Every year, EA Sports titles suffer the same fate: they get qualified based on value and overall change. Fans scour over reviews wondering if $60 will buy them an entirely new experience, or just a glorified roster update with a new User Interface.
Madden NFL 12 seems constantly aware of this fact. Most loading screens and introductory videos heavily champion changes made to the game, little or small. You'll enter a new section of the menu and be greeted with a video telling you just how new X, Y and Z are for this year's Madden experience. Loading screens say things like "because the fans wanted it" and "you asked for it," as if the team wanted gamers to understand that they took the feedback and criticism to heart between Madden 11 and 12.
I have to admit, I love the way EA does that. Sure, reminding me between every loading screen is a bit much, but the fact that this yearly sports operation takes feedback from fans and adds or changes designs accordingly is outstanding. One such example is the ability to trade cards in the Ultimate Team mode. You can do that this year, making it so that you don't have to rely on buying cards or luck to get what you want.
Other changes make Madden 12 feel like a new experience, as well. There's the annually touted animation updates for tackles. They're better than they've been in a long time, and gang tackles actually look realistic. In addition to the more realistic look of tackles, players will actually be able to control their ball carriers until the moment the tackles are actually happening. Rather than that cushion between runner and defender that forces an animation, Madden 12 actually waits for the tackle to start before players can no longer alter their path.
Franchise mode features our favorite update to the Madden experience. Each player will dynamically hit cold and hot streaks based on their performance. If you have a QB that completes pass after pass and converts for all sorts of yardage, you'll see him hit a hot streak and actually perform better from game to game. However, if he starts throwing interceptions, getting sacked or tossing out bad incompletions, he'll hit a cold streak. The next game he plays in, he'll be more likely to falter. The better the QB, the more consistent he is and the less affected he is by streaks. But new guys? You never know what type of player you'll be starting.
Consistency is also a player trait. All players have things like that. And traits change the way players play the game. Whether they carry the ball high or loose, or they hit hard, or whatever, it's all there. And each trait is player specific.
Ding this experience for the commentary portion, please. Madden seems to get stronger and stronger between most years. That can't be said for the voice work here. Chris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson fluctuate between sounding alright and extremely canned. And their lines repeat…constantly. Every single game I played, they told me about the same exact player with the same exact quote. That spread over two full seasons of franchise mode, regardless of the situation, made me want to die. It's stuff like that, repetition and awkward delivery that break the experience of realism.
Which is a shame, since the visual presentation aspect of this game is mostly stronger. The team decided to go with weird, slanted camera angles for off-the-field stuff, but that's really the only knock I have. 3D grass looks great (yep, 3D for the first time in Madden), jerseys look more textured and actually weather, player and ball sizing is more appropriate, stadiums are accurately represented and each team's runout style is accurately unique. On that side of the presentation coin, Madden 12 comes out a winner.
Annnnnnnd now we're Bears fans. How did that happen?
Unfortunately, because we played the game when the community was a couple dozen players deep, we really didn't' get a great feel for the online experience within the title. We know the Ultimate Team section features trades implementation, but how well that works we aren't sure of. We also know that you'll be able to build online communities in order to separate your play style into a like-minded group. The example the game gives runs like this: Don't want to go for it on every 4th down? Join a more realistic community. You can join up to 2,000 players in one community in order to play under custom game rules and adjustable sliders.
Outside of that, though, our stretch with Madden 12 so far tells us that this is another strong entry in the franchise? Is it the best yet? No. But the EA Sports team decided to strip this experience down to the essential components of football. The deep, franchise system is there for those that want it, but the core football elements are so well down that hopping in and out of games feels great too.
There's so much stuff that we didn't even touch on here that makes this experience richer for players looking to dig in and plug away at every aspect of Madden 12.
That's the best thing that can be said about this year's Madden. It covers each type of player. Die-hards that will love the minutia are well cared for, but so are casuals and online community fans. Each type of gamer will have an experience that they'll get a ton of yardage from. That's the sign of a strong sports game.