The Madden NFL series has been slowly improving ever since the massive overhaul in 2010. Each year adds some new stuff under the hood, some presentation improvements and, of course, the standard roster update. This year is no different, and while when you first pick up the controller not much will feel out of place, there are a lot of changes under the hood this year that make this a notable update. When you combine that with the massive presentation upgrades, what you get is one of the most solid representations of the sport to date. Sure, there are some minor setbacks, but if you are like me, counting down the days until the season begins; Madden NFL 12 should be on the top of your must-own list.
First thing’s first, Tiburon and EA Sports have gone above and beyond to bring you the Sunday experience with this year’s Madden. So many touches have been added, including all 32 stadiums modeled to the most miniscule detail such as the flags surrounding the top of the Chargers’ field and the inclusion of Soldier Field, finally. Exteriors have also been modeled complete with a bird’s eye view from the blimp before the game starts. Everything you see on Sunday is right here, and it helps immerse you in the game like never before.
Another major area of improvement is the camera angles. With over 700 virtual eyes around the field, you really get some awesome replays and shots during the game. Menu and stat overlays really help bring the feel of the NFL right into your hands. It is a smorgasbord of intricate touches that drive home the authenticity of the game. Stupid little things that only fans of the series will appreciate like the green dots on helmets, dirty and ripped uniforms and unique entrances for each team including mascots and player introductions for starters are just icing on an already sweet cake.
Now if visuals and presentation were the only upgrades it would have been nice, but being a long-time player I actually appreciated what was done under the hood more than anything. For example, the AI is much better this time around. Granted, if you play on anything below Pro you won’t see much in this area. Bump up the difficulty though, and things change. Players all act dynamically; using traits they are known for. Pressure Vick, and he will squeeze outside and burn you for a 15-20 yard run. This makes the game much more strategy-oriented in how you call plays. On All-Pro, teams like the Steelers will stuff your run almost every time, and the Eagles will make passing near impossible with their dominant backfield. Personally, I love this because it makes you play to each team’s strengths and weaknesses. Of course, if you want to dominate, simply adjust the custom difficulty to your liking.
The on-field action is still as smooth as you remember with some nice tweaks to the game play. The biggest change on the surface is the removal of the sprint button (although it can be turned back on in the options menu). Now you can focus on simply aiming for the holes and if you have a back like Darren McFadden that turns on the juice once you get free, you really feel it in the game. All players have individual traits this year, not just the QBs. It is nice to know that large players will move slower and hit harder, not to mention the body proportions are finally spot on. Offense is much like you remember and still as smooth. Defense remains the game’s Achilles Heel, so to speak. You can still hold down the A or X button to have the game play for you, but if you want big plays you will have to take over manually, which can be daunting. Reading offenses and knowing when to blitz is crucial. It can truly be a wicked game of mind chess, especially against QBs like Manning.
All the modes from last year’s game make a return including Be a Superstar, Madden Ultimate Team and Madden Moments. While the latter two remain mostly untouched, MUT does now introduce card trading, which was a nice requested feature from the fans. Be a Superstar has changed a little bit but still lags behind the competition in this area. I do like having the option to start either a superstar being drafted, or a straight up rookie, but it still lacks the true depth to watch your player progress.
Of course, the main course for me (and most players) is Franchise mode. This year sees some much needed improvements as well as a few disappointing omissions. First up, I want to confess that I might have been the only fan of the half-time show last year. In that regard, it has been removed entirely, replaced with some stock footage and highlights from the game and a quick intermission. Even with this gone though, playing a season has never been more close to the real thing. Backend improvements to scouting and adding in free agent bidding are really the tip of the iceberg. You can also have expanded rosters and cut days as well as practices between games. Really, you have the option to control whatever you want during the season, or just play games. You can also now switch teams in between seasons to control more or less or simply a different team if you want. There are so many options added that it is still the most played mode for me by a long shot.
Online has also received some improvements in the form of Communities. Here, you can band together with friends or players similar to you in order to really segregate yourself from online griefers and people who play the game too much and defeat you without remorse. Franchise also returns with some more under-the-hood tweaks, making it just as much fun, especially when you get enough friends to fill out the schedule.
I have talked a ton about presentation on the visual side, but not so much the audio. I am sure people have heard rumblings about the commentary found in the game. I am not going to lie to you. It is atrocious. Most of the lines sound recycled from last year and sometimes they are calling the wrong plays. For instance, on more than one occasion the duo would be talking about DBs and interceptions after a kickoff. Seriously, this is disappointing when compared to other games, and downright embarrassing. When so much of the game is truly as immaculate as Madden NFL 12 is; commentary this poor really stands out. Let’s hope they really take the time to remedy this for next year’s game.
There is no doubt in my mind that what I rambled on about in this review will have little impact on your decision to buy this game, but I love how each year I can come out positive in my review of this game. Even with an exclusive license and no reason to improve their game, Tiburon and EA Sports continue to refine the best football experience ever made. This year’s outing may not have any genre-defining features, but every refinement is spread across so much of the game that it simply makes it an all around better experience. Football fans are in for a treat. Madden NFL 12 is truly one of the best sports games of the year and easily the best football game of all-time.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.