Here we go again! With the new season of America's biggest sport just around the corner, it's time to take a look at the latest installment of the one and only NFL title on the market. Sure, we've criticized the title in the past for the lack of innovation since they signed the exclusive contract with the NFL in 2006, but we can't really fault them; they put out a quality and fun title year after year.
That doesn't mean that fans don't crave more from the series. From 2006 until 2009, fans were clamoring for more innovation and new features. From refs showing up on field to field goal nets blocking the kicks from going into the screaming crowd, Madden 10 gave many fans what they were clamoring for, but with Madden 11, EA Sports looked to perfect upon that formula.
The most obvious addition to the Madden franchise with Madden 11 is the addition of GameFlow, a revoluationary new system that is best described as "The 'Ask Madden' feature on Steroids" (though the NFL would likely find some reason to be upset with that description). Essentially, with GameFlow enabled, between each play, you'll be prompted to either use GameFlow (which will select a play that fits best with your pre-determined gameplan and the situation at hand) or use the full playbook. This cuts out much of the playcalling and leaves it to the "coach", which makes many of the calls very realistic. It also speeds up the game significantly, or as EA Sports says "allows you to play an hour-long game in 30 minutes." This works particularly well in single-player, but probably could use some fine-tuning for when multiple players are using the same screen.
The GameFlow works incredibly well with the new pre-snap control system. Before, you would be forced to run through seemingly endless menus to find the play you want, which would lead to several "Delay of Game" penalties. To remedy that issue, EA Sports has implemented a system that uses the d-pad for pre-snap calls like hot routes and coverage audibles, while offensive audibles can still be accessed via a simplified menu that can be viewed by pressing a single button. The d-pad system works perfectly once you get used to it, but the audible menu for offense leaves a little to be desired on same-screen multiplayer.
As far as actual gameplay goes, the title remains pretty similar to it's predeccessor. The game plays very smoothly and the pass and run games remain fairly balanced. That's not to say there aren't some key frustrations that will cause you to want to throw your controller into the wall, however. Interceptions have been rightfully toned down to add realism, but the manner in which EA Sports tried to fix the issue was by making the players drop incredibly easy picks. With this, players like Ed Reed see balls going straight through their hands on any mode more difficult than All-Pro.
Even outside of the easy picks being dropped, sometimes players will just seem to give lackluster efforts towards going after the ball in an interception attempt. Throwing one's arms up to their chinstrap and then dropping them down just as quickly doesn't quite qualify as giving 110% in our eyes.
Another issue that had us ready to create EA Sports Ultimate Frisbee 11 with our disc was the officiating. For the most part, we can't complain. The calls are generally fair and calls like holding and facemask don't seem as random as they have been in previous installations. Occasionally, however, there will be some absolutely terrible calls that wouldn't even be made in the worst of calls in real life. While sideline calls are always in question in real and virtual life, at least in real-life, the refs can review where the receiver's feet were and make the correct call. In Madden 11, the ref can still review a sideline catch, but sometimes the calls will be blatantly wrong even after review.
The most infuriating, yet satirically comcial at the same time, had to be one instance where Peyton Manning threw a pass, walked forward three steps and tripped over a defender on the ground and the defender got calls for Roughing the Passer. We don't know if this was ridiculously incorrect or if EA was simply making fun of the NFL's incredibly sensitive policy when it comes to QB protection (particularly concerning Peyton Manning and Tom Brady). We think it's probably the former.
If you want a good looking football game, you can't get much better looking than Madden 11. The player models have been improved slightly over last year, but the most noticeable addition has to be in the players' faces. Recognizable players, such as the aforementioned Peyton Manning, where pretty recognizable in Madden 10, but lesser known players, like Baltimore's Joe Flacco, just received the generic face treatment. Now, however, most players look eerily similar to their real-life counterparts.
A small addition that the team at EA did that really adds to the feel of the game was making the field goal nets sensitive to where the ball is, rather than acting as sheet metal and staying stiff when the ball hits. The presentation in which the games are presented have been upgraded as well. From the commentary to the graphical overlays, nearly everything in this aspect has been given an overhaul.
While, on the surface, these new features in the presentation department look and feel great, it actually amounts to becoming the only major issue with the game. The commentary is the most blatant issue. From overused terms to obviously incorrect calls by the play-by-play announcers, there are so many things that are so laughably bad that it takes you right out of the game. For instance, if a player gets free, the announcers will likely say "and no one will catch him!" in anticipation of a touchdown. Unfortunately, 9 out of 10 times when this call is made, the player is caught and the announcer just seems foolish.
Within the gameplay, sponsor's such as Doritos, Verizon, and Old Spice will pop-up, as they would in a typical broadcast. We don't mind hearing "Here's your drive summary, brought to you by Verizon" or "Let's look at the Old Spice Redzone Report" every so often, but when the announcer uses the same hackneyed phrases over and over again, it becomes highly distracting and ridiculously annoying (I swear... if we have to hear "Old Spice: Smell like a man, man!" one more time...). There's also an issue with the color commentators sounding more enthusiastic when talking about the sponsors than they do about the game.
Occasionally you will get a few graphical glitches and overly repeated cutscenes as well, but they aren't nearly as distracting as the commentary issues. The most distracting glitches, aside from the usual stuff that Madden usually has, like players walking through walls and refs, has to be one that occurs when a cutscene shows the QB from the defensive perspective. If you look over the focal point of the QB, you'll notice that all of the fans are facing the wrong way, as in they are looking towards the back of the stadium. It must have something to do with the camera being in a reverse angle, but it rarely happens, so it can definitely be excused.
In addition to the typical Franchise, Exhibition and Superstar modes found in Madden 10, players will find a more-fully featured online mode, as well as the features that were added to Madden 10 through DLC like the retro AFL mode and the fun trading card-based Ultimate Team mode. The only issue that players might stumble upon as far as features go is in the use of EA Sports' "Online Pass" idea, where if you don't buy the game new, you'll have to pay $10 to play the title online.
All in all, Madden NFL 11 is perhaps the greatest football title ever created. The presentation, despite it's many flaws, is above average, the graphics are amazing, the gameplay is better and more streamlined than ever, and it's just an all-around fun title. It's very full-featured and will certainly leave more people satisfied than disappointed. Any issues that were mentioned in this review could easily be fixed with a patch, so we'll be hoping that EA Sports hears the pleas of the fans and does the right thing. With those fixes in place, the game might become known as a near-perfect title. As the title is now, however, it's just an extremely well-executed and phenomenally fun game.