Tis the season for the big man, not of the one dressed in red, but that of John Madden and the longest running and top selling Football game franchises ever. Last year EA Sports brought gamers a game that captured action and atmosphere of what happens on any given Sunday. This year the team has built off the solid foundation of the 2009 season and has brought gamers new gameplay elements, new control schemes, revamped graphics and AI engines and even more of the atmosphere of a Sunday at the stadium.
This years outing see’s many changes both on screen and under the hood. Most changes are made on the field with game modes remaining pretty much the same from last year. The biggest mode change comes in the online department, where gamers can now jump online with 5 others players and play in an intense team based 3 vs 3 game. In this mode each player will be responsible and control either the QB, RB, or WRs/TEs on offense, or D Line, LBs DBs on defense. You will need to work in harmony and strategize together, in order to succeed in this mode. This mode is very innovative and finally breaks the 1 vs 1 online play mold.
Madden 11 also sees Madden Ultimate team and the AFL already in game, unlike last years post launch DLC. There is also a standalone Superbowl mode, which is a quick way to play out the biggest game of the year. Other then those additions the game modes from exhibition to franchise are pretty much the same with minor tweaks and changes based off community feedback.
The big focus this year was to keep players on the field and in the action as much as possible. The additions of GameFlow and Game Planning accomplish this goal with flying colors. GameFlow removes the need to flip through playbooks and puts play calling into the hands of your team’s coordinators. With this addition game times are cut in half. Right out of the box GameFlow works quite well, but to make it even better you can use Game Planning. Game Planning allows you to load and then edit any team’s playbook based on certain situations. Once you set-up your playbook for the various situations, such as 1st and long, 3rd and long, Goal Line, you then rate each play. Once your playbook is set and rated, you will then have two options when using the game plan during a game. You can either use GameFlow which will then use your playbook, or use the old play calling scheme and now have the option to quickly call the plays from your created Game Plan, similar to Ask Madden. Again this not only allows you to speed up your games but it also finally alleviates the old headaches of always needing to flip through pages and pages to find certain plays. You can make any number of play books and easily load them before beginning a game. It will be nice in future games to see the game track and adjust the GameFlow choices based off your play call trends and tendencies, instead of relying on you to set-up your own Game Plan.
Beyond the addition of GameFlow and Game Planning, the EA Sports team made major visual and game engine improvements to the on field action. Players and coaches have never looked so amazing, thanks a lot to the games new lighting and shadow engines, and many coaches and players lending their likeness to EA Sports. The lighting system is the same technology we saw earlier this summer in NCAA Football 11. Players cast unique shadows not only on the ground but also on to themselves which is what really makes the visuals look real. While many of the top players look fairly close to their real life counter parts, one thing that did detract from the player models was that it seemed like every player was angry. Facial expressions just don’t seem as varied and don’t seem to have the correct energy and enthusiasm for certain situations. With a team up on the scoreboard they just seem gloomy and serious. While the skin textures have improved greatly, there is one major thing missing, Tattoos! While I wouldn’t expect a replication of Jeremy Shockey’s tattoo sleeves, I do expect some sort of tattoo representation. Maybe next year?
Stadiums have also received some improvements visually, with the crowds now sporting 4x the resolution(though still looking very generic, repetitive and blocky), as well as a slew of new animations, and finally a dynamic audience system. If you’re on a cold streak don’t expect to come out of the tunnel to a packed house. The new Giants/Jets Stadium has been added and looks great and a handful of other stadiums have received upgrades to reflect off season changes and additions.
Last year saw the introduction of Locomotion and this season the development team has created an entirely new Locomotion engine which now includes full analog speed control. The sprint button has been removed and in it’s place are real world speed and acceleration stats for each player. Coupled with Locomotion is the new Dual Stick controls, which give gamers some of the best controls ever in the Madden series. You can now steer your player while trucking and can even shield the ball with a simple twist, amongst other moves. The dual controls not only offer amazing control but also lead to amazing looking action on the field. It’s great making cuts up the middle and then taking off through a hole.
The AI has also received a decent overhaul as well. Much like NCAA Football 11 your teammates will pick-up down field blocks as well as perform the various blocking schemes such as Power-O and A Gap Runs quite well. Animations have been vastly improved with sidelines and back of end-zone catches getting major work. Not only will you see a vast increase in the variety of catches but players will try to drag or plant feet in-bounds much more often and better then years past. And for the most part animation transitions looked very smooth. I did run into a few times where animations would pop, for instance my receiver was clearly out of bounds, but he magically slid backwards for the catch. This was a very rare issue, and with all the action going on couple hiccups can be expected. Tackling was greatly improved last year with gang tackles and tackles remain just as solid in Madden 11. A welcome change is that defensive players finally understand how to go for the ball carries legs and make more attempts at wrapping them up low. Also now to counter the gang tackle addition last year, offensive players will push the pile much more effectively. It’s great seeing a big linemen giving a smaller HB a nice push to break a gang tackle for a big run. With the new dual stick controls you will be able to break tackles with much more ease and the animations of shaking off your opponents are very impressive. Controls and animations are hands down the best in the series.
