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Madden NFL 12 Review

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Madden NFL 12 finds the series in a state of regression, offering up minimal improvements to an increasingly passionless package.

In researching my review of Madden NFL 12, I decided to go back and re-read portions of my previous Madden reviews over the course of the last decade. As I read those reviews, a trend emerged, revealing a pattern in the developers' goals that went in a cyclical fashion. One year, the offense was the focus. In another, defense. In one year, casual players were targeted, and in another, the more hardcore set. One year saw major graphical improvements, while another worked on the audio presentation. It's a seesaw effect that, while not directly year-to-year, amounts to a sense of perpetual unrest. Certainly this is true of any game on a yearly development cycle, but with Madden, that cyclical pattern often runs counter to the notion of "yearly progression." If anything, it creates just as many years of depressing regression. With Madden NFL 12, this year is such a year.

The new tackling animations are certainly more dynamic, if not quite as overtly satisfying.

This year is a "hardcore" year. It's also a defensive year, and a graphics year. Put those together, and you should have a game with great new defensive controls, tons of mode tweaks and balances, and stellar visuals, with some glaring issues left unaddressed in the realms of offense, interface, and audio. I can say the latter is true. Not quite as much the former.

If anything, Madden NFL 12's upgrades are less obvious. It's telling that the only videos EA Sports included to explain to the unread masses what they just paid $60 for pertain to the franchise mode. Simple menus dictate the changes to superstar mode, and the back of the box touts the merits of an all-new collision system and a new Dynamic Player Performance system. Some of these become noteworthy in playing Madden NFL 12, others less so.

The franchise mode, which has clearly seen the lion's share of attention this year, is certainly more robust, if not necessarily finely tuned. Among the host of additions to the off-season modes are player cuts, free agent bidding, and rookie scouting. The player cuts emulate the NFL off-season, with weekly cuts required to get your roster down to the proper number of players as the season begins. This also properly emulates the way a team uses these cuts to evaluate younger talent, as you'll often learn more about a rookie's abilities as they're given more play time throughout the pre-season. Scouting those rookies ahead of time also does this, though it only matters if you actually get to draft the players you scout. Oddly, information is often completely obfuscated for rookies you don't choose to scout. This includes basic combine information like 40 times, strength tests, and whatever else, so you really don't have a frigging clue if a rookie you never bothered to scout is worth a good goddamn.

Just beware the computer. Whatever tasks you assign to the CPU, it will do poorly. Granted, it will do them poorly with aplomb, almost excitedly, in its effort to screw up your best-laid plans. Do not let the computer sign rookies, for it will sign none of them. Do not let the computer scout players for you, for it will largely choose to scout positions you have no apparent need for, and spend most of its time digging up the most minute details on players that will go on to have great careers fixing air conditioners and moonlighting in the UFL. If you choose to avoid the free agent bidding system--which now has you putting in bids for free agents against all other teams at the same time, with two-minute countdown clocks emulating the hours of thought that go into a player's decision to either be paid as the star receiver on a terrible team like Miami, or win a Super Bowl as the decidedly less-paid third receiver in Philadelphia--you will be screwed.

So in that regard, Madden NFL 12 is perhaps a touch less casual-friendly than last year's title. Still, these changes are far and away the best thing EA Tiburon has done to this mode in ages. Sadly, they seem to have come at the expense of any noteworthy additions in other areas of play. The Ultimate Team mode, Madden's answer to card-battling and absurd opportunities for microtransactions (through card packs you can buy for your team, using actual money), now allows you to trade cards with other teams. Also, there are legend players to collect, ensuring that anyone who actually decides to drop a bunch of cash on this mode will effectively build an unbeatable team. Otherwise, it is conceptually unchanged.

And Superstar mode? It's still Superstar mode, in that it is still a fairly dull waste of everyone's time. So there's that.

There is so much dirt on that jersey, I can barely stand it.

This being a graphics year, you would expect to be dazzled by Madden NFL 12's visuals. You may be dazzled by the upgrades to the game's concept of deterioration--in any other industry, that sentence would sound ludicrous--with improved dirt, muck, and other junk messing up player's uniforms over the course of a game. You will likely be less wowed by the still-creepy-looking player faces, semi-broken idling animations, and periodic bouts of incorrect players popping up during highlight reels.

That's especially an issue given Madden NFL 12's greater emphasis on a "television" style of presentation. More frequent cutaways to highlight "impact players" join new camera angles designed to mimic a TV broadcast. Unfortunately, these changes are of little use. The new camera angles aren't useful at all in the context of playing Madden, and too often the announcers will call out the wrong players, or choose an impact player that is playing horribly. Yes, Jason Campbell, with his three interceptions and two fumbles, may in fact be the impact player of the game, but not in the way these announcers seemingly intend him to be.

On the subject of the announcers, they are awful. The team of Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth is still a good one, but there are too few lines of dialogue, and too many generic statements among them to endure. You will hear Collinsworth use the same lines about punt returners three times per-game, if not more. You will hear Johnson simultaneously use excited and pacified tones through awkwardly stitched-together pieces of dialogue. For his sake, I really hope that's the designer's fault, and not a sign that he should see a doctor.

And then there is the realm of gameplay. The collision system, designed to eliminate suction between players during hit and tackle animations, and allow for greater "point-of-contact" freedom in laying out opposing players, mostly does these things correctly. Players do not magnetize to each other with such frequency as before, but the trade-off is tackling animations that often feel less impactful. While gang-tackles and other such purportedly exciting animations have been added this year, the actual sense of laying out a receiver or running back with a well-placed hit feels strangely muted. In some ways, that's a fair enough trade for the sensation that you are actually controlling the player all the way through their animation, but I can't pretend I didn't miss the feeling of absolutely obliterating some dandy receiver with a barely-legal hit.

While hitting has seen a downturn, the offensive game has seen no turn at all. GameFlow, introduced last year as a play-calling system for people who hate play-calling, has seen a minor adjustment in its presentation, with a new option to scroll through plays called up according to your pre-designed gameplan (or the one you let the computer design for you), while also adjusting to plays that represent a more aggressive or conservative stance. It's a fine concept, albeit one that obfuscates what calls you're actually making by not showing you any of the play art by default. Straight up, Ask Madden is still a more useful feature for easy-going players uninterested in the greater complexities of the game, even if John Madden doesn't really talk to you anymore--a loss that doesn't get nearly enough eulogizing, if you ask me.

One might argue that the new Dynamic Player Performance feature is a significant gameplay change. This system, which assigns star ratings to players based on qualities like consistency and confidence, puts players on hot and cold streaks based on performance within a given game. This is most specifically something you'll notice within the game's franchise mode, but it's something you can see come into play during regular games too. If you're playing a shaky rookie quarterback who suddenly makes a great play, his confidence will rise, and you may find yourself with a boost in overall performance. On the opposite side, throw a costly interception, and your QB may suddenly find himself in the company of Vince Young at the local bar, drinking your troubles away. Not literally, of course. Nobody at EA Sports has time to render a CG bar. They did have time to render a CG White House for when you win the Super Bowl, though. Barack Obama is there to congratulate you, too. So that's great.

Dynamic Player Performances are generally realistic, though their impact on the real-time game is often tough to discern.

While these Dynamic Player Performances do add a bit of realism, they don't do anything to address any concerns one might have about whether Madden NFL 12 is any fun or not. None of these changes do. What even translates to "fun" in a Madden game at this point in history is almost a useless question. If you're a casual player, that likely means going through a few seasons of franchise, playing your buddies online, perhaps joining an online league (a mode which has seen no significant changes from last year's game), or one of the new communities set up for players to find game types of their own particular liking. Those players will find a game that, by and large, feels a lot like last year's, in that it is competent, competitive, and generally plays the game of football as you would like it. For the more dedicated set, the ones who will pore over Internet forums for the next six to eight months looking for information on slider fixes, patch updates, and desperately in-depth stat adjustments for second- and third-string players, you already stopped reading this review ages ago, because it didn't tell you enough about what sliders to fiddle with or where the roster inaccuracies lie. Essentially, I'm talking to myself right now.

That Madden NFL 12 feels like a less passionate endeavor than even other yearly sports titles, less a labor of love and more a labor of necessity, is a criticism that likely won't mean much to either type of player. It's still video game football in a competitive and compelling environment, especially when played online with friends. It has more content than you will likely ever touch over the course of the next season of real football. In some ways, Madden NFL 12 is a better game than its predecessor. In others, not. It has significant flaws, and it has significant strengths.

In short, Madden NFL 12 is fine. See you next season.

Alex Navarro on Google+
103 Comments
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Posted by rjayb89

And to think I almost bet some points on this.

Posted by ValiantGrizzly

And thus begins the great shitstorm of releases.

Posted by Cincaid

@rjayb89 said:

And to think I almost bet some points on this.

