Madden 11 Review
By - Tom M.
Before I formally start my review, I felt I should let explain my history with the Madden franchise; that is to say, there isn't much of one. I've dabbled with various iterations, but not enough to say I'm knowledgeable about them. While other reviews will compare how things have improved from previous years, that obviously won't be in the scope of this review. I don't have emotional ties to the series, so my perspective is not going to be the norm. Think of it as an extremely fresh-faced take.
There's things you can always count on every year: death, taxes, and a new Madden. While EA's juggernaut shows no signs of ever stopping it's annual iterations, the Madden team still finds ways to subtly tweak the game. For Madden 11, there's been some pretty significant additions that, as a newbie, I definitely appreciate. However, even a newbie like me can still see areas that need improvement.
My first impression started off somewhat dour. I booted up the game and was treated to Ozzy's "Crazy Train." I don't hate the song, but hasn't everyone on the planet had enough of it? The majority of the 'EA Trax' are filled with other, equally overplayed songs from the 80's and 90's such as "Welcome to the Jungle." I can't imagine anyone is really enjoying these choices.
"Aww yeah Machinehead from Bush! I haven't heard this 10,000 times in my life. Thank god it's in here!"
Hopefully next year has a better selection of recent tunes.
Getting past that The overall presentation, however, is top-notch. EA Tiburon has done an amazing job of mimicking a real television broadcast with dramatic camera angles, animated transitions, and accurate audio cues; using the ESPN license to great effect. They're really toeing the line between "game" and "reality" with Madden 11. Commentary from Gus Johnson and Chris Collinsworth also impressed. While there's obvious "copy and paste" with the audio (especially with team names), it mimics a real broadcast very convincingly.
The newest change this year is a new play-calling system called "GameFlow." It's essentially "plays for dummies" as it analyzes your situation and determines an ideal play for you to run. This is a much-needed feature as it streamlines the experience, and gives the less-experienced an idea how to better play the game. It even explains the rationale of the play via audio from your coach/ coordinator. Plug in your headset and it pipes in the audio through it; completely unnecessary but adds to the immersion. Even experienced Madden players might opt to use it since it cuts down game-times dramatically and gets you straight into the action. I hope they continue to include and improve on this feature for future iterations.
To help improve my game, I dabbled in the Practice Mode. It breaks down the elements of the game into little digestible challenges, staged in what looks like the world of Tron. Not only were they pretty enjoyable, I noticed a big improvement in my running game after progressing through them. I understood the importance of juking and spinning, as well as getting a feel for my players momentum. I ran into a some glitches during the blocking challenges, but it was a consistent quirk so it was simple enough to avoid. There are also some other challenge mini-games including bench pressing and sprints, but they're strike the magic combination of un-fun and irrelevant.
Visually the game is fantastic. I already mentioned the solid presentation, and the game's assets match it. Player models, especially from a distance, look incredibly realistic. EA is touting that this year's iteration introduced the "Locomotion" animation system, giving player movement weight and momentum. While I can't compare the differences, you can definitely feel the sense of weight in the running game. They ditched a turbo button (an omission I did not realize as I scrambled looking for one) in favor of players building up speed the more they ran. It feels much more natural, and the change is a welcome one.
Madden 11 beefed up its online offering with "Online Team Play", a 3v3 co-op mode. However, unless you bought a new copy, you're out of luck unless pay a little extra. This year marks EA's plan to combat used game sales by making the online mode accessible via a one-time code. New copies will come with it, but if you buy it used you'll have to pony up $10 to get online. As a consumer, I don't approve of this at all, but I understand EA's motivations. Stores like Gamestop are flooded with used copies when the newest version drops.
While the game is definitely strong, a new year brings some new problems. I already mentioned my love of GameFlow, but it doesn't work as well when playing against someone on the same TV. Your offense is given a play that you don't see, and you're left guessing what is going to happen. Often times I would fool myself as the QB fakes a handoff only to set up a long pass. This is a tricky issue to deal with, but I hope EA Tiburon figures out a solution.
Animations don't gel with reality at times. Tackles don't always look natural, as they sometimes appear to "lock-on" to players mid-dive. I've had several instances of running backs sticking their arms out the wrong direction, waiting for a catch. Defense will miss the easiest possible interceptions frequently, with the announcers commenting "How could he miss that?" I heard that at least 20 times in 2 games - no exaggeration. Which leads to another minor annoyance - very repetitive color commentary. The more I played, the more I was pulled out of the experience as I heard the same cliched phrases a little too often.
Make no mistake though, Madden 11 is a great game. There's so much to dig into, and by and large, the new additions like GameFlow and Locomotion are welcome improvements to the Madden formula. Tiburon is headed in the right direction with Madden. I'm hoping they keep building on what they've crafted, instead of over-thinking and adding completely new features no one wants (like the infamous QB vision cone from Madden ??). If you're a football fan, it stands to reason you'd buy this anyway, but you can rest easy knowing it's a fantastic game regardless. I don't play sports games often, but this game has me rethinking my position.
- Fantastic presentation
- Impressive visuals
- GameFlow feature
- Great variety of game modes
- Improved online features
- Locomotion system feels great
- Commentary can get repetitive
- Minor animation quirks
- Online mode is $10 for used copies