The Summer heat is breaking and Fall is right around the corner, that can mean only one thing, the NFL season is about to kick off and EA Sports is here with another installment of the Madden NFL franchise. Over the years Madden NFL has progressed and evolved to give gamers the most realistic experience to what occurs every Sunday on the gridiron. Last year we saw major steps made to streamline the flow of the game with the introduction of GameFlow. This year we see a few changes made in multiple areas of the game, from the mechanics to visuals there are lots a additions and tweaks to discuss.
Let’s jump right onto the field. Right from the start of a game you’ll notice the great changes made to the games presentation. Every year the team at EA Sports tries to recreate any given Sunday on the NFL fields around the country, and this year they have done the best job yet. Each game has authentic team openings which includes pre-game analysis from Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth. The next change you’ll notice is the use of the sideline camera for kickoffs and as the teams approach the line. The simple use of the sideline camera gives the game that real broadcast look. To further make the game look more like a Sunday broadcast, the replay cameras are now based off of real stadium camera locations, giving you that true TV replay look.
Another big visual enhancement is the new 3D grass which we saw introduced earlier this summer in NCAA Football 12. This new piece of eye candy shows up during replays only. And while the 3D grass is a nice first effort it does fall short in a few aspects. First off it’s only visible during low camera angle replays, the rest of the time is the normal flat grass. The other issue with the 3D grass is that only a small area is rendered around the action and then there is a quick fall off. NCAA had the same issue and more than likely this is due to console limitations. Needless to say it’s a nice addition but still in its infancy.
The lighting system has received a decent amount of work. Lighting really shines during day games, as you’ll see the lighting change throughout the game as the sun sets.
Another nice visual addition is field and uniform degradation. Chunks of the field will get ripped up through out the game and playing in the rain will leave your players showing marks from the field on their uniforms and even bodies. It’s a minor addition but really adds to the overall look of the game.
A big change to Madden NFL 12 on field mechanics is the removal of the dreaded suction and player slide, as well as the new collision system. Players no longer slide across the field to make catches. You’ll really see the new catching mechanics shine on the sidelines as players are aware of their location and will try to plant their feet inbounds. This is all great on a visual sense, but for those abusing this flaw you’ll need to work on your timing a bit. Also to further make movement no the field more realistic the tackling system has been revamped. Tackling animations have received a lot of work. Momentum plays a major role in how players tackle and fall no the field, and you won’t see the animations until contact is made. The number of tackle animations are now well over 100, which means you won’t be seeing the same thing over and over, and you’ll see some impressive tackles when players are making leaping catches.
On the defensive side of the ball this year we see much better zone defense AI. Defenders will logically allow receivers to pass through their zones and be picked up by another defender. This is a double edge sword as it is great when you are on defense but more casual players will face a slight learning curve when on offense.
One of my favorite additions last year, GameFlow has received a nice facelift. You can now chose between the Gameplan, Run or Pass when on offense, and on defense, you can choose between Gameplan, Conservative or Aggressive GameFlow plays. This now gives players some choice while maintaining the sped up flow of the games.
There are still a few minor problems graphically with the game, for instance the frame rate is a bit wonky at times where the motion on the screen stutters or even freezes momentarily. Also the normal post play movements of the players still lacks good collision detection as players will walk into each other and keep walking against each other or walk through the refs at times.
All your favorite modes are back and there have been a fair amount of tweaks and additions made. The popular Franchise Mode though seems to have gotten the most work. There are a slew of new mechanics that make the mode more challenging and more realistic. For starters the new Dynamic Player Performance system is great. Players will go on hot and cold streaks, and each week their ratings will change depending on how they have been playing. To add even more depth to how each player plays 18 new traits have been added to the game. These traits lead to each player having a slightly different on field personality. You will find yourself looking over your depth chart more often as well as making sure you include different players in on the action.
Another great change shows up during pre-season. Now you begin each season with a 75 man roster and each week you cut players. Again another nice step up in realism. Each week you get a run down of your players ratings, and as the rookies play you learn their various skill ratings and can make choices on who to keep and who to cut.
For those that have looked for some more interesting scouting you’ll be happy to know the scouting system has received some work. There are now various stages of scouting including NFL Combine, and depending on when you scout a player, their different rating will be revealed to you.
Overall I really like the changes made to Franchise mode, it brings the mode closer to real life and gives you much more control of your team. The best change is the Dynamic Player Performance system. If you have a large number of players on cold streaks your overall performance will suffer, similar to what we see during the NFL season. I would have liked to have seen the coaching carousel that was introduced in NCAA show up in Madden, maybe next year.
The other game modes from Madden NFL 11 make their return, Madden Ultimate Team, Madden Moments and Be a Superstar, are all back. Unfortunately they didn’t receive as much work and changes like Franchise mode. Ultimate team sees the addition of legendary cards, which brings some of the past greats of the NFL back to the field. Superstar mode is pretty much the same though it’s a bit easier to level your player now as you have more way to earn XP. But the mode still lacks the greatness like the similar Road to the Show mode of MLB: The Show.
For those who like playing online with friends, you’ll really get a kick out of Communities and you can pretty much create your own personal club to play against each other. You create the rules, invite who you want and then can track each other on a special leader board. Online Franchise also offers a bit more, mostly in the new contract system that replicates real world contract action right down to player holdouts.
Madden NFL 12 has received many changes and enhancements. The biggest changes will be the new presentation and new on field mechanics. The removal of what has been dubbed “suction” is pretty big. For so many years we’ve seen player magically slide to make catches and now the movement on the field is solid. The new broadcast elements keep up with the franchises goal of replicating any given Sunday in the NFL. The changes made to Franchise mode are quite welcomed. The new Dynamic Player Performance system is great and creates a real life ebb and flow of a team’s performance. The new pre-season cut system is also really great. Again bring the game even closer to a realistic experience. Even with all the good there are still some major rough edges, 3D grass is a nice first step but isn’t perfect and is more superficial than anything else. For some reason the frame rate at times takes hits and it even will cause complete pauses at times, the worst is when this happens right after a snap. There are also the normal issues we have seen for years, like after play collision issues and the less the realistic looking player face models. I think the biggest thing holding back the franchise is the power of current consoles. Even with the normal rough spots Madden NFL 12 is still a blast to play and if you are a big fan of the Franchise mode, either offline or online you’ll really enjoy the changes. The new tackle and contact system really brings the action on the field to life. The team at EA Tiburon continues to build the Madden NFL franchise and this year they have furthered many of the games great aspects.
A copy of Madden NFL 12 for Xbox 360 was provided to us for this review from EA Sports.