Now that all the poncing about with round balls, short pants and pretend injuries is over, itâ€™s time to herald in a new season of real football. As the Northern autumn approaches, Madden 11 arrives like a newly acquired defensive tackle - bigger, better and, in a few strictly commercial ways, badder then ever. With simpler play calling, more online options, plenty of in-game advertising and a ton of ways to spend your hard-earned cash, the game manages to make it easier for new players to get into, while still catering to its veteran fans.
But, as with all of EA Sportâ€™s annual updates, the first question is - what has changed? For Madden 11 the answer is - plenty. There is some tinkering with the controls, a couple of online additions and Game Planning, which allows you to fully customise your teamâ€™s playbook. However, the biggest and most dramatic change is the new play calling option Gameflow.
If you choose to activate Gameflow, calling plays is handled by your sideline coach. Drawing from your teamâ€™s game plan, either the real world version or your modified one, the coach calls plays according to your teamâ€™s strengths and your opponentâ€™s tendencies. So when he brings your linebackers up to defend in a typical running situation, if the opposition has a history of faking the run, your coach will remind you not to bite on play action. If you have your headset plugged in, the calls come through as if you were Drew Brees in the Superbowl. Itâ€™s a great little taste of realism that may be superficial, but is wonderfully effective.
If youâ€™re afraid that this takes a some of the strategy out of the game, donâ€™t worry. You can you opt out of Gameflow altogether by selecting to play a conventional game in your options, but even if you do try Gameflow, you still get the option to call your own play before the snap. Although choosing this option means you donâ€™t get to see what the coach would have called, it does give you full access to your complete playbook. This lets you stick with those five-yard runs by the fullback, for as long as they keep working, so you don't have to waste plays on running to the outside or passing.
However, if the defence starts bringing up linebackers and safeties to stuff the runner then you can still call audibles at the line. Also, once youâ€™ve changed to a passing play you can use another new feature of Madden 11, the Strategy Pad. The Strategy Pad sits in the top left corner of the screen and is accessed with the directional buttons. With this you can call hot routes while the defence can call all sorts of line shifts and coverage zones. With all these adjustments available before the snap you can see how Madden 11 has maintained the wonderful depth of a true sports sim while adding a quick and easy way in for those not familiar with the gameâ€™s more complex strategies.
When playing a game the controls havenâ€™t changed too much. If you have the ball, you move your player with the right analog stick and step with the left. The face and trigger buttons allow for fending, diving, jumping and protecting the ball. Interestingly there is now no sprint button. This is to put the emphasis on utilising your blocks and running to daylight, rather then using the artificial speed burst, to break the defensive line. Surprisingly, with all the complexity and subtleties of the control system, you only ever really notice the lack of a little burst of speed when your wide out is in the open and being run down from behind.
What Madden 11 does have to stop you being run down from behind is a whole list of franchise, team and player boosts, all available from the EA online store. But, once again these are going to cost you plenty of hard-earned real-world cash. These include positional scouts, at the cost of a dollar, to give you better information on upcoming draft players. Or, for $1.90 you can bring a franchise player back from retirement for one more season. At around four dollars you can buy expert training to boost your rostered players stats or medical staff to help avoid injuries or reduce recovery times. While the Madden Pack containing all the boosts and accelerators will set you back $15.50.
Luckily, Madden 11â€™s online component doesnâ€™t stop with spending real money. There are the familiar quickplay, league and franchise options. Also, there is now a new team play mode where you and two others can co-operatively control a single team. Each player gets to choose a different squad within your team. Although only the quarterback and linebackers can call audibles the other squads, such as the linemen or wide receivers, are all responsible for calling shifts and routes. Itâ€™s all works seamlessly, with the only difficulty being finding enough friends or strangers at your experience level to play with. This is especially true if youâ€™re new to the game as the standard of player out there is pretty experienced and ruthless.
Also new to the title is Madden Ultimate Team. Here you buy and sell players and coaches as well as unlocking other things like stadiums, jerseys and contracts, all in the form of trading cards. Once youâ€™ve created your online team profile you get 36 cards, representing your roster. You then play online, or against the CPU, as normal. In these games, win lose or draw, you earn coins which you can use to buy better players. Alternatively, if you donâ€™t like grinding away with a poor team, for three or four hundred coins a game then you can buy 3000 coins from the online store for $1.90. Or, you could spend $45.95 on 112, 000 coins.
Okay. Now might be a good time to apologise for this video game review that somehow seems to have turned into a crass brochure for the EA online store. But, as you may have noticed with most EA games, itâ€™s not long after forking out full price for a brand new game, that youâ€™re soon being asked for another sixty or seventy dollars on top of that. While one day we might get used to this; I have to be honest and say Iâ€™m not there yet.
Despite that, Madden 11 is a definite step up for the franchise. Although the cutscenes get repetitive quickly, they look great and the in-game animations are smoother than ever with little sign of clipping or issues with collision detection. The game sounds great too, with Ozzy, Kiss, Bush and The Hives chugging away in the background while the coach in your headset adds nicely to the atmosphere. Itâ€™s a great big game, with the option to play it old-school, or new and friendlier. But if you want to compete right now, remember to bring your wallet.