If it's crap ... We'll tell you
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBAAAAAAAAWLLL!!
Don’t even criticize. There was a lockout this year. We almost didn’t have a season! I am pumped for NFL action in 2011. Got my fantasy team ready, got week 1 in the books, and most importantly, I’ve had a couple of weeks with Madden 2011.
Let’s begin with a disclaimer: every single year, EA/ Tiburon come out with this game. We’ve all heard the dirty details: they have no competition, they slowly add or take away features, the games barely vary from year to year. Honestly, Madden is the biggest fiasco in gaming today. The company is making a killing off of this business model, and they use a portion of that to re-up the exclusive contract they have with the NFL. Rinse. Repeat. Take it to the bank. It’s gonna keep working, too, because NFL fans need their football. We need those rookies. We want to see how the game ranks the players, and how our favorite team stacks up against rivals and the best teams in the Division! We are all slaves to the Madden train. So, with that in mind, lets actually review this collection of small corrections!
The Good Changes
There’s a slight graphical improvement in this years iteration, but the graphics still aren’t up to par with some of the best looking games on the consoles. Animations are smooth and crisp, but the textures are lacking. Most sports games have this “plasticky” feel to the models. The sounds are very well done, and this soundtrack is one of the best, right up there with the 2004 version. I would like to see the return of NFL Films tracks, but I do enjoy the music, a good mix of hip-hop and rock tracks, old and new. You also get lots of crowd roars, line play calls, and bone crunching hits. Presentation has also improved, but not quite to the level of NFL 2k5, the last great competitor, and it really is a shame. They should be making full use of NFL Network’s personalities, highlights, and analysis.
The gameplay is par for the course. One thing I enjoy is that it is a bit more difficult to play defense, this year. Madden 11 was extremely easy against the computer, but this one really plays hard, especially when you’re up against good teams. An elite QB is going to give you trouble all day, you really do feel the frustration when Tom Brady completes on 3rd and long. This year’s passing game, also, is probably the best its ever been in Madden. That’s not saying much, considering the NCAA franchise from the same production company figured it all out years ago, but at least it’s improved.
Madden has also added Dynamic Player Control, which determines player tendencies. For example, Michael Vick is just as likely to break off a big run as he is to pass for a huge gain. Steven Jackson is more likely to put his head down and steam roll, vs. Reggie Bush, who likes to juke defenders out of their boots. These tendencies can all be set now, determining the way someone plays during the game.
Franchise mode got a huge overhaul this year, and its very nice. Scouting is much more involved, players rise and atrophy from year to year, or even from game to game, in an interesting way, this game gives you a reason to go from week to week, rather than just simming a season outright. All of the draft classes have randomized names now, so there’s no way to tell what you’re getting: a HUGE plus! Adding player editing DURING Franchise mode was genious. It gives you the opportunity to undo the nonsensical progressions and atrophies that sometimes happen, and more importantly, to adjust your blue chip rookie as you see fit. One other major change is in signing. Players now sign much more realistic contracts, based on their position, draft number, rating, and market value. If someone is sitting at home, you can sign him for much less than you would during the competitive free agent bidding session! This is a great change!
Superstar mode also makes a little more sense here. Now there are incentives for playing well in games, win or lose. They have turned this game mode into an RPG: play well and receive experience points that can be used to purchase better ratings for your player. It works pretty well, although I think it’s a little too easy. In his second year, my Quarterback I made from scratch was a 99 overall, and had top ratings in all of the throwing categories. Still, it’s an interesting premise, and I want to see them expand it for next year.
