Madden NFL 12 Review (Xbox 360)
Read about how we complete our reviews. You can check out the review process here, and then you can scope out the scoring guidelines and scoring rubric.
Day One: First Impressions
Day Two: Gameplay Impressions
Day Three: Franchise Mode Impressions
Day Four: Presentation Impressions
Madden really feels like a game that can't decide what it wants to be. On one hand, the game strives for realistic results, while on the other it cuts several corners with realism to get there. This is the crux of Madden's gameplay.
You will get realistic results with the game, but you will also see more than enough gaffes on the field, which tends to make the whole thing a bit less believable. But the game is balanced and polished to a point where playing it is far from a bad experience. After about 35 games, it does not appear that the offense or the defense has major advantages within the game, so you will get a good variety of games within Madden.
It is this balance that makes Madden enjoyable; the game can truly have moments where it's quite fun because of the unpredictability. With the beefed up zone defenses -- despite some flaws (discussed in my gameplay impressions piece) -- you have to play a smarter game in order to move the ball down the field. Good variety in your play calling is a necessity as is spreading the ball around. Unfortunately, the unrealistic sides of Madden prevent the game from being a truly cerebral football experience.
Playing defense is boring, with no player-lock camera anywhere to be found. There's not much excitement in terms of how defense is played because the majority of what real defensive coordinators call are located within a clunky audibles/hot routes menu (but at least the Strategy Pad is not the only option this year). The defensive play calling is truly one of my biggest long-term gripes with the series because it's nowhere near realistic, at least in the sense that most defensive coordinators don't have playbooks exactly like offensive coaches. Defense is played under a system with individual assignments, which might just be beyond the scope of what Madden is trying to offer.
One bright spot on defense is playing as a down lineman. The moves in your arsenal, as well as the new blocking-collision system, will allow for some more fun when rushing the quarterback. However, the claims of the demise of suction blocking were greatly exaggerated because you will get pulled into a blocking animation by just making contact with a lineman. This is not the elimination of suction blocking, but rather, a new and terrifying evolution of our most hated issue. This will create some incredibly annoying moments where you feel like you are on your way to a sack only to get sucked into a block just like in the past.
The kicking meter is a step backwards for the series. The analog system from the years prior was a much better way to reward players for having a steady hand. If nothing else, the option to choose would have been nice.
The game touts a new collision system, and the results are sometimes quite solid, but the changes are at best subtle compared to prior editions. Madden vets will recognize the new tackles and some of the new running animations right off, but these are not additions that will spur much excitement for fans who were looking for more wholesale changes in the franchise.
After years of the same old junk, the new camera angles and effects are a huge step forward for the Madden series. The camera angles add necessary realism to the broadcast presentation, and the new team intros give the game a touch of authenticity. The new statistical wipes and broadcast feel of the game are completely noticeable from the start. Overall, the additions in this area are a huge step forward for the game's lifespan because the game definitely just "feels" improved.
I've found that after a few dozen games, the intros have actually become perfectly skippable because they don't offer anything new or exciting after seeing them a few times. That does not mean they were not a good addition, just that they make up one part of what should be an enjoyable intro package.
For all the good that the new cameras bring to the game, the commentary seems to suck the life out of much of the enjoyment. Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth are perhaps the worst major video game announce team in some time. Both are talented announcers, but the implementation of commentary is just horrid in Madden. Both guys will see their pitches, inflections and more change over the course of a sentence while also calling out wrong names, team names and even just calling players by their numbers.
The rest of the audio package is adequate, but nowhere near great. The crowds are so-so and don't really feel alive, and the rest of the sound effects are not all that spectacular. There is some exaggeration at times on the sounds of hits as well, which is a minor annoyance to me but most likely will be overlooked (or even enjoyed) by some.
Madden is a game that claims to be a football simulation, so when holding the game to that standard, you will see it actually falls woefully short.
The line play in Madden is still a mess, as pulling guards have huge issues with figuring out where to go after they begin to pull. At least half of the time, they simply don't block anyone. The pass blocking is also quite bad, as players don't pick up blitzers all that well, and oftentimes you can rush three players and get the same result as rushing five or six because linemen don't effectively double up on a three-man rush.
However, the line play has some bright spots. The pocket formation on pass plays and straightforward run blocking is just fine, and sometimes it even wanders into borderline brilliant territory. For true trench warriors, you will absolutely hate how linemen still "stand up" to block in EA football. It's one of those things that does not change the gameplay, but it just looks bad to the educated football viewer.
AI QBs are a mixed bag. They are very effective at throwing balls in the middle third of the field and in the flats, but anything on the outside is a fiasco. I kept stats through three games just to test this theory out, and I found that AI QBs had a completion percentage of 65 percent over the middle (respectable for sure) and 15 percent on the outside. That's a discrepancy that's incredibly easy to adjust to as a defensive coach.
The beefed up zone defenses suffer from the same problems as the NCAA zone defenses, so the same tactics to exploit the zones in NCAA can be used in Madden. Zone defenders are too slow to leave their zones and/or to adjust to the play at hand. They will oftentimes not migrate to a wide open receiver just in front of them or leave their assignment to give chase to a running QB until the play is already several yards downfield, resulting in big gains while scrambling with a fast QB.
The WR/DB interactions are anything but realistic because players don't jockey for position, and there are frequent occurrences of defensive backs actually going straight through wide receivers to make a play on the ball. This is a huge problem because you will assume your receiver has positioning, but due to a lack of collision detection a corner will simply move in front of a wide receiver and make the interception. (This actually becomes worse as you up the difficulty level.)
Other than the flaws noted above, there are also serious issues with clipping (such as running backs running "through" fallen down linemen), and there are a ton of reach tackles that should never succeed in real life.
Simply put, while Madden is a fun and balanced game, it's not a realistic game in the simulation sense.
Online play in Madden seems solid in the pre-release online world. The servers are probably not under too much pressure yet, but I didn't encounter much lag or anything of that sort so far this year. In reality, the jury is still out on online play because there's no way to really give it a fair judgment until every Madden gamer starts hitting the servers at the same time. As with the Iowa primaries in presidential elections, the early results are only a general guide for the rest of the race.
The features available to online gamers are a mix of old and new. Online Franchise has not received any significant additions. Instead of online franchise improvements, we received a new feature called Online Communities in its place. Communities allow up to 2,000 like-minded Madden gamers to basically play against each other and compete for the top of the community leaderboard while being united by certain settings and rules. For sites with active online audiences like OS, this is an unbelievably cool feature. For people who just wanted to play with their buddies in a fully fleshed out franchise mode online, not so much.
Ultimate Team makes its triumphant return with a familiar formula. The mode can be downright addicting as you trade cards and build a better and better team. For some reason, it has not caught on like the FIFA mode has, but I recommend giving it a try because I think you could find yourself hooked very quickly based off of my full experiences with the mode last year.
(We will check back on online play after everyone gets their hands on it this week.)
Franchise mode was the greatest beneficiary in the yearly development cycle improvements list. The mode has seen some major additions like a new free-agent bidding system, a new rookie scouting system, and all new menus. The results are a bit mixed, but they are certainly more positive than negative.
Since Franchise mode is a mode driven by its user interface (UI), we should probably start with the changes that have been made this year. There are a lot of problems that I detailed in my article this weekend with the UI, and these shortcomings really bring the entire experience down a notch. Yes, there are workarounds and things you can do to overcome these shortcomings, but I'm reviewing a game based off of how it's designed and constructed. The workarounds you can do to spice Franchise mode up will work for some, but that's merely masking the fact the mode is poorly designed and even poorly executed at points.
The other aspects of the mode, and the general additions made to the mode, really make it one of the deepest in our genre in terms of the control you actually get over your franchise. Again, it's just a shame that a lot of this control is behind clunky menus or even confusing processes.
Superstar mode includes a couple changes. For one, the new way you earn points for attributes is a step closer towards what NCAA does in the Road to Glory mode. However, the mode still lags behind its counterparts in this genre, and there's no disguising that.
The team customization options, especially in Franchise mode, are really neat. I have not dug too deeply into these options, but there should be enough to keep many satisfied. The roster-editing options seem adequate, although I ran into several freezes while perusing them so beware.
Madden NFL 12 is definitely a step in the right direction for the series, but there are still things holding this game back from greatness. The clunky UI in franchise mode, the horrible commentary, and the corners the game cuts to sacrifice realism for the appearance of realism all mean the game is still a work in progress. Some of the same bugs and deficiencies that have been in the game are either still in the game or have morphed into something similar to what they we witnessed before (see: suction blocking).
It's hard to say that Madden is on the cusp of greatness because a lot of the same issues that have been holding the series back for years are still here, and one wonders if we are ever going to move beyond this point. However, it also has to be said that the game is a fun brand of football for those who can overlook the fact it's not wholly realistic. If you can stomach the realism gaffes and work through the oftentimes puzzling design decisions, Madden NFL 12 might just be your game.
If you are a longtime Madden skeptic or perhaps even just a casual NFL fan, Madden NFL 12 might not be worth a $60 purchase for you. There are enough problems present to really keep you from enjoying the entire experience. This game is probably a solid buy for fans of the series, and for hardcore NFL fans who also happen to be sports gamers. For everyone else, think about a rental or a discounted version and see if you are on board with what's here this year.
Learning Curve: Casual fans of football and newcomers to Madden will need to take some time to figure out what's going on. Longtime fans of the series will jump right in and have immediate success.
Control Scheme: There are clear positives and negatives. The audibling system is a clear step backwards compared to NCAA, but the control scheme overall is miles ahead of where the series was just a few short years ago.
Visuals: If there is one thing that Madden has going for it, it's the fact the game can be absolutely gorgeous. During late-afternoon games when shadows are being cast on the field, the scenes in the stadiums can be stunning.
Field Audio: The audio of players on the field and the crowds are merely adequate. It's not a negative by any means, but there's simply nothing here that stands out above the pack in our genre.
Commentary: The commentary duo of Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth is poorly implemented and lacking in scope. Pitch and tone changes, plus missing or messed up names are just inexcusable in 2011.
Playbooks: The playbooks in Madden are put together pretty well on the offensive side. On the defensive side of things, no one calls plays like EA football would have you call them, but the variety of formations and plays is nice.
Score: 7.5 (Good)
"7.0 - 7.5 (Good) -- These games are pretty good, and while having several notable flaws, they generally play well and are quite fun. They definitely are not great yet, but with a few fixes they could get there. These are solid buys, especially if you like the sport."