For a lot of Americans, the start of the football season (and, yes, I mean good old fashioned American pigskin-style football) is better than Christmas. A lot of those diehard football fans are the crowd that buys each new Madden game that EA Sports puts out year after year. For those fans, this reviewer’s comments are simple: it’s about the same as last year, the commentary is noticeably poor, the AI is much better, the animations are improved, but overall it’s a lot like every other Madden game. Let’s face it; most Madden fans don’t expect many changes year to year, simply because EA Sports doesn’t deliver much in this respect. However, even the smallest of tweaks are likely enough to keep sales of this popular sports title quite high.
The most noticeable change to Madden NFL 12 is that presentation values mimic Sunday’s NFL game time. New camera angles work really well for that broadcast shine, while getting a player’s perspective during the coin toss are nice little touches. This works particularly well with a cold adult beverage and some greasy nachos. Unfortunately, EA Sports missed an opportunity to delve even deeper into this game day presentation. The commentary is downright terrible. It’s not so much what the duo (Cris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson) has to say, it’s when they say it, and the fact that they sound like robots. They are both good commentators, but this year’s effort feels broken. This doesn’t kill the game, but it does kill that almost-believable-Sunday feel. You’ll notice that sometimes they are still talking about a QB sack well after the following play. It just doesn’t work this year at all, and to make matters worse, there are other sports games that do a much better job at the commentary.
The animation and control system are really tight this year. You have a ton of control over your player, which is perhaps the landmark addition in Madden NFL 12. The collision system is quite solid this year, and you’ll get a sense of how hard it is to knock over a lineman compared to a little running back. The AI also sees a great overhaul this year, meaning some of the best changes to the game happen on the field in the heat of the action. Your teammates create holes for your running back and your opponent’s quarterback generally doesn’t make stupid passes to heavily marked receivers. This may be one of the toughest Madden games in years, and that’s certainly a welcome change from prior entries. Actual player styles vary, sometimes with subtle results, but real diehard NFL fans may be able to pick their QB’s scramble without checking out their jersey.
The faster play style returns this year through Gameflow, but not without some small changes. You can now pick plays that are conservative, aggressive, or stick with the gameplan. It’s a blind call, though, and hardcore fans probably won’t be bothered to even work with this system. For the casual player, it’s a system that works fairly well, but getting a bit more detail about the play’s formation would help. There aren’t huge additions or changes to game modes outside of Franchise. You’ll get free agent bidding wars, a new rookie scouting system, a free-agent building system, cold streaks and hot streaks, and expanded rosters to give you plenty of customization. Luckily, EA Tiburon does a good job of keeping it simple for the casual football fan. You can automate just about everything, allowing you to focus on the field, not the management.
Be a Superstar mode is pretty fun, largely based on the new progression system that plays out like a mini role-playing game, complete with skill point customization. Online didn’t get a big boost this year, that is, except for the new communities. You can join up to 2,000 players, compete for the leaderboards and team up with fellow members to play ranked Team Play against other communities. It’s one of the strongest additions and something that will keep the diehard fans busy until the end of the NFL season.
There are some great additions to the broadcast-style presentation, online communities, the AI, animations, and controls. This is enough to mark-up Madden NFL 12 as another strong football game, but it’s not enough to call it a major step forward for the franchise. In many ways, I felt like I was playing Madden NFL 11, which is not a big surprise, but it plays a lot like past games more noticeably than others.
The issue is that the updates are quite subtle. Things like 3D grass go unnoticed on the first few matches, with uniform degradation, progressive lighting, and 33 new stadium exteriors also proving easy to miss. The more you play the game, the more it feels like Madden’s updates are surface deep. Still, it’s so much fun you may just forget what number is tied to the front of the box.
That tight AI system is marked by the Dynamic Player Performance, which impacts player behavior, attempting to mimic real NFL football. This is partially where that added difficulty comes from. On harder levels, you really have to pay attention to the traits of your opponents. You can’t just run against a big defensive line. You can’t let a quarterback like Mike Vick get a few open yards. This system also impacts a player’s confidence, but again, this is super subtle unless you are looking for it. These additions are strictly under the hood, but it really works quite well and I suspect that installments in the coming years will tweak this system even further.
It’s clear that EA Tiburon can run from here and really provide some massive game mode updates next year. Right now, that’s the major part missing from Madden NFL 12. The updates to Franchise mode are great for the hardcore fans, and the small tweaks to Gameflow help give a bit more depth to the casual fan. The online playing cards are something those same diehard fans will love, but again, most people will want to play Madden NFL 12 with some friends, hanging out in their man caves, with a few beers, and some of their favorite tunes cranking in the background. And really, that’s all most Madden fans want, and NFL 12 certainly delivers in that respect.