Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Madden NFL 12 Reviews
Madden 12 Reviews
Madden NFL 12 review: Vacuum-sealedby Mike Suszek
Reviewing, let alone investing in an annual sports game series is difficult. In my experience, Madden fans are typically the reluctant type; they hope for vast improvements every year and expect a new game that will blow them away. Madden NFL 12 is not that game. It's not the kind of game that answers every problem players have with football games. But this year, EA Sports tackled some core issues that elevates this game as one of the best in the series.
One of the first things players will notice is a general improvement in all things related to presentation. Madden 12 mimics real NFL broadcasts this year with better-positioned camera angles and perfectly placed broadcast graphics that show game and season stats. The concept of "just like you're watching it on TV" shines through in the smallest of details, from the stickers and scuffs on helmets to the grass stains players earn on their jerseys. Laying out Jay Cutler and constantly seeing a reminder in the dirt on his shoulder was a badge of honor for me (and for my middle linebacker, while we're at it).
The main complaint I have with Madden 12's presentation, aside from the cardboard crowds, is the commentary, which is at near-disaster levels. Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth return this year, with recycled lines from Madden 11 in hand, calling each game fairly inaccurately, blandly, and with as much vagueness as possible. Besides hearing the same lines about safeties being on islands all the time, I'd heard one touchdown pass considered a "big gain" that kept the drive going. If you plan on playing Madden 12, plan on having something else to listen to.
Gameflow received a small upgrade, with a box that offers an option for players to scroll through plays based on aggressive, conservative, and gameplan-based play calling. What once was a single button option is actually worse in some ways, as gameflow doesn't provide you with any play art or even the formation for the plays you select. A cover 3 in a 3-4 set isn't the same as a cover 3 in a nickel 2-4-5 formation, which makes gameflow a sort of blind-leading-the-blind option for play calling. This is the worst for the amateur players that the system is meant for, as the opportunity is lost for players to learn how formations and plays work, and why they work in certain circumstances.
Blending together the game's mostly-improved presentation and gameplay are added animations. EA Sports boasts over a hundred new player animations in Madden 12, enough added variety to give you the necessary sense of uniqueness in each catch and hit. Player fluidity is impressive this year, to a degree that embarrasses previous versions. This year, you actually control players up until the moment they collide with another player. This means one of my biggest issues with Madden 11 can be left in last year's game: no more suction.
Past games had players warp and slide into place for blocks, tackles, catches, and nearly any player animation within the game. Unfortunately, this meant being near an incoming defender was just as good as being wrapped up by them. Instead, I've seen no instances in Madden 12 of players warping awkwardly into an animation, whether it's my fullback opening a running lane for me, or a receiver making an amazing catch. This player fluidity doesn't just make the game look better, but it makes the game play much better than Madden 11.
While some will be disappointed to see no changes to the online franchise mode, the offline franchise mode received the most work this year. Franchise mode's more noteworthy additions add excitement to the offseason general manager process, such as a new rookie scouting system and free agent bidding. Scouting a handful of players out of the upcoming draft class unlocks a few stats at a time, leading up to a more tense, exciting drafting period. Players have the option to allow the game to simulate any part of franchise mode but, as I've learned, some decisions are best left to the player. In my case, skipping the contract signing process for all the rookies I'd drafted my first time through led the game to actually not sign all but one of them to my team. It was a nightmare finding my future star quarterback's glowing ratings fully unlocked on another team's roster, with no plausible trade to bring them to my team.
I didn't necessarily need that quarterback, though. My offline franchise, where I was controlling the Cincinnati Bengals, saw Andy Dalton on a hot streak for the first few games of the season. This is possible through dynamic player performance and player traits, which accounts for each player's individual tendencies, skills, and fluctuating confidence and consistency. Now having Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady on your team (and especially on the opponent's team) doesn't feel essentially the same thanks to their ratings, as both play in a unique manner.
