurate. On one play he'll be telling my halfback to sit back in the pocket to protect the quarterback, and my play art clearly shows I'm supposed to be part of the playaction and then roll out to the flat. On another, he'll be talking about how the wheel route is designed for me to get open past the line, and the play art calls for me to hang back and block - I'm not even a receiving option.
- The in-game announcers are bad. Actually, bad may be giving them too much credit, which is unfortunate because I really do like Chris Collinsworth in real life and actually don't mind Gus Johnson most of the time. But, there are several issues with the commentary. For one, it is badly timed. Johnson will be talking about the best player on the other team's offense when they've already kicked the ball to me. Collinsworth, with his detailed, lengthy deliveries can be on a topic two plays later still. Often the information is patched in wrong. I completed a long pass from Stafford to Calvin Johnson in my Lions franchise and they proceeded to say:
"Calvin Johnson was born to play this position." - and I thought, okay, that's reasonable. Then they went on talking about his throwing power and rare vision for the quarterback position and it just completely took me out of the moment. Names just seem to be goofed up far more often than they should be. Plus, the lengthy detailed delivery for specific players seems odd. I don't need to hear how Suh is the focal point of the Lions defense every-single-game and in the exact same way. In truth, I think the entire commentary system needs reworking. Instead of talking about how Calvin Johnson is called Megatron every-single-game, maybe wait until he does something good and have a comment that includes his name, and something based on a player attribute or statistic - something that branches out. Why not have four or five different things that can be said about a guy with a 90+ speed, and 5 different things for a WR with an 80-90 speed. It would vary things up and feel more relevant. Will they still be discussing how Calvin Johnson is leading the new wave of wide receivers when I'm in year 10 of my franchise? I don't know for certain, but my guess is, yes.
- Lastly, the commentary audio is very inconsistent. You can tell sessions were recorded at different times, and with different levels of volume/quality. One statement sounds quiet, almost tinny, and then the same announcer's statement immediately afterward will sound full and with booth-like quality.
If you have played prior years of Madden, you basically know what to expect. It's football with all of the bells and whistles. That is not to say there have are no changes this year - blocking feels quite a bit different. Instead of defense players being sucked right into a blocker, it feels like you can shed blocks a bit more easily - which is probably why my Lions have so many defensive line sacks (that and Suh). It seems as though one of my biggest pet peeves of this generation of football games has been that pancakes earned in game were not consistent with those earned when simulating - that appears to be evened out now, which may seem silly, but is a big deal to me.
A lot of people post that the game speed is a bit much, and that they slow it down - I'm fine with it 'as is'. I kept the default settings for my first year and I unlocked most of the trophies available in that time and won the majority of my games onto my way to the Superbowl with the Detroit Lions. That said, tackling looks and feels better than ever, catches don't seem to suction to hands quite as often (though it still happens) and the run game feels great to me (I run far better than I pass).
Menus could be a bit quicker and more easily navigated, but they aren't a complete disaster. The load times seem a bit much at times too, but at least the loading screens give you something to read, though a bit more variety in the screens would be nice.
There are quite a few different modes here, and with Franchise finally getting some updates (and that is where I spend the bulk of my time), it is a bit easier to sink plenty of time into the mode. There are some other modes available as well such as online franchises, team playing, communities, roster updates and Ultimate Team add some value to the online offerings. Ultimate Team mode is sort of a collectible card game meets Madden, though it's slanted toward people who buy legendary packs and have chances at better cards. You can also earn coins to buy other packs or participate in the new trading feature - but the starting team is rightfully very sad in terms of starting players, and using them to build up is a bit less fun than it sounded on paper.
The Superstar modes are slightly altered, with less of the media/intelligence test stuff that affects your player's draft position, but instead eschews the old methods of raising stats for a more point-oriented one that better resembles games like NBA 2K where your performance and practice time earns you points you can distribute as you see fit. The process is a bit too forgiving I think, compared to the NBA 2K series. My running back got drafted by the Steelers and I got made first string despite them having a good, young back. Before the end of the first season, my guy who started at a 60-something overall was well over 80 and an MVP candidate. I like the format, but it feels just a bit too forgiving at this point.
Largely, the changes you will see affect Franchise mode. If you are a fan of franchise mode, you get a lot more mileage out of the changes than others. I happen to fall into this particular bucket. They even managed to fix, or at least mostly fix, the blocking. For those who don't recall my rant last year, the EA football games used to have a glaring issue with blocking, because your improvement was measured by pancakes performed and sacks given up, and nothing else. The simulated teams would get players with 200+ pancakes. Player teams? your best player would be lucky to come out with around 10 or so. You could have a perfect linemen who was just not performing because of the skewed stats garnered from substituted games by comparison. That's fixed and everyone's totals are a bit more manageable now. It's a small detail, but it's the kind of detail that's gone untouched for years, so seeing it finally get addressed actually goes over quite well with me.
Between these modes and the online content, there is a lot of football to be had here for those who want it.
I really enjoy Madden and overall I think this version of the game is still the best NFL experience out there. For people who bought last year's though? There might not be enough reason to pick up this year's iteration - that depends on how much you play, and what your opinion of the smaller features is. For me? It's enough - I enjoy and can appreciate the smaller nuances added to the game, but I am a huge NFL fan and have long played the Madden series.
I like the videos you can upload (obviously - as you can see I linked in several here), though I wish you could take and upload stills too. NCAA allowed you to take screenshots, and I can't recall if I could upload them or not (I didn't play this year's version, so I'm basing this on last year's which I haven't touched in awhile), but I had a lot of fun framing out some cool images to show off last year, and it seems odd that Madden doesn't have that option. You also can't create videos from superstar mode, which is a small bummer, but not a big deal.
Of other friends, the opinions have been fairly split. One played quite a bit the first few days - franchise, online franchise with me and Superstar mode but quickly got frustrated with the game and traded it in. Another friend from work has been playing it pretty much non-stop since it came out, mostly in franchise mode, and loves it. I can't help but think that Madden would benefit from some actual competition in the NFL game, but there is no changing the fact that they have exclusivity locked up for quite some time to come. Still, improvements continue to be made to a successful formula and that is enough for me, but it might not be for everyone.
And instead of showing my usual IGN trailer videos and pics, y short video clips uploaded from the easports.com servers: