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A Practice in Dispelling Hype: Review of Madden NFL 11

July 28, 2010

Since 2004, EA Sports’ Madden franchise has drawn comparisons to American Idol.  It’s adored by the masses, formulaic, ultimately unsatisfying, and undeveloped in the sense the main changes come only in the form of rosters.  Plus, there are thousands of participants who literally have no business being near a microphone (if you’ve ever played a multiplayer video game versus a 12-year-old online opponent, you’ll understand).

I’ve tried to give football video games a chance ever since the remarkable NFL2K5 on the PS2.  Other than minor graphical improvements, we keep getting spoon-fed the same thing every year and predictably swallow it up.

Before my self-imposed exile from football on August 8th, I decided to try the demo for this year’s installment of Madden.  The demo allows you choose from either of last year’s finalists from the AFC, Indy or the Jets.

The admirable: The CoachSpeak mode allows you to receive input from coordinators.  If you have the audio come through the screen, you’ll want to turn the subtitle option off.  However, if you’ve got a headset to take the audio directly into your ear, it makes for a unique and immersive experience.

The laughable: The Madden games often get praised for their presentation, but this turned out to be the most distracting detriment in ‘11.  The team of Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth sounds interesting on paper, but the mechanics of the audio work just didn’t connect.  At no point do you feel like Johnson and Collinsworth are in the same room together.  Additionally, Gus Johnson is a guy who is either very measured and calm or maniacal to the point of jumping into the ceiling.  When you paste recorded audio bits of him together based on the situation, it sounds robotic and out-of-place.

Combine that with Johnson’s forced attempts at kitchiness AND the designed vagueness of the CoachSpeak dialogue and you end up with gems like this:

Additionally, the crowd sounds are woefully out of place.  Right before a play, there is literally a hush in the crowd.  You can hear one or two voices in support of your efforts, but once the ball is snapped and the play is decided the stadium comically cheers or boos in unison instantaneously.  This happens for every play, even for mundane actions such as KNEELING THE BALL.

“He takes a knee…”(ROOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAARR!!!!!!!)

Player control is clumsy since they have transferred movement to both control sticks instead of assigning moves to buttons.  You’ll have no sure sign that your player will perform the desired action until you actually see it on screen.  When running, the left stick controls the lower body while the right stick controls the upper body.  That’s going to throw a TON of players off.

My biggest complaint is the game’s handling of the NFL’s new overtime rules.  It has been quite some time since fans were explained the new guidelines.  Madden posts the rules on screen for all of 5-10 seconds before removing them to commence the OT coin toss.  It definitely cost me in my first go-around as I had successfully kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired in OT, only to learn that I’d have to kick the ball off again, watch the clock reset back to start, then lose 23-20 on a Peyton Manning TD pass to Joseph Addai.  If I had a chance to go over the OT rules more thoroughly, my strategy certainly would have differed.

So if you’re going to play this game against human opponents, do yourself a favor and go over the OT rules; you might steal a few wins at the onset.

One more note on presentation: The only point at which John Madden actually appeared in the demo is in play-calling mode.  EA introduced a mode called “GameFlow” which automatically calls certain plays based on set situations.  If you choose to look at the playbook though, there is still an “Ask Madden” option, where his photo is associated.  If I wanted the CPU to pick my play, I’d already have chosen the GameFlow option, making the choice completely redundant.

If Madden doesn’t even appear in the game, the only reason to name the game “MADDEN” is to capitalize on the franchise’s brand recognition.  Frankly, aside from the CoachSpeak feature, this game does nothing to shake the perception as an annual roster update with graphic tweaks.

I went back a second time to focus on the gameplay and ended up defeating the Jets on All-Pro 97-0 (I greedily went for two following my 14th touchdown of the contest).  This is a demo which features 5 minute quarters, an accelerated play clock and an admittedly occasional football game player manning the controller.  Tally: 4 defensive touchdowns, 7 TD passes by Manning (new NFL record, apparently) and a day off for the punter.

My year without football starts August 8th, but apparently the folks at EA Sports (and sadly the digital New York Jets) got a headstart.

Please post your take on the demo, either for the 360 or PS3 and let me know if I’m off-base here.  I’m just glad I won’t be missing anything significant this year.

P.S. – The graphics dep’t makes Rex Ryan appear as the regrettable product of a scandalous rendezvous between John Force and a Vogon from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Rex Ryan

DR

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