Madden NFL 11 sets out to not only improve gameplay but redefine it as well. The idea of changing a play-calling system that has been almost unchanged for an entire decade is a bold move. Because of this, many Madden enthusiasts have voiced their concern as the impact to gameplay is enormous if not implemented correctly.
After getting a couple of hours with the game, questions have been answered and concerns have been alleviated. In all honesty, it is more than apparent that EA Tiburon has looked at GameFlow from every single angle possible and fine tuned it perfectly. While this isn’t a feature everyone will use, the fact that it is there and can be used whenever you want is exactly how it should have been implemented. This, along with changes to kicking mechanics, Locomotion, and the addition of Team Play may provide more than enough to make this year’s Madden the best one yet.
When first starting the game, the presentation immediately shines. Canned animations were limited in Madden NFL 10 but have been greatly improved with much more variety, improved character models, and more fluid announcing due to the addition of Gus Johnson. While presentation was a big focus in last year’s Madden, it feels toned down this year – which is great since it felt a bit obtrusive and overused last year.
As mentioned previously, there have also been changes to the kicking mechanics. In past years the analog stick was used in order to provide an intuitive way of applying angle, power, and accuracy. This year, it uses the three button kicking mechanic: once to start the kick, once to apply percentage of power, and once more to fall into an accuracy range. Keep in mind that skill of the kicker impacts the speed at which the marker moves when filling up the meter.
My first full game of Madden was without GameFlow so as to focus and understand the change in mechanics. Locomotion is one of these changes that quickly became apparent. The idea behind Locomotion is that one can intuitively and realistically control the movement of the player – move the right analog stick to the right to sidestep to the right, a downward 180 degree motion to spin, forward to put your head down and charge, etc.
The full range of motion provided allows for a much more improved running game both at the line of scrimmage as well as the open field. With the improvements made to running in last year’s Madden and now the addition of Locomotion, a balanced offense or run heavy offense seems to be a much more viable offensive package than ever before.
Another element that has drastically improved the running game is blocking. My main focus during my first game was execution of varied running plays in order to test blocking assignments by lineman. Traps and pulls by lineman were executed perfectly as defensive ends and tackles were properly blocked and movement to the second level was executed without hesitation right to the correct blocking assignment. At times however, during screens and hitch plays, downfield wide receivers would occasionally hesitate or not properly time blocking which would end up in plays being blown up.
Content with the game mechanic changes and dominating in my first game (horn tooting achieved), I jumped right into GameFlow. Before each play you are prompted to either go with GameFlow’s play choice or use the normal playbook as used in prior Madden games. This choice is player specific – meaning that one player can choose GameFlow while the other chooses the normal playback. This requires the player that chose GameFlow to simply wait while the other player chooses a play from the playbook.
Once at the line of scrimmage you are able to view your play that GameFlow chose for you as well as bring up bluff plays in order to hide the play in cases where you are playing local multiplayer. Should you take GameFlow to a hardcore level, you can memorize the plays in your game plan, use your headset, and hear the coach call in the play to you as if you were the quarterback. Either way, whether you use a headset or not, local multiplayer is in no way hindered because of being unaware of the play prior to snapping the ball.
The audible system is another element of the game that has been completely changed. While it takes some getting used to at first, it is much more intuitive than it was before. For example, pressing down once on the D-pad brings up the audible menu, down again chooses the offensive line, and down a third time shifts the line in. According to some of the developers of Madden, it took even them three to four games just to get used to the new audible menu system. This in no way means that it is more difficult and has poor design, but instead is so drastically different that it requires any player to relearn the entire audible system all over again.
After a full half with the GameFlow system it was immediately apparent how much faster the game would be completed in comparison to the game prior without GameFlow. About 15 minutes went by and already it was first down and ten, in the redzone, fifteen seconds left in the first half with no timeouts left. Curious as to how GameFlow would react, I decided not to use the normal playbook during such a crucial situation considering I was down by a touchdown. Low and behold though, GameFlow took the safe route and chose to go for the field goal.
Concerned with how GameFlow operates in situations such as this I immediately jumped into the Game Planning system to try and lay out a game plan. For each situation provided, a pool of ten plays can be chosen and rated with a five star, half star system. Laying out a game plan couldn’t be easier which is extremely important especially considering the amount of detail hardcore players will want to go into with Game Planning. However, given my disappointment in GameFlow choosing to kick that field goal, I went through each of the situations to try and lay out a game plan for such a situation. However, such a situation is impossible to plan for in Game Planning. This made me extremely concerned. What if there were other situations that Game Planning didn’t cover?
Because of this discovery, I spoke with Ian Cummings, Madden’s creative director, about Game Planning. He informed me that yes, in situations such as this, GameFlow will in fact take the safest option. The reasoning behind this was actually quite logical: due to the fact that coaches have such different play styles and game plans for a situation such as this, there really is no accurate way to choose a play – nor game plan for it as instead of implementing rare situations in Game Planning, it is just easiest to allow the player to use the normal playbook. So for those of you in rare situations that you know your game plan may not properly cover, it is most likely in your best interest to choose your plays from the playbook instead of relying on GameFlow.
With all questions answered and concerns alleviated, I jumped right into team play, Madden NFL 11’s newest online multiplayer mode. Team Play mode essentially replaces last year’s co-op mode. For those familiar with this mode, it was extremely disappointing as it used a first-person view mode and was very difficult to control. This time around, Madden follows the footsteps of EA’s NHL franchise as there are a lot of similarities between the two game’s Team Play mode.
First off, first-person view is gone and is instead replaced by the normal camera used in online and single-player modes which is what most hoped for when first hearing about Team Play. Each of the up to three players on a team can choose their position from quarterback, running back, wide receiver, or any position. The any position is just like it sounds; it allows the player to freely move between different positions.
The quarterback is responsible for choosing the play while the other players on the team will have the play displayed on the screen automatically. This is a perfect touch as it allows the player to not only understand what their responsibility is, but also allows the quarterback to audible or hot route and let the other players see the updated play instantaneously.
For those looking to get into the Team Play mode there is an achievement system built in. This achievement system is an element of the gameplay mode that allows players to achieve certain goals and in turn level up their skill in that position. By acquiring these achievements you improve various attributes of that position when playing in any future game. Therefore, when you jump into a game you can see which player would be the best fit for a given position based on their achievements.
Overall, Madden NFL 11 shows a huge amount of promise. The introduction of GameFlow in Madden NFL 11 feels as if it may be the beginning of what could very well end up being a cornerstone of the franchise. Tell me I would be saying that a couple of months ago and I would be laughing at you. Madden NFL 11 is set to release on August 10th on the Xbox 360 and PS3.