Thursday, August 11, 2011

Madden 12: Last Look

Madden 12 is only a few days before release, but I wanted to write a few things upon playing the recent demo on Xbox Live. I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with Madden; generally speaking I do enjoy it – and I was addicted to it my senior year of High School. The little quirks are what have always put me off – A.I. that would know receiver routes before I ran a play, or my player missing an easy tackle. Then there’s a sense I’m never quite in control of the players’ actions, which frustrated me to know end.

The demo available does give you a full-length game to dive into (albeit with accelerated clock run-off when you pick a play quickly), so it’s nice to get a long hands-on playthrough. There’s not much in the way of actual features to be seen. What’s new isn’t going to blow people away as the core game is relatively unchanged. Game Flow, the A.I. chosen play-call system is back and it does seem more refined.

Madden 11 had an all too often habit of calling deep routes in the end zone when using the first iteration of Game Flow. Now you can choose between a group of plays that your Offensive Coordinator sends in; I still like to choose my own plays, but for those who just want to speed through opponents Game Flow seems like more of a viable option then last years outing. Simple put, the plays given are more sensible to your current field position, as they should be.

The subtleties have been heavily emphasized. Tackling animations are more varied, and players fall to the ground more realistically: there’s more momentum to the hits you land, but as anybody who has watched football knows not every hit is a bone crusher and that’s reflected in Madden 12. Sometimes players just fall to the ground from shoves and pushes, it sounds kind of dumb, but it’s realistic and the more akin an actual game.

Computer A.I is far more reactive than I’ve ever seen – receives adjust routes and tiptoe along the sidelines for spectacular catches, but the real improvement is in the defensive intelligence.

Tackling is now a science as player momentum is carried through to the ground.

There was a time when even a pair of good Linebackers like Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs could be easily picked apart; the A.I. in previous Madden’s could be exploited heavily. Now blatantly throwing over the middle isn’t going to pay off as much; Linebackers, Cornerbacks, and Safeties all seem to anticipate where a QB is going to throw the ball – not in a cheap way like previous editions where the A.I. would just accelerate extremely fast and cut off a receiver’s route. Defenders seem much more disciplined in there assignments, and it’s going to take some work to shake some of the more intelligent players in the league.

NFL players are still human and thus they have their ups-and-downs, even Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have bad games. Player performance will dynamically change throughout a game. If Donald Driver drops a few easy passes that’s going to have a psychological effect that lasts throughout the game and his catch rating will suffer because of it. With the Packers’ D I turned Jay Cutler into a first-time prison inmate, he loved the sack! Because of his porous Offensive Line he adopted a  “Tuck and Run” mentality: running more than throwing. And when he would throw he just slung the ball around repeatedly tossing it up for grabs so he was labeled “Trigger Happy.” I’m sure there’s good change to player ratings throughout a game along with the bad, but it’s nice to see real life performance issues reflected.

I’m more optimistic about Madden 12 having a chance to sit with it. Still I’m a big Franchise Mode player and I also want to try the newly revamped Superstar Mode, if both of these features received significant attention I’ll be far happier with this year’s Madden than I was with the last. I’m glad we’re getting back to football not just with Madden but also with the 2011 NFL season in full swing. I can’t wait. Football is back!

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