It’s that time of year once again where the NFL season is right around the corner and EA celebrates that fact by releasing Madden NFL 11. Going through this year’s version of the perennial football classic, you can easily see the areas that received upgrades and the areas that were ignored for whatever reason. In years past the more casual NFL fan might have been a bit intimidated with the complexities that Madden brought to the table. EA Sports has addressed that this year with the new Gameflow feature as well as making things easier to control over all. Not everything is perfect though and there is definitely still room for improvement in certain areas. There were times when I was excited about certain things that had taken place but then when I explored other areas of the game I left disappointed. Your opinion on Madden will probably depend on the type of football fan that you are. It should also be noted that the Madden NFL 11 demo that is currently available on Xbox Live and PSN is absolutely horrible. I don’t know how EA Sports could release it in that state but let me assure you that the final retail version of Madden NFL 11 is much, much better.
Kicking things off this year is the brand new Gameflow mode. This new mode is the answer for people that had a problem with the complexity of Madden over the years. If you aren’t too familiar with the game of football and you just want to sit down and play than this is the mode for you. In this mode the computer AI will select your play for you based on the current situation as well as the real world tendencies of the team that you are playing. All that you have to worry about is executing the plays that are called for you. You can also create your own game plan before you begin playing and you can rate the plays based on situations. The higher you rate a play, the more likely it is to be called in that situation. Unfortunately, the AI play calling still needs a bit of work as there were times where it would call a play that didn’t represent the current situation at all. Using Gameflow will also allow you to play a much quicker game of Madden. Traditionally a game of Madden would generally take around an hour to complete. Utilizing Gameflow though will decrease that significantly allowing you to complete a full game in approximately 30 minutes. This mode is a step in the right direction for casual fans and hopefully they can iron out the small bugs with either a patch or next year with Madden NFL 12. This is also one of those things where if you don’t want to use it then you never have to see it. If Gameflow isn’t your type of thing then you can go into the options menu and set the play calling style to conventional and never be bugged with the Gameflow option again.
When NCAA Football 11 was released last month it brought to the table a lot of changes in terms of how you control your player. Madden NFL 11 has followed suit and you can clearly see the improvements as you are controlling your favorite team. You now have full analog control over your player utilizing both of the analog sticks. Utilizing the new locomotion engine you have more control over your players and it makes it a lot easier to stutter step or try and juke to avoid a tackle. If you see a hole opening up in the defense it is much easier to hit it and the improved control over your player will allow you to take advantage of the skills of his real life counterpart. The AI blocking has also been improved this year which will also help your running game. As long as you are patient and wait for the appropriate blocks to happen you should have a much easier time this year running up the field. As a defender here you can also use the dual analog control scheme to try and quickly get around the guy that is blocking you so that you can quickly plug up the hole or even get to the quarterback and nail him with a bone crushing sack.
One of the main modes every year in Madden is the Franchise mode. For Madden NFL 11 draft classes have been re-created from scratch with over 8,000 rookies. Other improvements have been made as well such as the increased salary cap amounts and the re-tuning of free agency for players. However, with that said, Franchise mode was largely ignored this year. If you played the franchise mode in Madden NFL 10 then you know exactly what to expect here. There are certain elements which look like all EA Sports did was a “copy/paste” from Madden NFL 10 to Madden NFL 11. An example of this would be the “Extra Point” highlight show that you can view in franchise mode. The only thing they really changed for this year’s version is the announcer says “Madden NFL 11″ instead of “Madden NFL 10″. The two hosts are wearing the same exact outfits that they were in last year’s title, the animations and comments are the same and you also have the same disjointed commentary as if they are doing a poor job reading from cue cards. This is an embarrassment and something that should have just been left out altogether if the development team wasn’t even going to try here. Perhaps it is because Madden is an annual title and they simply didn’t have the time. If that turns out to be the case than EA needs to take the Activision approach and have two teams working on Madden. That way you still have your annual Madden title, however, each title will have been in development for two years and it will be a better game overall. What I would love to see is highlights of the games they are covering. If the host is standing there and telling me about last week’s game between the Raiders and Chargers than show some highlights of that game as they are speaking. That would add another level of authenticity to the overall package and I know it is something that NFL fans would greatly appreciate.
