Review: Madden NFL 11 (PS3, Xbox 360)August 9th, 2010 | Written by Danreb Victorio | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360
With the NFL Hall of Fame ceremonies beginning to fade out, the pre-season has just begun and with that comes another year of Madden football. The release of Madden is always one of the most anticipated releases every summer, and it’s not a surprise considering the sport’s growing popularity. While the league may be entering a lot of uncertainty going into next season—we do know one thing for certain and that’s whether or not this year’s version of the game is worth picking up.
Every year, the Madden series undergoes a certain change that usually sets the entire tone for the game. Last year’s title focused on reworking the game simulation to make everything seem a lot more authentic. This year, the developer’s focus is to make the game “simpler, quicker, and deeper,” and after a couple weeks of playing the game, it’s easy to see that EA Sports Tiburon actually pulled that off.
Editor’s Note: This review is for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Madden NFL 11 only. The Wii version will go up in a few hours.
The main highlight in this year’s game is the new GameFlow playcalling system, which was designed to more closely resemble real games where the coach or offensive coordinator gives the quarterback the plays to call based on each situation. This makes the process of picking a play a lot quicker, saving all sorts of time from shuffling through categories and pages trying to find the perfect play to use.
If this sounds like the “Ask Madden” feature that has pretty much been thrown in to every Madden game, that’s because in essence, it is. The playcalling system is very much an Ask Madden feature, except with more clear advice and fancy wireless communication between the quarterback and the coach… sort of. If you’re playing a single player game, you’ll receive information and instructions about how to run a play via your TV speakers. Against human competition, you still have that option, but you have to be using a headset. Either way, should you not like the GameFlow system you can also pick plays in the traditional format, so this is a way for the game to gather more interest from less skilled gamers.
But for those who do like to be in control of an actual gameplan, Madden 11 also features a gameplanning component to use in conjunction with the GameFlow system. At any time, users can adjust their gameplans for any situation. Whether it be for 2nd and short or 4th and long, the game gives you complete control by giving you a playbook and deciding which plays do and don’t belong in your GameFlow. This is done through a five-star system that’ll be used when trying to decide which plays to formulate in your gameplan.
As for actual gameplay, the game plays a bit more fast-paced than its predecessor, though it’s not too fast to the point where it’s comparable to something like NFL Blitz (which may or may not be a bad thing). This is because the developers at Tiburon went ahead and installed a new locomotive engine. The biggest changes in speed are noticeable in different players with very different speed rating attributes. In Madden NFL 11 speed, agility, and acceleration are the main three elements in physics and speed, and it’ll be easier to see which players are taking advantage of their respected statlines. For example, Anquan Boldin isn’t the fastest guy on the field, but his in-game acceleration is quite high, making him seem faster in the game. Also, the game has done away with the sprint button, so now players will run pretty much based on simulated adrenaline, which usually takes effect once the player gets passed the secondary and knows that it’s literally a footrace to the endzone.
This year’s game puts an even stronger emphasis on the right analog stick. Offensive success in last year’s game heavily relied upon the timing of your tilts, mainly because of things like momentum and the fact that juking was fairly light. Now the players perform harder jukes, and the truck stick effect now portrays even more strengths for ball carriers and tacklers, giving the player a more authentic “fight for every yard” feel. This new functionality with the truck stick is a welcome addition, and it makes you wonder why it wasn’t more of an emphasis with last year’s game.
Every Madden game since 2004 has had some new features with the pre-snap controls. Madden NFL 11 is no different. With so much being attributed to the left and right analog sticks, the game also gives the D-Pad some use. Now your team has a lot more control with audibles in the line of scrimmage with commands that are set to all four directions. If you see that the defense all of a sudden switched from base to nickel, you can counter by changing your intermediate pass to a short run. Each audible gives you options for pretty much every situation. The drawback to this is that there are a lot now, and if you’re the type of person who likes to play fast, especially with the accelerated clock, this could be a disadvantage to the user.
Speaking of wide receivers, with the new locomotion engine comes all sorts of new animations, and it looks like the developers have finally done away with the tip-toe catching problem. Previous entries in the game would have your quarterback helpless throwing to any side of the field, and the receiver, using natural strides would easily end up catching passes for naught as they don’t land two feet in bounds. Now they tiptoe along the sideline more often, but sometimes it’s too often as there’s been quite a few places where our quarterback would throw to a sixth offensive lineman or second tight end (eligible receiver), and they have the rare ability to drag their feet in after a sidearm throw.
With this much attention to detail there are all sorts of different aspects from last year’s game that are also gone for the good of the title. In Madden 10, the football would awkwardly spin in the opposite direction. So when a right-handed quarterback threw a pass it would spin counterclockwise, which is against the laws of nature. While it wasn’t a game-changing animation, that kind of physics made fans wonder what kind of effort the developers even put in the game considering it a was careless miss. While the ball physics are a bit more authentic, now the ball also spins a lot faster than it normally would, but then again this is a video game, and you probably can’t expect much there–even though this is something the developers got right in Madden NFL 2002.
Another overused animation feature from last year’s game was with the chain gang coming in to measure the spot of the ball. Madden 10 featured an angle from the right of the gang and an angle from the left. Experienced players would know that when taken from the left, the play was a first down, and vice versa with the measurements from the right. Now it’s anybody’s call whether or not a play was good enough for a first down or score, further upping the ante with the game’s lack of predictability.