Likewise, the "be an NFL superstar" mode has been turned into a micro RPG. Superstar mode in Madden 12 is exactly as it should be: creating a player and participating in games and practices nets you skill points, which you use to boost your player's individual ratings. I started out by upgrading my strong safety, who was drafted by the Oakland Raiders, at his speed and acceleration ratings before working on his coverage ratings, as superstar mode limits you to controlling only your created player. Games go fast in superstar mode, and a few hours of diligence takes you through an entire season. Sadly, the disbursement of skill points is terribly imbalanced, and my strong safety went from his starting 66 overall rating to a 99 overall before the start of the second season. After that, there was far less incentive to continue his career, so I chose to force an early retirement for him.
Better yet is the addition of online communities. Past Madden games had players matching up online with others in a mostly random environment, without any certainty that the player they were about to clash with would play with class and sportsmanship. Online communities in Madden 12 allow you to join both private and public groups, each with an impressive amount of options that makes playing a game within the community a unique experience. Joining up with other Packers fans, or with my 4th String Madden league friends, or creating my own "2 Minute Drill" community, offers something fresh and reliable in the online front. Each community contains leaderboards for both head to head and team play games, which is wonderful for the 98 percent of Madden players that have no hopes of reaching the upper tier of the global online leaderboard.
Madden 12 is a good game despite itself. Amidst its major shortcomings is the price tag on much of the add-on content. In an era where NBA 2K11 provides an excellent example of how to offer players a new, arguably appropriate way to play with legendary players, Madden 12 charges players (albeit optionally) for the opportunity to play with football legends in Madden ultimate team. With all the fun to be had in superstar mode or Madden moments live, I'm disappointed that I can't create and share my own Madden moments with others online. As good as the game is, it is victimized by its own business model.
Madden 12 does not respond to every fans' frustrations. Every year, the series brings a balance of improvement and ongoing flaws. Considering this year's game as a whole, improvements like the new presentation style and lack of player suction heavily outweigh the more minuscule issues that remain. It's a good kind of frustration for players, the kind where this year's game is definitely better than last year's, which may actually be enough incentive to give it a shot.
3 1/2 out of 5
How Madden NFL 12 Uses You as a Beta Tester
Madden reviews are pointless. That includes this one. I'm not entirely sure when that happened -- or why. But I think playing and evaluating Madden NFL 12 this year has helped me shape some theories.
To the person who only occasionally plays, let alone purchases Madden, it's a big challenge recognizing the differences from year to year -- and the reviews don't really help matters. In the past five years, the series has seen some pretty significant ups and downs in quality, but you'd never know that by looking at the average scores for the franchise over that period (80, 85, 85, 85, 84, according to one popular review aggregator.) It's all too predictable. The tide rolls in. The tide rolls out.
For an entirely different audience, sports gaming enthusiasts like me, the yearly release of Madden represents a conduit to the most enjoyable hours to be had playing video games. There really is no substitute for the type of competitive tension and excitement offered by playing sports games with friends (fighting games come pretty close.) It's no wonder then that review scores matter little to this crowd -- we need that conduit at any cost.
In fact, we're willing to put up with all manner of problems, glitches, and exploits just to get that fix. What's worse, many of those issues aren't even identified until weeks or months after the reviews have been written and the scores all tallied (I'll give you a head start on a good one for Madden 12, though: Goal Line formation, QB Sneak is basically broken. Give it a try on 1st and 10 some time and watch Jay Cutler rumble for nine yards like he was shot out of a cannon.)
As a result, we become a de facto post-release testing and QA department for EA Sports. We self-police and enter into gentlemen's agreements to avoid "rocket catches" and "nano blitzes" for the sake of making the game more fair, realistic, and fun. And every year you'll find posts all over the 'net stating that "so-and-so on the Operation Sports forums has a set of sliders that makes the game play much better than it does out of the box!" Every year. The tide rolls in. The tide rolls out.
Some of the problem stems from the short development cycle for a Madden game -- that more or less ensures the team has to fix holes in the hull while they're sailing the ship. And every year, they patch up a dozen leaks, but spring nine more. For example:
•The new collision system removes most of the suction and warping that's plagued the blocking, running, and tackling in the series -- but it also results in an inordinate number of pinball-type animations, rather than more natural wrap tackles and arm tackles.
•The presentation has been revamped with all-new broadcast-style cameras in authentic locations -- but all too often, the camera cuts to a close-up of an empty patch of the field, or a scene of my starting cornerback warming up for a game-winning field goal, rather than my kicker (that one had me rubbing my eyes to make sure I was not hallucinating.)
•The player models have reached an incredible new level of detail that includes great uniform dirt and degradation, making them look more realistic than ever -- but between plays, they still walk around like robots and bump into each other, destroying that realism.
•There are a few very nice gameplay/control enhancements, like the ability to pump fake to a specific receiver -- but you'll find that the anemic in-game manual omits some of them (hold the L trigger and press the face button that corresponds to the receiver you want to fake to, for the record.)
The biggest problem for Madden at this stage in its existence, though, is that it seems to lack a clear direction or vision of what it should be. Instead, it's listing back and forth, rudderless, between attempts at being a serious simulation and trying to attract a more casual audience, and it's not doing great service to either. I fear we'll be waiting until it makes its way to new hardware before genuine creative thinking and innovation returns to the series.
The good news for Madden fans is that the game is still tremendously entertaining and is a noticeable improvement over last year's big-play-oriented score/snore-fest. Defense is once again fun to play and it feels well within your power to stop even superstar running backs and receivers. The CPU plays a much better, more varied game, and you'll see scores in the teens and twenties more often than scores in the forties and fifties like last year.
Just know going in that franchise faithful who have ponied up $60 every year since, oh, 1992, definitely deserve something more. We deserve a brand new boat for once.
Madden 12 Review
Arrowhead addict patrick allen
Hurricane Irene slammed into New York City this weekend. While the damage wasn’t as bad as some ratings hungry Whether Channel executives would have you believe, the rain and wind were crappy enough to keep me inside playing Madden NFL 12.
Thus I will give you my rambling first impressions of the game. I’m a casual gamer so I am just going to talk about what stood out to me and what I think most people will be interested to hear. As with all reviews, your mileage may very. Each person will probably have a different impression of the various aspects of the game. These are mine.
From a game-play perspective, Madden 12 is a big upgrade over Madden 11. While there is a lot here that is familiar, there is enough that is different that it doesn’t feel like a retread of last year’s entry.
For starters the game looks a lot different. The broadcast style has changed, as has the lighting. The Madden team also added 3-D grass whish really looks great. Sometimes a player’s foot will sing into it a little too far but on the whole it is really cool to see the individual blades of grass in the cut scenes.
The new tackling animations, which you probably got a taste of in the demo, are fantastic. They feel a lot more realistic than anything we’ve seen in previous Maddens. The players appear to have weight to them and balance seems to matter. Suction tackles are also gone for the most part which might be the biggest improvement in the entire game. It is also nice to see that when a ball-carrier gets engaged with one tackler and another tackler comes flying in, they actually make an impact and change the direction the ball carrier falls. In previous editions the extra tackler would just run by or fall down.
The defense is also much smarter in Madden 12. I am sure I will start finding money plays the more I play but so far, playing offense is much more difficult. In the past, any time I got in 3rd and long situations, I could just throw a deep pass over the middle and pick up the first down. In Madden 12, just like in the real NFL, 3rd and long is a really bad situation to find yourself in. The middle is taken away so all those old money plays won’t work. If you try to force your pass into coverage, you’ll get picked off.
Another great addition is that defensive players will break off their routes if it is appropriate. If a corner is in man coverage on your receiver and you check down to your receiver in the flat, he’ll break off his route to break up the play. He might get there in time and he might not but the days of abusing the flats for a quick and easy first down appear to be over.
More after the jump.
The running game feels more realistic as well. In past versions of the game I found early on whether or not I was going to be able to run the ball on a particular defense. If I could run early, I could run the whole game and rack up ludicrous amounts of yards.
