Madden NFL 11 Review (PS3)
The Madden name carries tremendous weight. It is a decorated franchise that has been equated with football simulation greatness at various points in its life cycle. At other times, some gamers have also been quick to point out its various flaws and have been very critical of the franchise as a whole.
The point is that gamers expect Madden to feature the tightest gameplay controls and an endless amount of on-field strategy. These are the types of expectations that Madden has to attempt to live up to on a yearly basis.
And so with the release of Madden 11 becoming a reality, the developers at EA Sports Tiburon are now going to be fed to the lions once again -- the Operation Sports fans surely being the harshest of critics in the forums of an impassioned sports gaming nation. The game has also been given to a gaggle of media members so they can review and examine every decision and every new feature.
But this year it would seem that the Madden 11 team has answered their critics with a resounding question of their own: Are you not entertained?
Madden returns this summer refined on every level (with some obviously being more refined than others). The gameplay is smoother, the graphics are more vibrant and the game has come to life with added vitality. This is the most entertaining Madden I have played since the Playstation 2 days.
Madden is back, but is it better than ever?
Locomotion and Pro-Tak
One season later, the Pro-Tak animation system is quickly establishing itself as one of the more unique physics engines. This year’s Madden 11 features a more seasoned version of Pro-Tak that takes into account more timing-based factors for each tackle. There are now many more potential ways a play can unfold after initial ball-carrier contact.
For those of you new to the engine, the Pro-Tak system, also known as procedural tackling, allows ball carriers to manipulate the defender’s wrap-up tackle and fight for extra yardage after a hit.
Just a flick of the stick, a stiff arm or a spin can help your ball carrier fight off a defender and spin out of a tackle. In Madden 11, the transitions to different animations gel masterfully -- chaining together multiple hits from all angles, dynamically altering the balance of both ball carriers and would-be tacklers.
It may all sound a bit technical and complex, but in the moment of the game, the action on the field flows just beautifully and naturally. The gameplay is crafted with an inherent sense of how the game of football naturally progresses.
The weight distribution, the ball carrier's and defender’s size and speed, and the overall skill levels of all involved are measured during each tackle. Basically, that is a nerdy way to say that everything on the screen looks rather awesome because of these factors.
The gameplay flow in Madden 11 is also improved. I think the biggest improvement may be the timing of the tackles. There are less canned animations that involve your running back falling through three defenders as he his tackled. Now, more than ever, it would seem that you can manipulate each tackle and pileup in real time.
According to the Madden 11 team, ball carriers now have the tendency to naturally square their shoulders up while making moves. Runners can also bounce off one defender and carry their weight up-field. I really feel like mastering these momentum shifts -- straight forward and through additional defenders -- feels both authentic and rewarding.
The run blocking has been tuned so well that I hardly ever want to throw the ball. Plays develop beautifully with a slower game speed by your side, which means you have time to see which gap to attack. Thanks to the newly rewritten blocking AI, your linemen also actually conduct blocking assignments in a realistic manner (most of the time). Pulling guards actually pull and double teams are actually double teams. The war in the trenches is the closest to reality yet in the Madden series.
The locomotion and momentum improvements in Madden 11 feel like a throwback to the Playstation 2 days. The players have a tighter radius of control since the majority of sliding and skating has been eliminated. Controlling players on the field is much more enjoyable as a result.
With the new locomotion engine, the player differentiation is now greater than ever. You will feel the acceleration differences for different position players. It creates a more authentic 11-on-11 experience.
You should notice that players feature different accelerations and top-end speeds. Some athletes have more versatile spins and more agility while others might feature more strength. Comparably speaking, LaDainian Tomlinson makes much quicker cuts and has better acceleration than his teammate Shonn Greene. LT in the open field feels light on his feet, and so I believe I can can juke anybody out of their cleats. However, I also know he will not break as many tackles or push piles like Greene.
Reggie Bush can run in the open field at full speed and still change his running angle on the left stick without any slow-up. This is what separates him in the league, and it’s also what separates him in Madden 11.
Locomotion influences the passing game as well. For one, the route running appears to be refined this year. Wide receivers lean into cuts and put their weight into them instead of just going through transition-less animations like in the past. Wes Welker breaks in and out his cuts quicker and more explosively than most players in the game (we'll see if that knee holds up, and he's still as explosive soon enough).
Wide receivers now push defenders back and create separation with the momentum that has been established during their routes. This improves both timing and efficiency in the passing game. You will notice that the wide receivers will decelerate and plant before they change directions. The most agile route runners are distinguished with these tuning updates.
While the passing game has received some attention, the offensive linemen AI on play-action passes seems to be broken. If you call a play-action pass with a designed rollout, it’s almost an automatic loss of a play because somebody will usually blow an assignment. I have noticed that the linemen are protecting the pocket instead of where the quarterback is rolling to during these plays.
It would also be nice if they reworked the camera for play-action plays -- I can’t see down the field during a play fake until the camera pans back out, which limits my time to make a decision.
One of the coolest things this year is that the animations and AI for wide receivers has been updated. Receivers are smarter along the sidelines and in the back of the end zone, tapping their feet and hanging over the out-of-bounds lines to make grabs. These catches also look good. Wide receivers even go down over the middle to protect themselves or make one-handed snags while rolling on the ground.
In essence, the new locomotion adds personality to the game and each athlete on the field. The unique skill sets of each individual make for quite the interesting matchups on the field.
Watch out young man, for you just got pwned.
Making moves in Madden 11 is based on the ball carrier’s weight, balance and motions made on the sticks. Players may guide their ball carrier with the left stick to control their lower torso and running direction. The right stick is assigned to the upper body.
As you run and contort the right stick to the left or right upon impact, the ball carrier will shield the ball with his shoulders in the direction of the stick. What we essentially have here is the ability to control the upper torso of your runner to twist off of defenders or to protect the ball at impact. It seems to function decently enough, but I find myself trying to go through defenders or spin off of tackles with the B button -- the right stick to me is used mainly as a truck stick, but you can protect the ball nicely if you master the movements of the upper body.
The developers have also improved the transitions from one juke to another on the right stick. Now, ball carriers can give a quick fake juke left then break to the right by chaining together these movements on the sticks. I typically use the left stick to fake one way then hit the right stick to break the run into a new direction. The functionality is now there to generate a variety of moves with full control of the lower and upper torso.
Some say timing makes all the difference. The timing of the turbo button in Madden is often a key to a successful run or a broken down play. The Madden 11 team decided to go with auto turbo and assigned full control of running to the left analog stick. I feel like it impacts the running game the most because it can help you pace yourself while waiting for plays to develop.
The collision detection is phenomenal. Runners in the trenches will feel the blockers in front of them while searching for an opening at a slow pace and covering the ball. When ball carriers see a hole, their speed picks up and the gap is hit hard with a sense of explosiveness. This explosiveness really takes off when you find some daylight -- carriers will hit their strides and take off in the open field.
EA has even gone as far as prioritizing the running lane that the play was originally supposed to go through. In other words, when that running lane opens, the carrier hits it with some aggressiveness. This is especially true for your AI opponents. They are are no longer handicapped when it comes to running the football. You can -- and will -- oftentimes find yourself getting destroyed by the AI's running game. I really can’t say enough about the ground game and the improvements made to it.
You mean the gimmick feature this year adds some realism and strategy?
The flow of Madden 11 is worthy of some Super Bowl rings. GameFlow changes the philosophy of play calling to something with a much quicker pace. You can game plan your own GameFlow play calls before each game to create strategy during a number of situational-based downs. I would compare it to a customized Ask Madden feature. With a click of a button, your team breaks the huddle and sets up their formation.
The GameFlow feature is very convenient for casual gamers who do not wish to sort through bunches and bunches of plays. The feature also allows games to be played much more quickly since you don't have to scroll through the playbooks.
Along with a new play-calling system, EA added a new hot-route system called the Strategy Pad. There has been some backlash to the changing of the pre-play controls, and creative director Ian Cummings has stated that the team is working on a patch to bring the old system back. While I am not a huge fan of the Strategy Pad, it is not a major detriment to the game either -- it just takes time to adjust to and is a bit unnatural (probably more on the 360 than the PS3).
Having the Strategy Pad allows you to more easily scroll through your defensive rotation to click the player you wish to use. It is easier because the face buttons are now free, so both the X and O buttons can be used to scroll back and forth through your players rather than being forced to use one button to choose your player.
Now, returning to game planning, GameFlow will break down a number of situations. These situations also take into account your down and its corresponding yardage situation. Basically, short, medium and long plays, two-minute drills, red zone situations and more are all factored in here. You can select 10 plays for each situation and then prioritize them with stars. The more weight you add to a play, five stars being the max, the more likely it will be called during the game.
I found myself using GameFlow a good amount during situations that were not critical. As I got into important downs in my game, I switched over to full play calling. Either way, I would not say it is strictly for casual gamers. It is so simple and easy to use that when I want to run the ball on first down, GameFlow simply calls the running plays I have weighted.
In a two-player game, I found myself sticking to the traditional play calling in the second half. The first half is generally filled with some GameFlow calls, but as the game gets more competitive, I usually need to make some defensive adjustments that my original game plan did not account for. When I noticed my opponent picking specific offensive plays, I realized I had to counter his offensive strategy with my own specific play calls.
GameFlow creates an interesting dynamic for the strategic minds out there. With the new locomotion system, your strategy must suit your personnel now more than ever. It has to match the skill set of your quarterback -- is he a pocket passer or a scrambler? It has to suit the needs of your offensive line and their blocking schemes, the wide receiver skill sets and your ball carrier’s profile. You will also have to account for the profile of the opposing defense and how to exploit it.
When you run a franchise team, game planning now takes on a more important role for the aforementioned reasons above. This is why I consider GameFlow to be a positive feature for all Madden gamers -- it delivers chess-like strategy to planning and assists you in executing it.
The broadcast feel in the game has improved with Gus Johnson in the booth. He is so overly expressive that it is amusing. I would like to see a bit more dialogue between him and Cris Collinsworth, but the game commentary is quality. Gus’ Super Bowl level delivery on gains over ten yards can be quite exciting as well.
Collinsworth sounds like he is in the booth calling the game live. He has a very conversational appeal to his commentary that makes the game feel more genuine. There are a bunch of real story lines that pop up with these two in the booth as well.
The cut scenes of the players on the sidelines add a nice touch of authenticity to the game. It brings the athletes to life –- quarterbacks and running backs talking on the bench and small emotions make their way into the game. Pregame scenes of players hopping off the team bus are a cool feature we are starting to see in sports games this year. Pregame cameras in the locker rooms that watch your players prepare their minds for battle are also a nice touch.
The graphics have improved noticeably on the field surface. The level of detail that has been added to the playing fields and stadiums helps to deliver breathtaking moments at times. The new camera zoom for plays going down the sidelines drops you onto the field where you can feel the enormity of the stadium atmosphere. It's a shame there is no progressive lightning to really make the game shine.
EA Tiburon has added custom stadium theme music for each stadium. The playlists you hear on Sundays for your favorite team are heard in Madden 11. You will hear fight songs for teams such as Miami and Washington, as well as the Jeopardy theme playing over the stadium loudspeakers during a review of a challenged play.
The graphics in Madden 11 are impressive. The high-resolution grass, shadows and toning on player models look so authentic. When you mix this with some good commentary, snazzy stadium video screens, a high intensity atmosphere and smooth gameplay, you begin to see something special.
Player models have been adjusted, and they look a bit more proportioned. They no longer look as thin and awkward as they used to. Details like Gatorade towels over the shoulders of players on the sidelines, and players sipping on Gatorade are also nice visual touches.
On the Playstation 3, replays have been cut short and there is no actual halftime show. It is more like a group of quick highlights of the first half. While it’s not a huge negative, the added detail of a quality halftime show can immerse you in the game.
In general, I have not seen any EA Sports Backtrack breakdowns with Collinsworth -- I think halftime would be a perfect time for a strategy analysis segment such as this.
The home of the World Champs -- too bad franchise mode is still the same eh?