One thing that is new about this title is online team play. Online team play puts the player in control of a single offensive unit and a single defensive unit. Online team play can support any combination of up to three players on each team, each with a specific responsibility for the game. This can be a lot of fun to play with friends and can definitely lead to some old fashioned trash talking between friends as they succeed or fail. If you want to get really involved you can scout your opponents which will tell you on a per situation basis (1st and 10, 3rd and short, etc) how often they tend to run vs pass in any given direction. Another cool feature is the EA Sports On Demand section. This is where you go to get the latest NFL.com news as well as to view the latest videos on NFL.com. This is a great concept for those gamers that want to keep up on all things relating to the NFL. As this review was being written there was a video up showcasing T.O.’s first practice as a Bengal as well as the top five fantasy wide receivers and more.
Much like in previous years there are a bunch of different game modes. There is of course Franchise mode, Be an NFL Superstar and the usual fare. One of my favorite modes this year was the “Madden Moments” mode. This mode is where you take a moment from the 2009 NFL season and relive it. You get the chance to either replicate or rewrite history. A great example of this is that you get to play as the Colts in the Super Bowl and see if you can rewrite history by leading one of the greatest comebacks in Super Bowl history against the New Orleans Saints. It was a lot of fun to relive some of last season’s greatest moments and to be able to participate in them. Of course there is also the online play over Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. Please keep in mind that EA has their online pass where you have to redeem a code to gain access to the online features. If you bought a new copy of Madden then you have nothing to worry about. If you bought a used copy though then you will need to purchase a license to be able to play online.
The presentation this year has also improved and EA Sports has taken another step closer in replicating the feeling that everyone gets on Sunday when their favorite team is playing. The television style presentation looks really nice as do all of the new animations. One of the better new animations is when your receiver catches the ball and barely gets both feet inbounds. It looks kind of cool to see them stretch out and then make sure their toes are where they need to be. There are event based graphics for holidays, Super Bowl, AFL and the playoffs. There are hundreds of new cameras with the improved integration of replays, including smart cuts and slow motion. Unfortunately some of these new changes brought in some frame rate problems. It is nothing major and it usually only happens while switching to a replay or something of that nature, however, it can get annoying. Additionally, the level of advertisements in Madden NFL 11 will definitely get on your nerves. Verizon, Old Spice and Doritos are pretty much shoved down your throat throughout the whole experience which can be a little grating.
EA changed up the commentary a little bit with the introduction of Gus Johnson alongside the returning Chris Collinsworth. Gus brings a lot of enthusiasm to the game which is definitely appreciated, however, the commentary faces the same problem that it always does. There are quite a few times where the commentary is not reflective of what is taking place on the field. There was one instance when I was playing where a team missed a field goal, however, the commentators went on and on about how great that field goal was and how good that particular kicker was playing. Some of the celebratory animations weren’t taking place at the correct times either. As an example, there was one instance where I was on offense and it was fourth down. I tried to convert it for the first but the defensive line stopped my halfback before I could get the required yards. Even though I failed to get the first down and turned the ball over as a result there were players on my team that celebrated as if we successfully converted the first down.
Some of the things that did work really well include the authentic stadium audio that was put into this year’s version. If you were playing as the Steelers and it was third down in your opponent’s territory you would hear the crowd chanting “Here We Go Steelers” while if you were playing as the Titans you would hear the crowd chant “Go Titans Go” after a defensive sack. It is definitely a nice touch and helps to bring the unique environment that each team has in their respective stadiums. Even the Super Bowl has received a bit of an overhaul and the celebrations after you win the big game are different based on what team you are. I won the Super Bowl as the San Francisco 49ers and the commentators were talking about how it was the 6th Lombardi trophy for San Francisco and how the 49ers were undefeated in the Super Bowl. Having those individual touches for your favorite team is great and I am sure it is something that fans will appreciate.
Overall, Madden NFL 11 is a really fun title. As I outlined above it does have its share of issues, however, when you look at the experience as a whole you should have a lot of fun here. Fans of the NFL should have a great time playing this game and taking their team to the Super Bowl or playing online against friends. More casual gamers should be able to enjoy this year’s version a little more too with the new Gameflow addition. If you tried the demo that is currently available and you didn’t like what you saw then you need to do yourself a favor and rent this game before making any final decisions. The final retail version of Madden NFL 11 is much better than the demo leads you to believe. Football season is upon us and it is time once again to support your favorite team. Don’t be left out.
Originally posted on Totally Gaming Network