I'll be the first to admit, I did not enjoy Madden 11. None of the issues were addressed from previous entries on the current gen systems. Features that fans have been asking for weren't even brought up. I played it a few times at a friend's house and decided against buying it. It was the first time since the N64 that I didn't buy that year's Madden.
Suffice to say, I didn't go into this year's entry with high expectations. I heard what EA Sports had planned for Madden 12 and the features that they said were being implemented. I was like, “sounds great, but I'll believe it when I see it.” That's me—the Madden skeptic.
So you can understand how surprised I was when I popped in Madden 12 and proceeded to get my mind blown. Every issue I've had with the series has been addressed, and I'm a happy gamer because of it.
While I'm mostly a hardcore Madden franchiser, I'll try to cover as many of the changes as I can. The game will be shipped with rosters prior to the new CBA, but there is an updated roster ready to be downloaded as soon as you start to play.
The game starts off with authentic player entrances for all 32 NFL teams. They obviously went with a cinematic approach and even used scenes shot by real NFL Films cinematographers. I know it's only grass, but the grass on the field looks amazing. Weather has an effect on players' uniforms now. If Derek Anderson gets sacked during a rainy, muddy game, his uniform will show it.
Now to the actual football. The first thing you'll notice is how smooth the game plays. The seamless action and broadcast quality presentation make it feel like you're watching an actual football game on TV. The collision system has been revamped; now, tackles and blocks only trigger once contact is actually made. The tackle and blocking animations in other Madden games started prior to contact being made, which resulted in a suction. You never actually felt in control of the ball carrier. Momentum and the size of the players involved, combined with the speed and angle at which they are moving, determine what the tackle looks like. After playing a good five games, I'm still seeing new tackle animations.
The defense in Madden has also been upgraded. I'm not an AI whiz, so I can't tell you exactly how they fixed it, but defenders respond better to the routes that the receivers are running. I found myself actually using a pump fake to get some distance between the receiver and the defensive back.
You don't need to pump fake with Andre Johnson at receiver–he gets the ball no matter what.
During the game, players are affected by their performance on the field. I was playing a game against the Bears; by the 3rd quarter, I had sacked Jay Cutler four times. If you pause the game, you can see in the pause menu how he responded to the constant pressure. It said he was holding onto the ball longer, he was making erratic throws, and his confidence was low. Players can also get impacted positively by their performance.
The addition of player traits, like high motor (how hard they try), clutch (step up when the game is on the line), and senses pressure (how well they react to pressure from the defense), adds a whole new layer to game strategy. You aren't going to throw a 15 yard out route to the receiver that doesn't have the Makes Sideline Catches trait.
Michael Vick has the Tuck and Run QB Trait. The Cowboys defense has the "We can't tackle" trait.
Now to my favorite part—franchise mode. To start off, roster size has increased to 75 players, which you then have to cut down by 20 players. You do this over the course of the preseason, cutting a certain amount each week. Rookies and roster invitees have their ratings locked at first, and each week that those players stay on the roster, a few of their ratings become available. This allows you to gamble on a younger player that might turn out to be a stud 85 overall, or a measly 55. It creates a real balancing act as whether to roll the dice with a younger player or keep the experienced vet.
Madden 12 features 75 player rosters and preseason cuts.
The Injured Reserve issue has been addressed; I'm proud to say that it works properly, now. If a player is out for the year, you can place him on IR, which will free up a roster spot. This allows you to sign a free agent to fill that need—as opposed to last year, where placing a player on IR did nothing, and you'd have to cut a player regardless.
Rookie scouting got revamped. There are now different scouting stages—regular season, pro days, NFL Combine, and individual workouts—that unlock different ratings. For example, the NFL Combine unlocks physical ratings like speed, agility, and strength. You have to make sure that you scout players you're interested in, because in the draft room there is no longer a skill graph to rely on. If you didn't scout the player, then you won't know anything about the player; you'll be staring at a bunch of question marks.
The coolest part of franchise mode is the new free agent bidding feature. Instead of skipping days to see if a player signs with you, free agent bidding is now fast, furious, and fun. Once a bid is put in on a player, a countdown starts on that player. With the click of a button, you can become the top bidder with an increased monetary offer, but you have a limited amount of time. You have to make sure you keep on eye on your offers, because you can lose a player with 10 seconds left. If you attack free agency with a plan, you'll reap the rewards.
Now you can outbid other teams for the chance to save Reggie Bush from the clutches of the Kardashians.
Players also have roles on the team. There are 23 different roles that players can earn in Franchise mode—such as Deep Threat, QB of the Future, Underachiever, and Team Mentor. Roles have an in-game impact; a Shutdown Corner will impact the ratings of the player that has it, and the QB on the opposing team. Roles can be earned and lost each offseason, so it's good to stay on top of who has what as you build your team.
There's some other new features and changes, as well.
- You can trade future draft picks.
- You can change teams in Franchise Mode during the offseason.
- Player progression has been changed, so they improve or get worse based on their performance, age, and how they did judged against players of their same age.
- Importing players from NCAA Football has been fixed; a star player will always be rated between 80 and 87.
- New Cut Dead Weight Logic that AI teams use to decide who to draft, sign, cut, and trade.
- AI-controlled teams adjust their gameplan according to who is on their roster.
With the new trade logic, only Josh McDaniels will be trading a stud running back for an underachieving first round pick.
Online franchises now feature full features of player contracts from the offline Franchise, including draft pick trading, and AI teams have trade, cut, and resign logic in place. It's a huge boost to the lackluster Online Franchise mode from previous Maddens. Madden Ultimate Team also gets some boosts, and Superstar mode gets an all-new progression system and the ability to upgrade your player the way you want.
One of the problems that I've found with the game is the angle of the camera when kicking. It's hard to judge the distance and angle at which you need to kick. Also, linebackers still feel like that can jump a bit to high to deflect passes from the QB. Other than that, it's hard to find a lot to complain about, especially when they fixed so much.
As you can see, the list of improvements are immense, and EA Sports has really listened and catered to the fans. Franchise mode has everything I've been wanting for the past four years. I consider this game to be one of the best football games—make that sports games—of all time. It's truly amazing how in-depth and different this game feels from other Madden games. It's a must buy for any NFL fan or sports fan.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]