If I found the defense was playing the run tough, I couldn’t get anything going. Every run would be stuffed in the back-field. I’d finish the game with 12 yards rushing if I was lucky. It was like the game just decided I wasn’t running and that was the end of it.
In Madden 12, the running game is balanced. You might have success on one play then get stuffed on the next. In most games I played with the Chiefs, Jamaal Charles seemed to average around five yards a carry, which is close to what he does in real life. When I ran with Thomas Jones, he was not as effective, just like in real life. It isn’t perfect yet but it is getting better.
My favorite part of this year’s game has to be the new “Dynamic Player Performance.” This is a new AI system Madden has developed so that each player is not only unique but changes throughout the season and individual games.
Players are assigned different attributes that can impact their in-game performance. A player is given a “consistency” rating and a “confidence” rating. These are important because they determine how a player will perform on the field. A guy like Peyton Manning, who is incredibly consistent, will always be pretty good. However, a guy like Chiefs MLB Derrick Johnson, might be great one game and disappear the next. Just like in the real NFL, some guys show up every Sunday and some guys only show up when they feel like it.
There are also hot and cold streaks. These only come into play in Franchise Mode. If a player has a really good game he might go on a “hot streak.” This is indicated by a little flame or ice icon next to the player’s name. Players on hot streaks will perform with a higher rating for up to three games. Once their streak is over, they will go back to their default rating. How long a player stays on a hot or cold streak depends on their consistency.
One thing I found annoying about this addition was that the game doesn’t show you what sort of increase a player is getting. All you know is that he is on a hot streak. I think it would be much more interesting to see the actual rating change on the player page. If Matt Cassel gets on a hot streak, maybe his rating goes from an 86 to a 90. A cold streak might take him down to an 80. Unfortunately, all you see is the fire or ice icon.
So how does it work? At this stage it is hard to say. I haven’t played enough games to really workshop something like this but I can give you my initial impressions.
When playing in Franchise Mode, the game to game streaks seem to work really well. Playing through a season with the Chiefs, Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers went on hot streaks at the same time. Accordingly, the KC defense became very stingy. Berry was all over the field making tackles. He had an interception and even blocked a FG. Flowers shut down his man and when he was thrown at, he nabbed the interception. He had two in the game. It seemed pretty realistic. It really felt like those guys were just having a really good day.
On the other side of the coin, Matt Cassel went on a cold streak and I suddenly had a difficult time getting the passing game going. I then had to rely on the running game and Jamaal Charles to get the offense going.
While there are no hot and cold streaks in individual exhibition games, there is Dynamic Player Performance. If a player makes a mistake, it could change how they perform for a little while. For instance, if a RB fumbles, he might suddenly get super protective of the ball. His paranoia about fumbling again causes him to cover the ball and brace for hits. This means he loses a little bit of his elusiveness and he is thus less effective.
QB’s who throw a pick or get sacked might get a little gun shy. A player that is less confident might start pulling the ball down and running with it instead of staying in the pocket and taking another sack.
When these work it is great. Sometimes, however, it isn’t clear what the heck the game is thinking.
To check the DPP you just need to pause the game. On the right, there will be a little menu telling you what is going on with select players. Sometimes it seems to reflect what is happening in the game but sometimes it seems completely random. For instance, once it told me the entire Chiefs offensive line was playing poorly. On that drive I ran the ball down the field with ease.
Again, I am still getting used to it so I may not fully understand the system yet. I can tell you that when it is working, it can be really fun. Playing against the Ravens earlier today, I noticed Joe Flacco was feeling trigger happy. I adjusted my defensive game play accordingly, sending more blitzes and eventually forcing Flacco to throw a pick.
An important thing to note is that you can impact how DPP pans out. A player going on a cold streak or getting a little rattled is not a death sentence. If your QB goes cold, try getting him a few easy completions to get his confidence back up. As you do that, his rating will improve as will his play.
