canuckeh's Madden NFL 11 (PlayStation 3) review

Teach a man to fish...

There exists an impenetrable wall, 52 1/3 feet tall, that keeps me from figuring out sports games. I can’t quite comprehend the wall’s existence, or who built the wall (probably John Madden himself), but I know that this wall doesn’t let me function well at simulation sports games. I’ll admit that I am not much of an expert on sports that don’t involve shirtless men holding each other’s bodies, and that I can quickly list all the things I know about football right about now.
-Ben Roethlisberger is a great man with a great name and great motorcycle skills.
 -There’s almost always someone accusing the referees of shenanigans during the Super Bowl. 
-Michael Vick is an animal rights deactivist.
-The Super Bowl needs more Who.
-Forget the Patriots, it was the Lions that had the real perfect season. 
Still, the problem is that while I can live without sports games in my life, my friends can’t. And I have long been the victim of many a multiplayer session alternating between Madden, FIFA and NHL games where I was the weak link and was quickly trounced, embarrassed and mocked. So I feel a slight obligation to figure out one of these games at some point in the name of my dignity. This year’s Madden game seems to make promises of being more accessible, allowing new players to grab the controller and not get blitzed repeatedly. Time to put this newfound accessibility to the test. 

 New for 2011: really fly suits.
The first thing I noticed about Madden ’11 is that the game hopes you like the New Orleans Saints. Between the inspirational speech cutscene intro to the title screen consisting of Saints fans, to the various menu images pumping you with that Who-Dat spirit. Even if you go to the options screen and change your favorite team, (which is indeed an option to choose) you will be bombarded ever so slightly by that Bayou pride. Heaven forbid you live in Indianapolis. 
The second thing I noticed is that the first option on the menu screen lists the game’s new features. The first of which is the Madden STORE. This allows you to spend your very real money on fake things in the game. I presume including stats, scouting reports, better cards for whatever amounts to Madden’s digital card game and other features that will be rendered a waste of cash when Madden ‘12 comes out. In the midst of Activision’s rise to power and well-documented abuse of the Infinity Ward guys, we had forgotten just how much of an evil empire Electronic Arts can be when given the chance to ask for money. 
The second new feature on the list is called “GameFlow”, and this video game is extremely proud of its GameFlow. A cutscene is presented, explaining to the player that GameFlow will change the way you play video games, like this is the Super Mario 64 of your lifetime. Madden ’11 thinks very highly of itself for incorporating GameFlow, which is funny when you realize that this feature is just “the game chooses plays for you.” I thought to myself that perhaps this is what I needed, as I know squat about calling plays effectively. I don’t know the strategic advantages of having some X’s and O’s stand in one place over another, so I’ll let the computer figure it out for me. 
What happens is that between plays, you press the X button to let a street-smart New Yorker tell you what to do in a given play. The first problem was that I got really annoyed with the Yankee telling me what to do. The second problem was that I found the plays being chosen to be failures in the making. QBs get sacked, passes fail, running attempts get snuffed. Maybe I should assume some responsibility for the impending disaster, but I felt like too many attempted GameFlow plays were miscast. Apparently, you can edit the GameFlow so that the Yankee only chooses plays that suit your liking, but that kind of nullifies GameFlow’s whole purpose of taking the complexity of play-calling out of the player’s hands. 
 If fatty over here is the GameFlow guy, then we need to talk.
So, I was back to calling my own plays, an act on par with asking a blind man to find a set bear trap. Or navigate the Madden Store. My next hurdle was attempting to figure out the controls. I already know how to pass, how to tackle, how to punt and how to tell the GameFlow coach to shut the hell up. But any football game will have different variations of tackles, jukes, jives, stiff arms and other stiff things in the locker room. The in-game tutorial is strange, telling you to press certain buttons when prompted, without telling you when or why you’d be pressing a certain button. I don’t know, for example, when it would be advantageous to use the analog stick to sidestep an incoming linebacker over the triangle button. 
This is perhaps synonymous with my problem with Madden ’11. The game is very comfortable with holding your hand and dragging you through a game. But it refuses to teach you the ins and outs of doing it yourself. At various moments during a game, a pop-up appeared reminding me that I can hold the X button and the game will control the player for me. “Really?” I thought. “Well I’m flattered, Madden, that you think I suck and am not worthy to play you. Were you upset that I merely rented my copy? Did you take it personally that when I elected for a free trial of the online mode?” See, I want to learn how to play this football business, not have my hand dragged through while someone does it for me. Don’t be like my mother, Madden, and try to do everything for me if something is not done properly the first time around.
Heaven forbid that the game try to create a new football fan, and give someone else to pump in even more money into the ocean of cash that is the National Football League. 
Something about a Madden curse...
On the easiest difficulty, I found myself steamrolling the opposition, throwing football passes with greater ease than the temper tantrums I was throwing on the normal difficulty. Turn it up to normal and suddenly the Patriots can swat out passes like flies in the change room. Though inversely, I was able to nullify their offense as long as beat the fear of God into Tom Brady. So I think the normal difficulty is when you have to actually know a thing or two about football strategy to not choke. As someone who doesn’t know a thing or two about football strategy, this was the point where I failed to measure up. I could be like those many Madden lovers and adjust the many, many sliders (because Madden fans love their sliders more than they love their women) but I just can’t be made to care. Maybe I should adjust the injury slider; injuries happen a whole lot in this game. Between both teams, I had one exhibition game with 6 injuries. And I thought soccer players were the most frail of athletes. 
It should be mentioned that I was almost exclusively playing exhibition matches in my time with Madden ’11. Gameplay ideas like Franchise mode, online franchise mode, play-as-a-single-person-throughout-an-entire-career mode and get-thrashed-from-playing-online mode all sound very appetizing. Provided I knew a few things about managing a multi-million dollar sports organization. 
I feel like devoted Madden fans should probably stop nagging about whether the running game is too weak or if free agents are too greedy or if Gus Johnson’s commentary is too…Gussy. From my glance, Madden looks like a freaking sophisticated beast, a multi-storey complex of depth and features that can easily last several years. Those same friends of mine that kick my ass at sports games seem to think highly of Madden '11, which tells me that this is still a good game for people that are way already into Madden. But with this year’s game being billed as the Madden that newcomers can pick up and play, I scoff at the giant monstrosity of a building and elect to play in the little kid’s sandbox. (Which I guess would consist of that Kirby string game.) Here’s an idea for EA; instead of trying to make your super-complex football sim accessible to us common folk, how about going straight for the fun vein and take a stab at a new NFL Blitz? I guarantee that profits will ensue.  
3 ½ stars  
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