The NFL season kicked off this week and of course, it would be nothing to gamers (and most of the U.S.A) if it wasn’t accompanied by the latest release of Madden Football.
As always with sports franchises, we get told about a whole list of new features and improvements over the previous year’s title and are the targets of marketing people who want to convince us that this year’s version is the definitive one.
So then… is Madden 12 worth your money for another year in a row?
It’s always a challenge reviewing sports franchise games, especially those of the EA annual release variety because readers are instantly split into two groups; those who have last year’s version (and possibly more) and then those who don’t and might want to finally jump on the train.
It is then, only logical to compare Madden 12 to Madden 11 (I made sure to play both this week to do some comparisons) because not only is it the next version of the game, but if it’s isn’t better… well then you should go and pick up a much, much cheaper copy of the previous year’s game instead (or just stick with it if you already own it).
I would actually highly recommend that you give our Madden 11 review from last year a quick read before continuing, just to get yourself up to speed.
In a very curious move that I felt I needed to point out, EA decide to just completely jump on the Inception bandwagon and completely highjack a song made famous for its usage in the Inception move trailer and just pop it into the game’s intro. To make it all the more obvious, hitting the start button to get into the menu even sounds the now-all-too-famous BWAAAAAAA noise that we all know and love (click the link if you don’t know what I mean).
Out with the old…
Let’s get started with the core modes and gameplay components that most people looking to buy or upgrade would be interested in.
While all of the game modes and extras are still in place, a few elements have been changed. I’ll get to the more in-depth stuff in a moment, but on a basic level some new features have been added including Dynamic Player Performance which makes players’ rank rise and full depending on their consistency and performance in their previous games. Get someone on a hot streak and he will shine, catch them screwing up all too often and they will only get worse.
Online mode hasn’t really changed much at all, however Online Communites have now been added, which adds a sort of clan/guild way to play with friends and other opponents. For those interested in management, there are now systems for scouting rookies as well as a free-agent bidding system.
Make the play
Last year, I praised Madden 11 for making a very good effort to welcome in newcomers by allowing GameFlow to pick your plays. Not only that, but the coach would actually talk you through the play and what you are trying to achieve, letting new gamers focus more on the gameplay whilst also getting a feel for play calling and what it’s meant to achieve. I also liked the fact that you were allowed to rewind and retry the play if something went horribly wrong.
All of these functions made Madden 11 perfect for those who wanted an entry point into the series. The best part was that it was all optional, so veterans could turn it off and get onto all the really gritty stuff.
In a very strange move, Madden 12 takes some steps backwards, opting to completely remove the rewind option, change the way GameFlow works and also remove the great coach voiceover that talked you through the plays. Now, the new GameFlow gives the player more control allowing you to select from three options: Game-plan (the suggested play), Run and Pass for when you are on offense and then Game-plan, conservative and aggressive for when you are on defense.
Now, this is a bit of a toss up, as I like that some extra control has been given to GameFlow, however I really miss the ability to have the coach talk players through the player and explain why they are doing it and what it’s purpose is – especially when this could have been optional. This combined with the lack of rewind means that veterans will be fine, but anyone looking to get into it will be much more confused than necessary, especially when the options were there just one year ago.
In terms of overall gameplay, Madden 12 does still feel as solid as Football games can get. It’s easier to access your strategies, audibles and so on now and the overall feeling of the game’s controls and core gameplay are the slickest they’ve ever been thanks to constant balancing, but there’s still some room for improvement in future (how else would they make Madden 13?).
Eyes on the ball
Madden 12 has really picked up its presentation game and is a very decent step above last year’s game in terms of visual presentation specifically. The menus are way more slick, the game interfaces are way more easy on the eyes and the camera styles have all been changed to mimic that of a real televised broadcast, from helicopter cams of the stadium right down to on-the-field shaky handi-cams.
Players have more emotion on their faces now (although some facial animations look awfully strange and zombie-like at times), some extra touches have been added such as blades of grass on the pitch for close-ups and the stadiums and crowds look absolutely fantastic although the framerate has a tendency to skyrocket and sag depending on what the camera is pointed at. Animations on the other hand look about the same as last year’s introduction of the Locomotion system, although I could actually swear that Madden 12 looked a little less smooth than last year.
Madden 12 is also plagued with odd graphics problems that range from animations skipping frames or even playing over twice for no reason to visual glitches like the player routes’ arrows on the field blinking like a broken neon sign. It doesn’t happen rarely either, as I noticed happening around half of the time I brought up the routes and surely… issues like this should never have made it past quality control before going into production.
I’m also just gonna take a moment to note that years on, they still don’t live up to the original target renders that were released for this generation of consoles.
Sounds like trouble
For every step forward that Madden 12 made in the visual department, it takes a step (or two) backwards when it comes to sound. The soundtrack itself is a big improvement over last year’s Guitar Hero playlist and offers a much better variety ranging from Dubstep Korn music to the hot new Beastie Boys single. Sound has a strange habit of cutting out at times, and there was more than one occasion where a group of players would slam into each other with not so much as a single audio cue to let you know. Many a touchdown also felt very anti-climactic when a player runs into the end-zone only to have the crowd stay in a strangely quiet hum rather than cheer or boo… you can just tell that something was supposed to trigger, and just didn’t.
Commentary? More like comment-terror
The issues really hit home when anyone or anything starts trying to talk. First of all, I already complained that the GameFlow coach voiceover doesn’t even exist anymore, which I thought was a big shame, but not as big a shame as the appalling commentary. The commentary sounds incredibly broken up and robotic at times, especially when one of the guys cracks off “…and the current score at half-time is… the Steelers… … 7 … … and … the Eagles… … 10”.
What’s way worse though, is realizing that you are already hearing repetition by your second game and it only got worse and worse for me (playing as the Pittsburgh Steelers) to have to hear the same introductions to my offensive line-up (with a whole rant about Hines Ward being destined for greatness) and my defensive line-up (with Troy Palumalu being the bee’s knees) every single game, with no change whatsoever.
By the time you are in your 4th or 5th franchise season game, you can damn-near mouth the words as the commentators are saying them, and it will make you want to pull your hair out as you once again get the story about where your Quarterback is from and what he is so good at.
There are many reasons to believe that Madden 12 was some sort of unpolished rushjob, and the lack of shine is terribly evident in some places. At the same time the gameplay and presentation refinements are worth noting as well.
In short, if you are a Madden veteran and love having the latest version, you can find enough reason to fork out some more money this year. If however, you are thinking of getting into Madden and need a good place to start, I can think of a hundred good reasons for you to rather go out and buy a copy of Madden 11 instead, that will not only ease you into the world of football a lot better, but will also do so for a much, much lower price.
I miss some of the features from Madden 11 but the gameplay itself is as good as it’s gonna get.
Design and Presentation: 8/10
Menus and new graphics are great but don’t make up for the audio and visual glitches as well as the terribly bad and repetitive commentary.
All the modes are still there to be played, but there’s nothing significantly new over older versions of the game.
Every couple of years in a sports franchise’s lifespan, a version comes out that leaps ahead and makes it the must-have version of the last couple of years. This isn’t bad, but it isn’t one of those either.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]