Speaking of predictability, one of the most unpredictable changes made was in special teams, specifically with the kicking game. The system has totally changed. Instead of the old aim your arrow and move the right stick down then up motion fans have become accustomed to, it’s taken more of a golf-like system. Now it’s a two-click system. You aim your ball, and then you press the trigger once for power, and once more for accuracy. You have to be careful though, because it’s really easy to mess up with the accuracy. We actually missed a lot of extra point attempts and kicked a lot of kickoffs out of bounds because of this, so kicking is something you might want to work on because Tiburon really dropped the ball here.
The aspects just mentioned are overall features that make the presentation of Madden continue to be more robust year after year. Now the production value with the presentation has also taken a step up, and it immediately becomes obvious as soon as you get on the field in an actual game. From the in-game music to the team-specific audience cheers, Madden NFL 11 totally enriches the player with the experience of being at a true NFL stadium. Now when Mark Sanchez hits Dustin Keller for a first down, you’ll definitely hear Fireman Ed’s signature “J-E-T-S! Jets, Jets, JETS!” cheer. (You won’t see Ed, though.)
One of the more interesting new features is the ability to play the Super Bowl without even going through Franchise Mode, and you can use any team against any team. Wanna see the Giants face the Jets in the battle for New York? What about the battle of the bay with the 49ers facing the Raiders? Every team has a specific story going into the Super Bowl, and that’s the real joy of this mode. If this wasn’t exciting, the fact that the celebrations include a real city parade as well as appearances by Commissioner Roger Goodell and President Obama himself simply make you want to play nothing but Super Bowls. (The guy who reviewed this game made the Packers face the Packers, but he’s an idiot.)
In addition to this, the presentation is further enhanced in franchise mode by giving more detailed introduction videos when it’s closer to the holidays or the playoffs. But perhaps the most surprising new feature with the overall presentation is with the pre-meditated storylines concerning team and individual matchups. Previous games talked about division rivalries or games of that nature before, but now they bring up other things. For example, if the game you’re playing happens to be the New York Giants vs. the Indianapolis Colts, you’ll definitely hear the Manning vs. Manning, brother vs. brother story. Or when you have the Minnesota Vikings vs. the Green Bay Packers, maybe you’ll even hear about the Brett Favre divorce. (For the record, the game and review was released prior to Brett Favre’s expected decision, so whether or not Brett retires shouldn’t affect whether you buy this game or not. Brett Favre is in the game. That is all.)
All of these nuances with the game’s presentation makes the Franchise mode more enjoyable, but there’s a problem. One of the coolest features with last year’s game was the NFL Network partnership going on that featured the likes of “The Extra Point” or the halftime report that featured stats, a ticker, and replays—this part of the presentation is gone. So while it pretty much feels like the game focuses a lot on building the atmosphere, it doesn’t have the feel of a real game on television. On top of that, there hasn’t been any changes at all with the Franchise mode’s format, and unfortunately, that lack of change has also affected the game online.
The game’s online capability is pretty much what it was last year. Hardly anything has changed with it, and if an emphasis was put anywhere, it was to its Madden Ultimate Team feature, which is pretty much a Fantasy Team that you can take control of with the help of Madden Cards that make their return in this year’s title. Codes and that sort of thing have seemed to have lost their edge in recent years, but it definitely brings something to the table—especially if you eat Doritos a lot, considering each specially marked bag comes with a code that’ll unlock you more stuff for the ultimate team mode.
The most interesting new aspect with the game’s online component is, again, with its gameplanning feature. Now you can scout other teams by watching video of their tendencies for every given down. It’s tough whether or not to tell if they’d matter considering Madden is still a game where you’ll have to adjust to certain plays on the fly, but if it gives anybody a distinct advantage, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Every year, EA Sports and Tiburon seem to do something with the game to make it look totally better than the previous year’s version, and it definitely does that here. While it’s mainly because of the game’s new presentation and locomotion engine, Madden NFL 11 takes another step into really looking like a real NFL game. Everything from the lighting to the depth of field is a lot more crisp, and if you’re playing the game in high-definition, it’s tough to imagine wanting to even turn the TV off.
As for the sound, it’s borderline epic. With the combination of nostalgic NFL classics to hits from Ozzy Osbourne, Madden’s soundtrack is arguably the best in years. This year also marks the debut of a new commentator, Gus Johnson. While he’s mainly been a college hoops announcer and is mostly known by NFL fans for his outrageous yelling with Brandon Stokley’s miraculous game-winning touchdown in last year’s season opener, his excitement brings new life to the game. However, it seems that he was toned down a bit and his presence seems more hyped because he doesn’t do much to make the game better. The announcing team is the best it’s been since Madden/Michaels, but there are still improvements that can be made.
Madden NFL 11 is going to be a game that many are going to be picking up at midnight regardless of our verdict, but in all honesty, while it’s not perfect, this is a great update to a series that’s definitely improving year after year. While the game has taken more of a “you’re actually there” formula as opposed to its “you’re actually watching it on TV” formula, the game is still a joy to play. As EA Sports said, it’s “simpler, quicker, and deeper,” but even with this more fast-paced action, it’s still complex enough for Madden veterans to enjoy making this one the best football game this generation has to offer. It took five years, but it looks like the developers are finally at a comfortable spot with the foundation of this generation’s Madden games.
Score: 8.4 | Recommendation: Buy It
Verdict: Worthy update to last year’s game that’s worth picking up.