The Bad Changes
You can always count on Madden to get some things wrong. One problem this game is having is the lack of bells and whistles when there’s nothing to do. I would like to see highlights or hear from NFL analysts when the menu screen is up. The Tony Bruno Radio Show they had a few years back should get an upgrade as well. They’ve even taken away the one presentational icing they had last year: “The Extra Point” post week show in Franchise mode.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Maddens past, present, and future, is the ratings system. Everyone wants to see how good or bad their favorite players will come out. I’ve never felt like the ratings were truly indicative of the NFL players, but this year is just plain ridiculous. Speed, of course, is the premium, and there are too many Linebackers and D-Linemen who are WAY too fast. Elite speed should be just that: ELITE. They seem to have gotten this right with the Draft classes, but NOT with the players already available. Its almost as if the “ratings czar” hasn’t watched the games or looked at the stats certain players have put up over the past few years.
The Blocking in Madden 10 was pitch perfect, best running iteration the game has had. This year, its back to Madden 09 failage. Blockers are awful, and D-Linemen are gods. Don’t think that translates to your own defense, however, because it is extremely difficult this year. Some of that is good, but the controls are so unresponsive, that you will not appreciate the experience for long. Firstly, the opposing offense always blocks you, no matter who is in front of them. They will ignore a closer player to go straight to the player you are controlling, and block you. Once you are engaged in a block, the outcome of your attempts to get off of it are completely random. Most of the time, you will just stand there, no matter what button or analog stick you push. Also, there is a strafe button that allows you to face the line of scrimmage to get a handle on lateral movement. It must be broken, because strafing doesn’t make you any more agile or more controlled. You still blow right by ball carriers, even when lined up for the easy hit or tackle, even when not using the speed/turbo button. The controls just feel slippery, and not in a good way. Even on offense, this problem still carries over. Michael Vick is a great rushing QB. If I tell him to just tuck and run, he should do so. I don’t like that I can’t control it, that the game still keeps him slow and sluggish until he gets over the line of scrimmage. I feel like I barely have control of my Running Back, and don’t even get me started on route running.
Franchise mode still carries over some blandness, and still takes extremely long. In previous gen iterations of Madden, you could see a prospect’s college stats, in this one you can’t see a single thing until you scout them, and most of what is revealed is worthless. The only scouting sessions worth their salt are the Combine, which unlocks physical ratings like speed or strength, and the very limited Individual workouts, which unlock all attributes. The other two scouting sessions are garbage. Give me some indication of a prospects possibilities. You can’t even see the basic results of their various workouts. These results are widely published, by the way, in the NFL, but not in this game. I also have problems with the trade logic. The computer rarely trades, especially with the user team. Overall, unless you have someone to go to war with, Franchise mode is a bit boring.
Superstar mode begins at too low of a low point, and get high much to quickly, leaving you without much of a game left to play after a few years of game-time. You begin this mode as pretty much inept, and yet you still stake claim to a starting roster spot, even if there is an established starter on the team that drafts you. You should have to battle for that spot, or wait for an injury to claim it. And I understand not wanting you to begin as too good of a player, but I shouldn’t be in the low 60s. No starting QB in the league, rookie or otherwise, would have a rating of 70 passing power, for example. They need to tweak the number of statistical points you get from your games, and how much it takes to increase your ratings. Superstar mode also needs to be more than just ratings and gameplay. I want interviews, commercial appearances, fan clubs, weekly performance reports, awards ceremonies, and record/ hall of fame notifications. And once, just once, I would like to actually get TRADED AWAY by my team when I don’t ask for it. Both Franchise and Superstar Mode need to be spiced up a bit.
I think this is a step in the right direction for the franchise, and I highly recommend this game for American Football lovers, as if you weren’t gonna buy it anyway. Still, this game falls very short in so many categories. None so much as the Kicking Meter. Yes, another two button press kicking meter. When they innovated so well with the analog kick control years ago, now they’ve gone backwards. I would like to see them bring back the kick-stick, and take that attitude of innovation to make a really amazing game. But that won’t happen ‘till a private investor forks over the cash to break the exclusivity and we get some competition. Until then, we’ll have to be content with a solid B- game. Go get it, enjoy it for what it is, and pray the market opens up in the next few years.