Summary: With solid graphics and gameplay, there's a lot to like with EA's latest iteration of Madden, but Brett reports that there are still some annoying AI quirks that hold the game back. Read on for the full review!
Joe Sixpack Will Be Impressed
Not that I can find too much wrong with that state of affairsÖat the moment. As usual, this yearís Madden arrived at the perfect time for me. The game serves as the perfect appetizer for the upcoming NFL season every August, showing up just after the NFL preview mags hit newsstands and the preseason gets rolling in earnest. So Iíve been eating the game up yet again since launch day, and generally loving the experience. But, still, when I swap the fanboy cap for the criticís fedora, I have to admit that this is yet another good news, bad news Madden game that introduces as many flaws as it does improvements.
The good outweighs the bad, although only marginally. Only the visuals are worthy of unreserved praise. Both the 360 and PS3 versions of the game are stunning, with even sharper and more accurate animations than the already beautiful games released for the next-gen consoles the past couple of seasons. For maybe the first time ever, you can barely notice any unrealistic hitches like balls being caught by receiversí shoulders, even when you slow plays right and step through receptions frame by frame. Player models are approaching high-def realism. You can now make out muscle definition on the arms of beefy linemen, and outstanding lighting and shadow effects details the equipment stuffed under playersí shirts and pants so that they look more like fully uniformed pro footballers and not puffy revisions of the Michelin Man. Playing in inclement weather is now amazingly atmospheric. Players get absolutely filthy with mud during rainy games and can barely be seen in the blowing snow.
Basic gameplay is fairly solid, even with some issues that will have you smacking your forehead in frustration. The computer plays tough, sensible defense and does a great job with situational playcalling. It isnít particularly easy to score here on the harder difficulty settings, unless youíre much more of a football game god than myself. Expect to be in tough with a lot of deep coverage when faced with long yardage on second and third downs, and to have to deal with some serious backfield pressure on traditional running situations. Computer teams mix up what they show you, too, so you can never get into a rut and lean on the same plays over and over again without getting burned.
Out of Bounds
But the third presentation addition is kind of lame. Madden 101, a new difficulty-setting quiz that kicks the game off by asking questions about how much you know about football and sets the difficulty accordingly, takes too much control away from the player and is bizarre looking. Showing your host big John as some sort of Princess Leia-like hologram is beyond goofy, and the changes to the game are rather superficial. It takes too much out of your hands, along with underlining how stupid it was for EA Sports to swap out the old CPU sliders for this new system. Yes, setting the difficulty interactively is kind of cool. But not at the cost of ditching the ability of manually configuring the game to your liking and adjusting things like QB Accuracy and Defensive Awareness. I just hope that EA adds the sliders back in a patch. Pronto.
League play is just as up and down as the rest of the game. In solo play, running a franchise is seriously bugged due to terrible A.I. Star players get released for no reason, drafts feature crazy moments where teams not only go off on weird tangents but actually take players at the same position for multiple rounds. I saw the Patriots pick RBs with the first, second, and third picks in a draft. Worst of all, established players donít appear to progress as the years roll by. Theyíre stuck with their default skills and never seriously improve as they move into their prime or degrade with age. Getting into a new online league is even more of a dubious proposition. Instead of a proper league setup, clubs are grouped together into a tournament format where each team plays every opponent once. Everything seems to work well, and I didnít notice any serious lag during matches, but still, this is a far cry from what 2K Sports was offering way back when in the late, great NFL 2K5. Why EA Sports still canít equal a mode of play in a game thatís now four years old is patently ridiculous.
Same Old EA Sports Game: