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Madden NFL 11 Review

9 August 2010

As sure as excessive tailgating leads to burley fans filled with bratwurst and Bud Light Lime, every year we get a new iteration of the best American football game, Madden NFL, with new features, better graphics, and more depth than previous entries. That’s not to say that every year’s version is actually an improvement, but in general we find more refined gameplay and a greater emphasis on the whole football experience. So why then, you may ask, should you shell out another $60 USD when you are perfectly satisfied with Madden NFL 10? EA Sports' answer: A faster, more streamlined approach to the gaming experience for casual fans, and a deep online fantasy network to keep diehard football fanatics happy until next year.

Madden NFL 11, developed by EA Tiburon, is scheduled for release Aug. 10 and will likely have many gamers shelling out their summer cash to play through the NFL season as their favorite team. What you’ll find in this year’s Madden is a more simplistic, quicker approach to the gameplay. Tired of games that last an hour or more? EA Sports has cut down those long sessions to games that take roughly 30 minutes to finish.

Game time is the first change you’ll notice with Madden NFL 11. By using the new GameFlow play-call system, you’ll find your play selection is essentially done for you – no more rolling through menus, looking for that perfect first-down play. Instead, GameFlow acts as your offensive or defensive coach, calling plays appropriate to each situation. Simply pressing X at the start of each play puts GameFlow in action. If you’re playing against a team that likes to run the ball, GameFlow will call a defensive-line run blitz to kill any chances of a big gain. On the offense, the system does a great job of calling plays that exploit your opponent’s defense.  

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This new system reduces actual game time, but doesn’t detract from the strategy that many fans love about calling that perfect play. You can customize GameFlow by creating your own strategies, prioritizing plays that work for your team. Game Planning allows you to add plays to your GameFlow. The higher you rate a play, the more chance your coach will have to call it during a game. Game Plans help you feel a little more in control than just strictly following your coach’s advice.

If the new GameFlow system sounds like a downer, you can turn it off, or open the playbook before each call. We were pretty skeptical about the computer calling plays for us, but it works quite well and helps keep the game from dragging. That’s not to say the system works perfectly. On occasion we found our defensive calls were not matching what the offense was doing throughout the entire game. The Colts were making an awful lot of pass completions, but they were still down by 14 in the fourth. But when it came time for the Saint’s defensive coach to make some end-of-game calls, he seemed to think the Colts were going to run after the two-minute warning. This is all remedied by the easy-to-use play changes. After the Colts scored off a long pass, we found ourselves changing plays to zone defense instead of straight blitzes.

The actual gameplay is right in line with previous Madden entries. Of course, there are some nice additions and corrections, but nothing earth shattering. The new locomotion engine works really well. This new system falls in to the “simpler” gameplay that EA is advertising in NFL 11. There is no more sprint button, and more of your moves are performed using both analog sticks. This year, instead of choppy, unrealistic movements, ball carriers change their body weight based on the right analog stick. Circle keeps your ball carrier agile, spinning around defenders.

One complaint we have with the control rests in the defense. Offense is pretty easy, but playing defense can be tricky, and downright frustrating. Diving and tackling is almost too smooth, and you’ll see plenty of defensive players completely missing tackles. Catching a receiver can be nearly impossible if they have just one step on you, leaving the air game the best route to score. In fact, some of the catches are so unrealistic that we had to put our controller down and remind ourselves, “this is just a game, this is just a game.” Then again, that’s probably a good sign that the game captures our attention and emotions so well, but it just leaves us open for greater frustration. There are some bright sides to catching this year. Players seem to try a lot harder to catch passes deep in the end zone, or along the sideline.  

Graphically the game does a good job of looking like Sunday afternoon, but as always, it’s not without its glitches. It seems every developer has a problem mastering graphics in sports games. We don’t expect Uncharted 2 or God of War 3 caliber visuals, but it is frustrating to see players running through each other, or that hollow look in a coach’s eyes. As in years past, you’ll find the usual array of advertising from culprits like Old Spice and Doritos (by the way, our complimentary bags of Madden Doritos were very tasty). We get the idea here: Advertisers in the actual football game make it feel like an authentic experience, but in our opinion, if we have to sit through all the ads, we’d like to see the price of the game come down. That idea, of course, is for another article.  

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Elsewhere in the presentation, you’ll find tons of new goodies, like fresh dialogue from Gus Johnson and Chris Collinsworth. The pair does a very good job of calling the game, but if you are playing as the same team frequently, you are going to hear the same four or five lines about your quarterback or running back each game. There are new cut scenes, new camera angles, better replays, and stadium specific goodies, like the Saints pregame chant. Each stadium brings authentic audio. Playing as the Saints, we heard “Who Dat” more than we would have liked.

The bread ‘n butter of NFL 11 is the Franchise Mode, which allows you to lead your favorite team through years of success and failure. The online modes, including team play and online franchise mode, give a tremendous amount of longevity to the game. The casual football fan will probably not pay too much attention to scouting, free agents, and your team’s budget, but hardcore football aficionados will dive head first into a pile of micromanagement that Madden has never been able to deliver in recent years. 

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Madden Ultimate Fan is where, you guessed it, ultimate football fans will hang out. This is an online mode that allows you to fulfill all of your fantasy football dreams. You’ll assemble your “ultimate team,” play to win coins that can be used to buy more player cards, and compete in various weekly challenges. You can also use coins to scout your opponents. Ultimate Fan is a bit deeper of an experience than we care to go in a football videogame, but we are certain that football fans will love this new feature.

Online isn’t always the best experience. Lag can kill, as we all know. Our online experience was just fair, but it’s hard to place too much blame on the actual game. Beyond the online difficulties of the actual gameplay, we think Online Franchise is one of the best features in the game. You can join up with 31 friends and choose a league, play games, trade players, or launch a fantasy draft.

Overall, Madden NFL 11 does a great job of attracting two strong football and gamer audiences: the casual fan and the hardcore fanatic. If you are someone who spends Monday mornings talking with co-workers about Sunday games and stats, you’ll love the depth in Ultimate Fan. Or, if you just love to play Madden with your friends (online or locally), you’ll enjoy the faster, more streamlined gameplay. While we can’t say that NFL 11 breaks any huge barriers, it doesn’t really matter when the game is just plain fun to play.

-The Final Word-

Madden's back with the best football experience in years. Casual fans will love the simpler, quicker games, while hardcore fanatics will have plenty to sink their teeth into with Ultimate Team and Online Franchise.
  • The faster gameplay through GameFlow
  • The depth for you and friends in Ultimate Team
  • Easier and less complex controls make Madden fun for everyone
  • Reoccurring graphic glitches
  • Commentary needs more punch
  • Lag can make online miserable
9.0
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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