That still a thing? Thought most stopped doing that since I rarely see any comments this year about it. What was your guess? :)

Posted by csx009

the vince young link leads to barack obama's page
 
not sure what to think about that

Posted by avidwriter

Well it's about time. I mean it's football, how much can you really change or add to it? I never saw a need for these games to be yearly. There isn't much you can do to a game that has a set rules you need to follow unlike a game based on a fictional sport or event.

Posted by Mystyr_E

About time somebody said it

Posted by rjayb89

@CrazyChris said:

@rjayb89 said:

And to think I almost bet some points on this.

That still a thing? Thought most stopped doing that since I rarely see any comments this year about it. What was your guess? :)

I didn't bet on it since I don't have a good grasp on sports games in general, and I was thinking of putting up 4 stars for it. Not much of a "thing," yes, but huge games will be releasing very soon so bets I've placed like a year ago will finally be fulfilled and the guy who runs it said he'll add more features and screened.com in the mix.

Posted by CastroCasper

Sounds like a rental to me. Also, go Broncos.

Posted by skrutop

I hate most of the BS attached to the presentation of football on TV. The last thing I want is for my game to try to emulate it more and more. As for the overall game, what did you expect when they put a Cleveland Brown on the cover? It's like they telegraphed that this version wasn't going to be great (and yes, I know that the fans picked him).

Posted by wolf_blitzer85

UPRIGHTS!

Posted by Hardtarget

i was hoping for more :(

Posted by KensterFox

Alex Navarro said:

...a terrible team like Miami...

Fucking biased Patsy fan.

Posted by Slaker117

Yo, it's Madden?

Online
Posted by heatDrive88
In short, Madden NFL 12 is fine. See you next season.

This pretty much sums up the way I feel about every Madden release of the past few years.

Posted by Alex

@KensterFox: If you're going to pretend Miami is in great shape right now, you are beyond help.

Staff
Posted by Cincaid

@rjayb89: Sounds fun! Haven't looked into it myself, but sounds like a nice feature.

Posted by GorillaMoPena

@Alex said:

@KensterFox: If you're going to pretend Miami is in great shape right now, you are beyond help.

Chad Pennington's shoulder is going to fall off trying to respond to that.

Posted by Danny

This review is so true.  
 
I really hope this year is just a stepping stone to something truely worthwhile next year, because without the competition EA Sports continues to be incredibly lax with regards to it's licenses and fans of the sports they represent.

Edited by Bigrhyno

I've gotten sick of Madden over the past couple of years. Oh well, at least the real thing starts up next week. Darren Sharper hold mah dick.

Edited by BagManForHire

The one thing i know they changed in superstar mode was pull the camera back which makes playing QB a lot better.

Posted by Baltimore

Do you think the lack of true advancement in the series might be due to EA putting a lot of effort into a 2013 version for new consoles?

Posted by Hailinel

"And Superstar mode? It's still Superstar mode, in that it is still a fairly dull waste of everyone's time. So there's that."

That says a lot without saying much at all.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go sit in the corner and wait for the Seahawks to implode.

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Posted by heav3nzwarrior

Just can't stop playing the game even though its nothing new. I know Im lame

Posted by leejunfan83

fuck madden the last good madden game was madden '99

Posted by Eristocrat

Woah, what's with the Jason Campbell hate?

Online
Posted by infestedandy

Mr. Navarro! You linked to the Jason Campbell that was a part of Westwood Studios, not the quarterback of the Oakland Raiders.
 
You know... maybe this works out better.

Posted by WiqidBritt

no mention of the fact that the O-Line will still occasionally stand still and watch a blitzing player run right past them... which I think is a more fundamental fix that needs to be made rather than throwing in new camera angles. Also, why do they feel the need to change the kicking meter every damn year? The first few games I played of the demo I was missing PATs because the bar doesn't move at the same speed across the meter.

Edited by iAmJohn

@Baltimore said:

Do you think the lack of true advancement in the series might be due to EA putting a lot of effort into a 2013 version for new consoles?

And what new consoles are going to be out by the time Madden is out next year, pray tell?

Unless I misread that and you meant they're working on Madden 14 for new consoles, to which I will suggest that you are suggesting a scenario that is WAY too forward-thinking for EA.

Posted by sirdesmond

@heatDrive88 said:

In short, Madden NFL 12 is fine. See you next season.

This pretty much sums up the way I feel about every Madden release of the past few years.

I was just about to say the same thing. Nothing is ever terrible nor is it ever terribly good.

