Aug 31, 2011

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Madden NFL 12 Review

Madden NFL 12 Review

Madden NFL 12 is the epitome of what non-sports gamers think about sports video games. Granted, every year when Madden comes out, people always say there are no changes, but this year is the first time in many that you can say that and it would be true. EA Tiburon decided to focus on presentation, AI and Superstar mode this year rather than any major new improvements. While tackling is improved and the AI is a bit smarter, too many of the same issues remain and make this a fun, but frustrating football game.

Presentation has been improving over the last few iterations and this year EA Tiburon decided to go all out and include team-specific run outs, new camera angles (used by real NFL Films cameramen), and new broadcast graphics. For the most part this all worked out great. The run outs look really good, the stadium shots are gorgeous, and the on-field cameras really showcase the games graphics. On the other hand, the broadcast graphics look old, they make no use of the ESPN graphics, and the same issues continue to plague the presentation.

The commentary is the worst I’ve heard since the old John Madden and Pat Summerall days. The duo of Gus Johnson and Chris Collinsworth returns, and they do nothing to add to the game. Gus Johnson is completely over the top, while Chris is boring and dry. The styles clash all too often and the audio team at EA Tiburon did a horrendous job with making sure the commentary keeps up with the action.

Presentation: Team run out and commentary

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Replays are another area where the presentation continues to lack. Replays don’t run that often and when they do, they show ordinary plays or portions of the play that are ordinary. Key plays are never replayed, which takes you further away from the television-broadcast style they worked so hard to portray. When you look at games like MLB the Show, where they break down plays like they do in real life while the commentators talk about it, it makes Madden 12 look primitive.  For presentation to be the focal point of this year’s improvements and to have this many flaws, it’s a perfect example of why non-sports gamers don’t understand the genre.

On the gameplay side, some good improvements were made to tackling and the defensive AI. Tackling seems much more realistic this year, along with the animation. Players will get slowed down by defenders grabbing their legs or arms, which will allow other defenders to come in to make the play. There are still some issues with gang tackling, something I thought they had right a few years ago, but at least the individual tackling is more realistic this year.

EA had claimed that the defensive AI is better, saying, “Players in zone and man coverage will properly recognize and react to plays, including the ability to break out of assignments when appropriate.” The defense is a bit harder this time around, as some of the “tricks” I used last year didn’t work quite as well, but the defensive AI continues to have issues. The defense is very bipolar: one minute they react to plays realistically, and the next they become statues. The AI continues to not notice things a real player would or a coach would in real life. I can continue to run the ball in one formation while passing in another and the AI will never catch on. Slants are still easy pass plays, and there continues to be a huge exploit when using tight ends. Players in the red zone act as if they are on the 50-yard line, and never break out of their coverage to react to plays. Finally, cornerbacks continue to be a big sore spot.

I understand that you can’t have cornerbacks catch every ball or make every tackle, but when a ball is passed right to them it will almost always be caught, at least in real life. Maybe this is EA’s way of making sure you don’t get frustrated with having your passes intercepted every chance the cornerback gets, but then again, that’s what being a quarterback is all about. Not only do DBs constantly drop easy INTs, but they never swat at the ball or turn around to contest jump balls. Instead, they animate as receivers attempting to catch the ball. I want the cornerback/wide receiver battles. I want to see corners swat the ball away at the last second or place their hand in-between the receivers hand to block the ball. I want to see them hit the ball away after the WR catches it or make the easy interception. While the game is a bit harder this year thanks to the slight defensive improvements, the AI still has a long way to go.

On the offensive side, the o-line and running backs continue to be dominant, but to counter that they will have moments where they just decide not to block someone at all (especially on draw plays). Exploits remain in the game, and there really isn’t a reason to use more than a handful of plays. On All-Pro and All-Madden things get a bit tougher, but on All-Madden the AI becomes really cheap. They break more tackles than you and make every easy interception while your players drop balls. In one game I played using the Chargers against the Chiefs, they broke eight tackles in the span of three quarters, while didn’t break any.