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Avatar ImageGamer Limit Review: Madden NFL 12
By: | September 1st, 2011 | Multi-platform
PS3 |Review |X360

Be honest, you already have preconceived notions about this game. That’s fine, I get it. After all, it is an annual sports franchise that, for the most part, takes an incremental approach year in and year out. However, last year was no such year with the introduction of GameFlow and Game Planning. Sure, it might not have been a feature for everyone, but the impact it had on the game was as important as the introduction of Focus was to the Tiger Woods franchise.

Fact of the matter is that Madden NFL 11 opened itself up to be much more accessible without taking anything away from the hardcore.  While the game wasn’t perfect, it was innovative and took a necessary step in the right direction. Madden NFL 12, on the other hand, falls right back into that incremental approach. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though.

Before I start getting into what is new in this year’s installment, let me make sure you understand that those looking for a game that fixes some of its core issues from previous years will be extremely disappointed. Front line and downfield blocking and defensive coverage still has its fair share of issues. But, outside of rocket catching — which is still around unfortunately — there is always a way to compensate for such issues. And while I do think this needs to be Tiburon’s top priority in the future, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this game is challenging and, most importantly, an absolute blast to play.

If mention of such issues are enough for you to already want to overlook this year’s Madden, I strongly advise you keep reading as there are a few new additions that help alleviate these issues. The most noticeable in this regard is online communities. Online communities are a way for you to cut a slice out of the large pie that makes up the Madden community.

Basically, if it isn’t obvious already, communities give players a place to meet up with a group of players to play a specific way. For example, if you are a hardcore sim gamer and don’t want to play against anyone who rocket catches or exploits issues with zone coverage, you can join a community that describes itself as being true sim. While finding the right community for you might take a while, once you have found the right one, the online games are much more enjoyable as you don’t have to keep playing quitters, cheesers, and, well, players that act like absolute children.

Unfortunately though, this is the one and only change to the online gaming scene in Madden. That’s right, no changes made to online franchise. While unfortunate, the offline franchise mode — which is broken down in detail in the video below — makes up for this ten fold.

Offline franchise mode has finally gotten the attention that it deserves with the addition of player roles that have a direct impact on the field, cutting players during the pre-season, scouting players, and a fast paced free agent bidding system. The addition of these features brings a much more deep, realistic, and enjoyable experience to an already addicting mode.

When starting a new franchise you will begin in the pre-season. This leaves two new features available to you during the course of the season: cutting players and scouting. Cutting players allows you to evaluate player performance during the course of the pre-season in order to cut down your roster to the 75 player limit. Because new players to the team don’t have completely accurate ratings, it is up to you to make the tough decision of who to cut or who to keep on to further evaluate and wait for more accurate ratings to become available. While this sometimes boils down to just cutting the lowest rated player, there is still enough depth and choice here to make it a process that requires a good amount of thought.

Once pre-season is complete you are onto the regular season. During the regular season you can now start to scout college players. As with cutting players, ratings are not entirely available to you since you need to see more from the player in order for it to become more accurate. So throughout the season as well as during the combine, pro days, and workout scouting that occurs in the following off-season, ratings progressively open up. The process involved from beginning to end in scouting is extremely rewarding and, as with cutting players, requires a lot of thought. Analyzing the needs of the team after a season and having even more control over filling those needs is an extremely rewarding feeling.

If your needs aren’t filled from the NFL draft, you can always rely on the new free agent bidding system. This eBay-style bidding system offers a fast paced, stressful 2-3 minute period where you are on the clock to acquire the players you desire. In real-time you are able to bid on players while other teams fight right back to give the player a better offer. While this is a simple and short-lived experience, it is easily one of the most enjoyable additions to the franchise mode.

The final and most surprising addition to franchise mode is called player roles. Think of real football for a moment. Over the course of the NFL season players begin to fill a role — be it good or bad. For example, Eli Manning threw the most interceptions in the league last year. If this were the case in Madden NFL 12, he would most likely be assigned the player role of interception prone. And because of that, his attributes will begin to scale towards making interceptions more likely. The direct impact this has on the field really does stand out and, in turn, becomes the most innovative and welcomed addition to the franchise mode.

