Crispy Gamer

Review: Madden 11

Players climb off the bus and enter the stadium as fans tailgate in the parking lots.  The likes of Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and other NFL’ers change in the locker rooms.  They stretch and warm up on the field while the last straggling fans shuffle into their seats and then finally…kickoff.

If this sounds like watching a normal football game on television, then EA Sports has done its job.

Madden 11, this year’s iteration of the gridiron simulation, has gone to new heights when it comes to overall presentation; helmet reflections, the little pitter patter of raindrops accumulating on the camera, balls that actually wobble in the air instead of being perfect spirals, it all feels right.  From the jumbotron animations to the player models that *gasp* more or less look like their NFL counterparts (although in a wax museum kind of way), everything about Madden 11 looks beautiful.

Oh, and by the way, the gameplay is pretty tight too.

This is the first year in quite some time that Madden has faced a legitimate challenger to the football throne.  Backbreaker had a solid, if unspectacular debut but was ultimately held back by a slew of weak mechanics.  Madden 11, on the other hand, has no such issues.  This year’s sim has the tightest gameplay yet, and like Backbreaker, seems to force the player to focus on running the ball more than in the past.

Perhaps the most hyped feature leading up to the release of Madden 11 was “gameflow,” a new play-calling system designed to streamline the play selection process.  At the start of each play, the player is given an option to call plays traditionally, or to select the gameflow option.  Once selected, a play will already be hand-picked by the computer for the type of situation you’re in: runs on third and short, deep plays when you are behind, etc.  The offensive or defensive coordinator will give you hints on how to make the play successful, such as saying to wait for holes in the line to develop, or to look for single coverage downfield.  This is a fantastic way to streamline games, which in the past could take over an hour to play.  Additionally, new Madden players will learn a great deal about play calling, and eventually want to start experimenting with calling plays themselves.

Despite its benefits, the gameflow system seems like a burden for the experienced player.  While gameflow generally gives good advice, it’s much more exhilarating to call your own plays and be successful instead of the computer doing it for you.  Even while I was using gameflow, I more often than not found myself audibling.  That said, I see gameflow as a welcome addition to the Madden series, as it gets new players up to speed while not forcing itself upon the experienced crowd.

Concerning the audible system, switching plays is a breeze.  Each play has four situational plays to audible into, and if you aren’t a fan of what’s available, you can always include extra plays in the coaches settings; there is never an excuse not to be able to dial up the play you want.  The new shift system, mapped entirely to the d pad, is also easy to navigate.  Using the pad, you can easily set hot routes, shift line formations, call for press coverages, blitzes, etc.  Just push a direction on the pad, and the menu comes up.  It takes a little getting used to remembering where every option is located, but before long, the entire menu tree becomes muscle memory and is easy to use.

Playing offense has always been Madden’s strongpoint, and offense in Madden 11 is no exception.  In absolutely no small part is that due to the improved blocking.  Where in the past blockers may as well have been replaced by parking cones, Madden 11 linemen regularly pick up their assignments, either giving you enough time to pass, or opening holes for the running game.  Blocking isn’t perfect, however, as on occasion a lineman will make a block downfield while ignoring closer defenders.

The revamped blocking makes running the football a dream, so long as you’re patient.  Ramming the ball forward won’t get you much more than a few yards and a cloud of dust.  Like rushing in the NFL, you need to wait for holes to develop before taking off, and when you do, oftentimes you will rip off big gainers.  All running backs are not created equal, by the way.  Each back has a unique feel, using a speedy player like Jamaal Charles is wildly different than power back Shonn Greene, something to keep in mind when calling plays.

If I had to pick anything negative about the offensive side of the ball, it’s dealing with penalties, especially the no calls on pass interference.  NFL rules, which Madden allegedly follows, dictate that a receiver cannot be touched after 5 yards unless contact is incidental.  So I need someone to explain to me how on occasion my receivers were bear hugged with the ball in the air without penalty.  The problem is rare enough that you wont be throwing your controller (as it was in Backbreaker), but it does happen.

The defensive side of the ball, even with gameflow, is a chore to play.  Whether you are a defensive back, linebacker, or lineman, chances are that your individual effort will have no effect on the result of the play.  I spent most of my time on defense letting the computer take over my individual player, and focusing instead on the pre-snap settings, the true source of defensive control.  Dictating line shifts and blitzes and subsequently watching them work to perfection is much more satisfying than busting through the line on your own.  If perchance you do choose to play individual defenders, controlling them is very intuitive, as power, finesse, and jamming moves are mapped to the right stick, removing button mashing from the equation.

Madden 11, as in past iterations, has a multitude of game modes featuring classics like Franchise Mode and Superstar.  One new and welcome addition is the “Madden Moments” mode, where you are thrown into the middle of the action of real crunch time situations from the 2010 season.  Whether you are asked to duplicate the results of close games (Denver over Bengals week 1) or taking place in revisionist history (leading the Colts to a comeback over the Saints in the Superbowl), Madden Moments is always entertaining.

With the game playing superbly and the atmosphere exceeding expectations, the announcing sticks out like a sore thumb.  Gus Johnson joins Chris Collinsworth in the booth to form the worst announcing tandem in the history of modern communication.  It didn’t feel that way at first, however.  In the first game I played, Johnson opined, “give this man a contract!” after a Darrelle Revis interception.  Topical, I thought, but then Johnson said it again moments later, for a much less decorated player, killing the moment.  Even after having just a few games under my belt, I came to the conclusion that every player in the league is significantly underpaid. 

My issue with the announcing does not end merely with the repetition of lines.  The true horror of the Johnson/Collinsworth pairing comes in the form of their excitement for even the smallest of plays.  Here is a chart I’ve put together detailing my adventures in announcing.

What they said:

 

Reality:

“ENDZOOOOONNEEEEEE!!!!!  SANTONIO HOLMES!!!!!!... was the intended receiver.”

 

Incomplete pass in the endzone, in the first quarter.

“DUNNA DUNNA DUNNA DUNNA (batman theme) TOUCHDOWN!”

 

A touchdown, but really, the batman theme?

“HE’S LOOSE AND RUNNING STRONG!  NO ONE WILL CATCH HIM!”

 

Tackled… at the 45.

“WHAM!  HE’S DOWN THE SIDELINE!”

 

Tackled between the hashes.

While excitement is not a bad thing, you need to pace yourself.  There is no reason to treat a screen pass on the first drive with the same gusto as a last second Hail-Mary.  The announcing is laughable at best, and embarrassingly inaccurate at worst, which is a shame considering that in reality both Johnson and Collisworth are quality commentators.

Fortunately, it’s the gameplay fans care about, and in Madden 11, it’s better than ever.  With the improvements in the graphics and general atmospheric elements (a Superbowl win even culminates in a White House visit), Madden 11 has enough style to match it substance.  If you already own a copy of Madden for your console, this isn’t a must buy, but for the Madden die-hards who want more than just a roster update, there’s a lot to like here, warranting a purchase.

Comments

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Awesome game! Other Football games are not in the same league as this one!

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Yeah, the commentary is pretty groan-worthy.  

Thankfully the rest of the game holds up nicely. 

Totally agree with your chart. I had the same kind of experience on a basic slant pass: "HE'S GOT ONE MAN LEFT TO BEAT!" As the safety was actually on me in mid air as I caught the ball and immediately fell to the ground with him tackling me. Fah.

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