The Madden NFL franchise has become as synonymous with the beginning of the NFL’s regular season as commercials for Monday Night Football and fantasy drafts. This year’s iteration of the storied video game franchise, Madden NFL 12, sees EA Sports in familiar territory: fine-tuning a machine that’s been running smoothly for years now. It’s not perfect, but through extremely clean interface and a revamped physics engine that complements the typically great gameplay already in place, 12 represents a solid improvement over last year’s gridiron game.
Gameplay is your typical Madden affair, albeit faster-paced than in recent years. The Gameflow system (which was implemented last year) works as well as ever, essentially putting play-calling on autopilot to allow for a quicker game with more action. Serious football heads also have the option to call plays old school or customize the Gameflow with their own select sets. Games are clean, quick and as fun to play as we’ve seen in the franchise.
In addition to giving last year’s Gameflow a spit-shine, EA has implemented a revamped collision system, something that serves purposes both aesthetic and practical. Players must actually initiate contact to tackle, a dramatic improvement over years past when ‘suction’ effects made ball carriers awkwardly gravitate towards defenders at the push of a tackle button. Collisions place a lot of stock in how big the players are, meaning that a tussle between Ray Lewis and Darren Sproles results as it would in real life: Lewis jolting Sproles back several yards, maybe even toppling over on him. Big running backs or receivers can dish out equal punishment to smaller defensive backs. It looks and plays extremely realistically.
Defense is a bit more frustrating than it should be. Players appear to be ‘skating’ at all times, constantly running at full speeds, displaying a zero-to-60 ability that just doesn’t exist on the gridiron. The lack of a turbo button is to blame for this, as players are constantly running at full speed, a fact that undermines just how important physical momentum to be in real life. Expect to run clean past a ball-carrier simply because it’s difficult to control the direction your bullet of a defender is going. The first thing you want to do is head to the menu and turn the auto turbo off for a more realistic and manageable experience. Also, the game has implemented a new defensive assist feature that allows the computer to take over with the push of the “x” button, to theoretically help with the tackling.
Another strike against 12 is the ‘Dynamic Player Performance’ engine, a feature that gives players a statistical boost or knock depending on how they perform through the course of a game or a season. This happens as your game is progressing and essentially means that you’d better come out firing on all cylinders or your player will begin to under-perform. Balls will be dropped, routes will be overthrown and blocks will be missed if a player on the field finds himself on a ‘cold’ streak, and it leads to some incredibly frustrating, “holly sh*t, my receiver just dropped an easy touchdown for no apparent reason” moments. It’s an obnoxious feature that can’t be turned off, so fingers crossed that EA kills it off by next season.
Games look solid, player models in particular looking as real as they ever have. Lots of subtle animations and sounds throughout the stadiums make for a fun, authentic-feeling experience. All of the extra modes are here – training camp mini-games, Superstar mode and a bevy of online features (the Ultimate Team making a triumphant return) – that Madden users have become used to. Some minor tweaks have been made, including a new custom playbook option that should appease die-hards and a revamped free agency bidding process that will do wonders for armchair GMs.
This game isn’t perfect, but the problems are definitely outweighed by what’s done right. Offensive gameplay is better than it’s ever been, and the new physics engine in place actually represents marked improvement for the long-running franchise. As difficult as it must be to implement new features on a yearly basis, EA has done right with 12, a game deep enough to appease die-hards, accessible enough to appeal to more casual gamers and fun enough to please both.