The Franchise mode is back, and it boasts the same features we have seen in the past. Players can take control of an NFL franchise and build the squad up through the front office. The Owner mode options such as create a team, stadium and uniform editors are all present in this year’s installment as well.
During the season in your franchise, you can scout the top athletes in college football and view your reports on them. As the season progresses, you will begin to get feedback from scouts on the true ratings for different skills of the scouted players.
While the Franchise mode lacks true innovation, the free-agency period does have player interests that are not unlike recruiting in NCAA Football. Top free agents have a list of interests and needs. If your team suits the free agent's needs, you will be in a favorable position to sign him. While you cannot make phone calls and pitch selling points to these athletes like you can in NCAA, it still works as a guide to show where you stand with the free agent. To sign the free agents, you are still limited to contract length, signing bonus and salary size -- no promises or bribes here.
Madden 11 also features coins that can be used for various franchise tasks. For example, if you use the coins for running back scouts, the true ratings for your scouted athletes in the draft will be revealed. While this is a cheap way to get ahead, I'm sure there's a market for this "get rich quick" scheme. The functionality to import a draft class from NCAA Football is still present.
Become a NFL Superstar
The player creation Career mode is back this year. Players can also choose to be an NFL rookie and fight their way to NFL stardom. It would make perfect sense for your athlete to gain points during training camp and practice but this is not the case. This was made possible in the old Playstation 2 Madden titles, so I wonder why player progression in training camp drills is not present in Madden 11.
Much like MLB: The Show’s Road to the Show mode, Madden 11 allows you to simulate to the next play involving your athlete. You can call your agent up and demand trades and make some headlines, but there is not much depth overall to this game mode.
There is nothing here in this game mode that captures the essence of living the life of an NFL athlete trying to make it in the NFL. This is more of a port of the original game mode with no innovation added. The mode sorely needs a refresh.
Online play -- still pretty standard fare beyond the OTP.
Online Team Play (OTP) is new to Madden 11 this year. You can choose up to three teammates, and each player will be assigned responsibilities for play calling, substitutions and audibles.
While I have not run with a full squad online yet, I did play cooperative offline, and it is a blast. The timing and communication has to be there between teammates to execute plays properly. It is cool to discuss strategy with your teammate out loud for a change.
Madden Ultimate Team makes another splash as a form of a fantasy team that you build up with success on the field. You can collect virtual cards of players, stadiums and coaches. In addition, you can earn players by competing for coins that can be used to buy packs of cards. It’s a fun game mode that can earn you rare collector cards that can be used to assemble your team.
Scouting reports online can be unlocked with coins for situational tendencies of opponents. These reports were previously available for free in older versions of Madden, so I don’t support the use of spending coins that you buy with Microsoft Points on them.
After years and years of crafting current-generation Madden games, EA Sports has finally built up a truly balanced football game. The pocket presence and drop backs of quarterbacks, the new football physics and the broadcast presentation have all been recent positive additions to the series.
The Pro-Tak of last year and the Locomotion engine of this year blend masterfully into what is Madden 11. The game captures the essence of the NFL on Sundays, and establishes Madden as a commanding presence for realistic gameplay in sports gaming.
On the Field: The game is now balanced more than ever with a new locomotion engine. The controls are tighter, plays develop more naturally and there is higher intelligence on the field.
Graphics: Improved stadium designs and lighting coupled with upgraded player models bring the game to life. The enormity and electricity of the state-of-the-art facilities is captured.
Sound Design: Collinsworth is brilliant in the booth, but he needs more lines added. Gus Johnson is better than previous play-by-play announcers. The atmosphere and sound design in the stadiums is as authentic as it gets for NFL games.
Learning Curve: It takes some time to get a feel for the new momentum and locomotion systems. With auto-turbo, it will take an adjustment but it is for the better if you have the patience for it.
Entertainment Value: The gameplay on the field itself should be relatively fresh until the next Madden drops, especially with OTP in the mix. As far as career modes go, I would take NCAA over Madden any day. It needs work.
Online: You can always find serious competition online, and the functionality of OTP and Online Franchise adds great depth.
Score: 9.0 (Exceptional)