While the Rugby World Cup is dominating the sports news, at this end of the world at least, in the USA the new NFL season is under way. Although, in many ways, it is much the same as last year with Tom Brady still putting up impossibly good numbers and the New York Jets just as bloody annoying as ever, there are also some surprises. The Colts, without Peyton Manning, look like they'll struggle to win a game all season and the worst team in living memory, the Detroit Lions, starting 3 - 0.
So what can we expect from this year's Madden? Will it be innovative, fresh, a clean slate? Is it a Lion-like surprise, a complete change after twenty years of the same old thing? No, of course it’s not. It’s the same Madden we always get. A good game that’s deep, challenging, plays well, and looks good. But, it can also be annoying with it’s odd graphical glitch, ordinary commentary, EA Sports' now mandatory extra expenses, and - at times - frustrating AI. It’s Tom Brady with more than a touch of the New York Jets.
Last year Madden introduced Game Flow, a feature that greatly simplified play calling. This year Game Flow is back, making it easy for new players to jump right into Super Bowl XLV and rewrite history by getting a win for the Steelers over the Green Bay Packers. Rather than cycle through multiple plays, Game Flow gives you the best running or passing play. Or, alternatively, you could just let it choose the most appropriate play from the team’s playbook. Although it’s great for new players, often the play calling is repetitive and easily defended. Having your running back stuffed behind the line of scrimmage time after time gets as annoying as the Jets talking themselves up and then, after mounting a very fortunate comeback against an average and brittle Dallas Cowboys, acting like they were always going to win.
Of course it’s not all bad. Although it’s a bit much being told that some of Madden’s all new features are longer stand-downs for players suffering from concussions, kickoffs from the 35-yard line, and better grass, the game does offer some good improvements. There are flashy new game intros, better weather, a host of new tackle and player animations, and now completely customisable playbooks. Also, when playing you can hold down the X button and let the AI control your selected player. So, on the easiest settings defence is taken care of. Now all you have to do snap the ball, pick your receiver and run in for the game-winning touchdown.
Along with this there are also a few additions to the Franchise and Superstar game modes. In Superstar, you can take your created player through his entire career. Starting with a rating of sixty, through practice and playing you earn experience points to upgrade your rating, move up the depth chart and eventually lead your side to the Super Bowl. However, if you career doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere you can always ask for a trade, and try your luck with another team.
Alternatively, in Franchise mode you can do as much scouting, buying, and trading as it takes to get your team to the top. Here Player Roles and the new Dynamic Player Performance feature add realism to your team’s dynamic. At the end of every game Dynamic Player Performance puts players on a hot or cold streak. While this won’t have much affect on veterans who consistently perform, Michael Vick on a hot streak may make all the difference to a team’s season. Also, at the end of a season, players can gain or lose assigned Player Roles. So if Hines Ward keeps his status as a Team Mentor, next season all the Steeler’s rookies will get a small bump to their stats. Keeping Playoff Performer and Defensive Playmaker Troy Polamalu on the roster won’t hurt either.
Online hasn’t seen many changes. You can play seasons against 31 other ‘live’ teams. Go head-to-head or 3-on-3 against those impossibly good German twelve-year-olds. And, the store is still there waiting to give your credit card a workout. You can now set up or join online communities of up to 2000 members and MUT, the Madden Ultimate Team, is back. With this fantasy team/trading card/online management game you can buy, bid for, and trade players to build a team of past and present superstars.
Perhaps the best of all the online modes is Madden Moments Live. Here you can replay situations from the 2010 season as well try a couple of new challenges from every week of the 2011 season. So, if you’re still fuming about how over-rated QB Tony Romo managed to lose the week one game to the Jets, you can go back and get the job done properly for the Cowboys.
Whenever a new Madden game comes out you always find yourself picking it apart, looking for faults, and expecting to be under whelmed by the upgrades and additions. Better grass – yeah right. What you can’t loose sight of is that Madden NFL 12, just like Madden any year, is a very good game. All the superstars are there, looking and acting more like their real-life counterparts then ever. There are a ton of plays, the same great gameplay, and although they might be obvious choices, you can’t go wrong with the Foo Fighters and Tinie Tempah on the soundtrack.
Compared to most games on the market, Madden NFL 12 is fantastic. But, what Madden is always compared to is last year’s model. And in the end it’s the same old game, with the same old caveat. If you have Madden 9, 10, or 11, you don’t need to worry about 12.