The audible and pre-snap controls have been alter quite a bit. All pre-snap commands are tied to the D-Pad, and in a small pop-up box in the upper corner of the screen or along the bottom score bar. The new system doesn’t only remove some of the onscreen clutter but it makes pre-snap commands much more streamlined. While it did take a bit of getting use to, once you get the menu tree down you’ll be able to adjust on the line quickly.
The game still boasts a rather nice television style presentation. And the mantra from last year “Everything you see on a Sunday, see it in Madden NFL” is further built upon. Right from the start of a game you see the visiting team walk off the buses, and see the home town fans tailgating in the parking lots. There are also many more team specific scenes like Tony Romo on the sidelines with a backwards baseball cap to the Saints pre-game chant. EA has once again captured the atmosphere of a Sunday at the stadium.
The replay system is also vastly improved. From all the new camera angles to the improved camera cuts and slow motion. Most times the replays worked well and looked amazing, but at times there were some hiccups. I came across at times that the cuts weren’t timed correctly, such as staying to long on the QB after a pass or missing the catch but seeing the run after the catch. My biggest issue with the replays are the transition wipes from gameplay to replay. More often then not the replay would be playing then the wipe would occur. While this isn’t a major game breaking issue, ascetically it’s not great. Lets hope it can be fixed in a patch. Even with my nit-picks the presentation is great, when replays work correctly they look great. And the revised broadcast graphics are sized and look perfect. The score bar isn’t overly large and the other onscreen displays are placed and sized well that you can really soak in all the amazing visuals.
The commentary booth see’s the return of Chris Collinsworth and the addition of Gus Johnson. Gus Johnson gives Madden 11 a major energy boost, with his high energy play calling, and Chris Collinsworth returns with his Emmy winning color commentary. Even though the two are major stars in the sports announcing world, this season’s commentary does have some issues. Firstly many times Gus Johnson’s commentary sounds choppy and very robotic. He’ll go from a high energy loud sentence about a big run, to his next line that will have a totally opposite inflection. It’s very obvious at times that the game is stringing together different recordings to complete the call. The next issue with commentary is that it’s obvious both Collinsworth and Johnson aren’t in an announcing booth together. There is rarely any back and forth between the two, and the back and forth doesn’t always match in intensity, one of them might be really high energy on a topic and the other will be very laid back. Don’t get me wrong both do an amazing job and the commentary was pretty well timed to the on field action, but some of the technical aspects of how a game creates the in-game commentary, needs some TLC. Luckily the other audio work in the game is amazing, the soundtrack and stadium audio is the best yet. Each team has custom audio setup’s such as the Jets, J-E-T-S chant after a PAT or the Viking’s, Viking horn after a 1st down. And in-between plays the great soundtrack of Madden 11 is played just like you would hear on a Sunday, there’s nothing better to keep your energy up like AC/DC’s Thunderstruck while getting set for your next play.
Besides my issues with the commentary the presentation is top notch this season. The development team listened to our thoughts on in-game advertisements and we won’t be dealing with the annoying pop-ups during gameplay like last year. The advertisements have been kept to recaps and statistic cut-scenes, much like a real TV broadcast.
EA Sports has truly pulled out all the stops this year for Madden NFL. This is by far the best looking and best playing game of the series. The new graphics, lighting systems and animations are great and will offer lots of eye candy. For the first time, I’m actually not skipping over replays and actually soaking in the post play action. Controls are top notch. For once I really feel like I’m in control of the ball carrier and can easily execute moves I’ll be seeing this football season. And the movements on the field look great. Commentary while good, does need some technical tweaks to make the commentary flow better and sound more natural. But you might want to turn down the commentary anyway and take in the sounds of the stadium, cause with a 5.1 surround sound system you’ll feel like you’re there. Madden NFL 11 really captures the essence and atmosphere of the NFL and a Sunday at eh stadium. This years game is far more then an “roster update”. With all the great improvements and mechanical changes this is a great year to pick-up Madden NFL.
A copy of Madden NFL 11 for Xbox 360 was provided to us for this review.