Posted by Crunchman

I'm up for some football!

Posted by Hailinel

OK, initial snark out of the way, I will say that I used to have fun with Madden, but I haven't really enjoyed the series to any great extent since the SNES days, when the games weren't nearly the hardcore simulations that they are today. I miss the days when I could throw Hail Marys all day long and wrack up scores somewhere north of 70. I miss the days of striving to stop my brother's nigh unstoppable running game when Emmitt Smith was in his prime.

I really just miss the days when the game was simple and fun.

OK, back to snark.

That a Cleveland Brown is on the cover is an indicative sign of the game's quality.

Online
Posted by KensterFox

@Alex said:

@KensterFox: If you're going to pretend Miami is in great shape right now, you are beyond help.

There are a lot of gradients between great shape and terrible. I understand it's been a while since the Patriots have experienced any of them, but, still.

Posted by JimmyPancakes

I laughed out loud as they say on that internet they have nowadays. Great review.

Posted by bkbroiler

I don't really ever read sports games reviews, but I found this one immensely interesting. I liked the way Alex worked the previous years of the game into this one and pondered a bit about how you actually live with yourself when you're making the same game year after year. Really great stuff!

I was curious, too, about how you actually go about reviewing something like this, and this review gave me a lot of insight into that. Thanks Alex!

Posted by Grilledcheez

Alex, that is essentially how I felt about it after playing the demo alone...but I have it coming tomorrow anyway, got to have my yearly football game with updated rosters and relatively easy to get achievements.

Edited by Mr402

The true issue to me that effects my decision to purchase Madden this year is the fact that EA has not addressed how the core game of football is being represented on the field.   Many review sites talk about presentation and how good the commentary is.   I could give two shits about those things if the game that was played on the field was solid.   Issues like blocking AI, zone coverage's not being followed should have been addressed and fixed by now.   The stats of players has no impact what so ever on what a person is able to do in the game.   Shut down corners like Asomugha and Revis should make opponents scheme to throw away from them.  Instead they play like there ratings and stats mean nothing.   The video of the guy putting Qb's on the offensive line and blocking players like Ndamukong Suh illustrate the lack of attention that the core game has received.    

Posted by PLWolf

Sweet, I can just keep playing Madden 2010, then.

Posted by Cybexx

Great review Alex, I read this purely because I enjoy your writing style. I haven't cared about Madden for years and it sounds like Tiburon is really scraping the bottom of the barrel now, but the question is what do you really do besides minor improvements and hopefully bug fixes when your improving on two decades worth of design?

Posted by Grognard66

Well written review and hardly a surprise.   
 
My conspiracy theory is that EA had to pull significant assets away from this year's release to prepare a new graphics/AI engine next year - to coincide with the release of the next x-box (and maybe even PS4).  I'm probably giving EA too much of the benefit of the doubt though - they're probably just being lazy.
Posted by Brendan

This is the best review I have ever read for a game that would be hard pressed to have interesting reviews written about it. A little insight into the Madden series as a whole, plus detail about the game and a succinct and well written opinion make this read more fun than I will ever have with the game itself!

Posted by sarahsdad

I remember hearing years ago that one of the problems the Madden team ran into every year was that they didn't necessarily have the time to tear down/rebuild some of the fundamental parts of the engine they were using. Reviews like Alex's make me think that's still the case; they're working with an engine that should maybe be rebooted, instead of having what amounts to turbo chargers and No2 canisters attached to it.

I'm not a particular fan of either series, but it makes me wonder if EA shouldn't do with Madden what Activision does with MW, and have two different teams working on the game so that each one has a full year+ to work on each release.

Posted by McGhee

Hey, what's this sports game doing on my Giant Bomb?

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I enjoyed reading this review far more than I should have.

Posted by Alex

@Eristocrat: No hate. That is a literal thing that happened in the game.

Staff
Posted by TheFianlFrontier21

ive never cared about madden anyways

Posted by mikey87144

I know people want to say it's EA's fault but FIFA doesn't suffer from these problems.

Posted by tourgen

Yay it's Madden time!!  New games!
Sorry you had to review this Alex.

Posted by artgarcrunkle

One of the best reviews I've seen on this site, wish Alex would review more games.

Edited by Vrikk

Hey, a Madden game that is really nothing new? What a surprise.

The real shame is that all the bros will still be buying this shit game.

Posted by JayDee

why do we get a madden review every year but not an nba 2k review????????????????????????????????????????????????????? 

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