While DPP may not be perfected just yet, it makes the game a lot more fun and a lot more realistic. In the past, games of Madden seemed to go one way or the other. This year there are a lot more highs and lows, just like on Sunday.
The big new feature that is supposed to be the feather in EA’s cap this year is the revamping of Franchise Mode. Being a Franchise player myself, I have been waiting for this moment for a long time. The hot and cold streaks really add a lot to the experience but there are other additions that really rock.
There is a new scouting system that makes perfecting your team much more interesting. There are now different phases so that you can scout players throughout the season, then at the combine, pro days and even individual workouts. In each stage you have a finite number of players you can scout. The longer you stick with a guy, the more you can find out about him. By the end of the process, you can bring in five guys for an individual workout. That will give you the actual rating of those players, including their potential. For the other guys, you’ll have to go on whatever info you were able to collect.
Of course getting the rating doesn’t mean you get the player. For that, you still have to go through the draft. The draft feature is pretty much the same. The menus are a little more clear and it is easier to follow. The only big change here is that you are able to trade future draft picks throughout the game. So if you are a Raiders fan, you can trade away all your future draft picks for busts. Just like in real life.
Another key change comes in the free agency period. No longer can you sign whoever you want so long as you have the cap space. Now you actually compete with other teams in a free agency bidding frenzy. It is fast and furious but it is a lot of fun. Free agency goes in waves just like in real life. The top free agents at each position go first. Each player is available for about a minute so you need to cycle through and quickly input bids on your targets. As you do so, other teams will place bids on the players as well. It is all automatic so all you need to do is hit a button to outbid a team. The team who places the last high bid “agrees to terms” with that player. The contract details are worked out late. Once all the top tier guys are gone, you move on to the second tier guys and do it all over again. It is a lot of fun.
Madden 12 also introduces cut days. Just like in real life, you can fill up your roster in the preseason. You won’t know the final rating of all of your rookies and undrafted free agents until after the last cut-down so you have to choose wisely. Each week, you have to cut a few more players. The longer you keep a guy, the more you learn about him. This is fun and actually gives you a reason to play the preseason games.
The absolute worst aspect of the game is the broadcast presentation. Most of the commentary is recycled from last year’s games. The new stuff is interesting but gets repetitive very quickly. It is also extremely buggy. You will score a TD while Chris Collinsworth is in the middle of a monologue and you’ll be kicking the extra point before Gus Johnson yells “touchdown!”
There was also a weird instance where I was playing the Ravens and Johnson announced that Terrance Cody was about to kick off. Seriously?
There also appears to be a lot of calling players just by their number. It isn’t that they don’t have recordings of the player. On one play, Johnson will tell us that Tamba Hali made a tackle and on the next he will call him “number 91.” It happens a lot and it is kind of annoying.
The new entrances are fine but they also get old really quickly. The announce crew also introduces the key players the first time the offense and defense take the field. I noticed on offense there were recorded bits about Jamaal Charles, Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe but on defense I only ever heard Johnson talk about Brandon Flowers.
There are also spots of audio that are not the same quality as the others. Particularly at the beginning of the game during the coin toss. This sounds really shoddy and unfinished. This may be corrected later but it really should have been ready out of the box.
It is evident that commentary was not the focus this year and it shows. EA seemed to put all their work into revamping Franchise Mode and improving the overall game-play. In these areas, they succeeded.
In closing, this is a pretty good game, especially if you like Franchise Mode. As with every new Madden, the longer we all have to play it the more we will find wrong with it. They clearly haven’t perfected everything. For instance, play action is still pretty much impossible to run.
Still, this is definitely an improvement over Madden 11 and the new features really make it a new game and not just a $60 roster update. If anything, EA finally seems to be focusing on the stuff that matters. The game play is much improved and the addition of DPP really makes me excited for the future of the game. Hopefully EA will continue to develop this AI and uses it to make players even more true to life.
Those searching for the perfect football sim won’t be impressed. For me at least, as a casual gamer and a big football fan, I’m having a lot of fun playing the game. For me at least, that is what is all about.
Posted by just BS at 12:01 AM