For those of you that enjoy taking control of one player and living out their career, there’s superstar mode. In previous years, superstar mode has remained unchanged and was very lackluster. Thankfully, this year, it has been completely revamped. But just because something is revamped doesn’t mean it is going to be great.

With the option to create a player of any position or import your player from NCAA Football 12 you can live the NFL athlete experience — outside of all the drama that occurs off the field though. Once created, your player will be drafted onto a team and become the position starter. This is undoubtedly the most disappointing element of the game. Never will you be fighting for that starting position. Instead, it will be handed to you on a silver platter. Enjoy!

Simply put, superstar mode is more of a bare boned, skeleton of a mode. There really isn’t anything unique or engaging about the experience. While it sticks to the essential RPG mechanics and progression, it doesn’t do much beyond that.

The final mode in Madden NFL 12 that received some love is Madden Ultimate Team, or MUT. For those unfamiliar with this mode, MUT is a card-based game that allows you to purchase cards from card packs with in-game currency called coins and build up your own team. By playing games you earn coins based on performance and can turn around and use those coins to improve your team.

Outside of purchasing packs you can also use an auction house which is nothing new to the mode. What is new to the mode is the trade block. This much desired feature allows players to post a card to a trade block and supply information as to a specific card they would like in return. This adds yet another addictive element to an already addicting mode that kept me playing Madden NFL 11 for almost 150 hours last year.

Unfortunately though, MUT has some issues that need to be addressed. The first and biggest issue is how easy it has become to build your team up to 90+ rating. Since its inception in Madden NFL 10, MUT has been an extremely challenging experience that required a lot of effort to build a team above 90 rating. And being as only the best teams in the NFL are at 90+ rating, I feel that is the way it should be. Nonetheless, I do agree with Tiburon that the mode should be more accessible.

Thankfully, after speaking with Tom Lishke, the producer of MUT, the future looks bright for this mode. He has informed me that the issue with easy access to high rated cards will be resolved and more collections will be added. As such, this is definitely a mode I will revisit and cover in a future article as it is an ever-evolving game mode. But at the time of review, I am somewhat disappointed but at the same time quite addicted to the mode. And given the accessibility, it is bound to hook many more.

While changes to game modes are a large part of interest in this yearly sports tile, the core gameplay is another. As mentioned previously, there are still quite a few core issues that remain and will undoubtedly turn some away from purchasing. However, despite these issues, the overall core gameplay is improved over last year.

The largest impact on core gameplay lies in collision based tackling and dynamic player performance. The former is exactly what was debuted in NCAA Football 12. No longer will players be “sucked” into an animation and instead, tackling will occur on true collision. This not only results in more realistic gameplay but also allows for a much more improved running game — that is if you can get past the, at times, poor front line blocking.

Dynamic player performance is another interesting addition that has brought about some mixed feelings. Think of player roles mentioned before but applied to each game. A player’s performance will directly effect specific traits and attributes. Well, at least that is the idea behind this feature. The impact it had on player performance didn’t seem that substantial. While this isn’t a bad thing, it is a bit hard sometimes to tell how this comes into play on the field.

After a disappointing debut of Gus Johnson as commentator in Madden NFL 11, the thought was that it could only get better. Boy was that wrong. Commentary is easily the weakest element of Madden NFL 12 as it is stale, horribly stitched together, and the audio quality is all over the place. Think of Gus Johnson talking into a can — that kind of audio quality. It is also extremely obvious what lines were recycled from last year and what lines were new. Add this to the list of things that have to be addressed next year.

The last thing that got some attention this year is presentation. Camera angles are now more authentic to what would be broadcasted from each stadium and team entrances are unique to each team as the star players are announced as they run onto the field. For once I actually didn’t feel like skipping the game’s intro. That definitely says something.

Despite the remaining core gameplay issues and the poor commentary, Madden NFL 12 is a great title. While superstar mode needs some work and online franchise could use some love, offline franchise is simply fantastic and is well worth dozens of hours of your attention. If you enjoyed Madden NFL 11 and are a fan of franchise mode, this game is a must.

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