Madden NFL 12 Review
NFL fans possess incredible resiliency. No matter the win-loss record from the season before, a wave of new hope accompanies the arrival of the next. That spirit used to carry over to the annual release of a new Madden game as well. However, I've since grown wary of buying-in to the hype. The series has settled into a pattern of adding flashy new features to bring players back for another run, instead of improving the core football game. Despite new faces working on the game, Madden NFL 12 follows the same approach, and yields the same results. Flashes of promise here and there offer some excitement, but the game remains stuck one step away from championship greatness.
That struggle stems from the same issue veteran teams face in the NFL. The theory goes that a solid core only needs a couple of key additions to bring it all together. While that may be true in some cases, the lure of being so close often obscures the need to retool at a more fundamental level and create a new foundation to build on.
Such is the case with Madden. The game boasts its typical list of improvements and new features. None of them, however, makes the meaningful improvement in the football basics the game needs. They focus on finer points instead, like better tackling physics. While it's great to see this in action when I hit a running back trying to get to the corner and the resulting collision believably reflects the momentum of guys flying around the field, that highlight can't offset the breakdowns in execution that happen on too many plays.
As has been the case for several seasons, poor offensive line play makes broken plays more the norm than the exception, particularly at the two higher difficulty settings. Madden has done an admirable job at picking up on the many innovative defensive schemes in the NFL, but its offensive lines have not. Too often, linemen stand idly by, obliviously looking on as a defender runs past them unhindered and breaks up a play.
This inability to rely on blocking significantly changes the complexion of the game. After watching a pulling guard run right past a free linebacker a few times, it becomes impossible not to second guess following that block the next time, or even calling the play in the first place. The passing game equally takes a hit. Simple four man fronts blow past blockers effortlessly, and think twice about running play action. The moment it takes to fake the hand-off is all it takes for those defenders to be right on top of the quarterback before there's any chance to look up.
Failures like these set up the allow players to miraculously break free for a big gain, or chuck a ball down field for a spectacular pass. Fun as pulling those off may be, they don't add up to a good game of football. They also leave me at the end of the game feeling that the outcome was determined as much by some twist as the plays I called. It also doesn't help matters that as in years past there's an eerie way dramatic things just happen to disrupt a game. I've certainly learned that if I turn it over on my side of the 50, then the computer will likely turn that into a score almost right away.
Take Madden 12 online and the game evens out considerably. At the very least, facing another real player provides a sense of being on even footing when it comes to dealing with the issues. I've enjoyed good games online; the outcomes feel much more a result of my making the right calls than when playing single-player. And the game definitely suits online play well with a number of easy ways to get a game in, including the new communities feature.
Madden 12 also touts an improved, more broadcast like presentation of the game. But for such an important element--essentially the face of the game--it is shockingly incomplete. I've watched literally hundreds of NFL games over the years. Never once has one started with mood music like some sort of art film. But that's how games start in Madden. An aerial shot of the stadium drops directly to the PA announcer introducing the home team running on to the field.
It goes downhill from there. Commentary has never been a strength of the game and it continues to come up well short. The game lacks anything approaching the amount of voice work it needs, resulting in the same lines being repeated not just game to game, but within the same game. But that's the least of its issues. Many times what's being said has no connection to what's happening in the game, or, worse yet, is outright wrong. I've heard names called in the play-by-play for players that aren't even on either team on the field. In another case I've heard several times the booth team tells me about how the cornerback supposedly just missed an interception because he's a risk-taker, which leads to a long conversation about putting too much pressure on the safety. This after the corner actually made the interception. And how anyone could think it a good idea to do a close up on the hideous cheerleader models as the game cuts to halftime is beyond me. Maybe it's to create enough shock value to mask that there really isn't a halftime.
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I wonder sometimes at how these things become such distractions for the game. Team entrances, cheerleaders, and all that are great the first few times but let's be honest, I'm not the only one mashing the button to skip them by the second or third game out of the box. From then on what I'm most interested in is sitting down and getting in a good game of ball. Madden 12 does its usual serviceable job at that, but remains stuck in its ongoing rut of being more concerned with detailing the updates that make this year's game a little better than the last over simply being the best game of football it could be.
Madden NFL 12
[This Madden NFL 12 review is based on a final Xbox 360 version, provided by publisher Electronic Arts.]