The best-looking, worst-sounding and great-playing Madden to date.
Warranted or not, Madden's release remains one of the biggest dates on the gaming calender. Terms like "Madden Fever" and "Maddenholiday" are a testament to the degree in which this game has influenced and affected our lives. But like any world champion, there comes a time when you show your age and are unable to perform at a peak level. Such has been the case for this franchise ever since arriving on current-generation systems. EA has had a tough time finding the proper balance of attracting new casual players to the series while catering to the Madden-faithful who want a pure football simulation. Is Madden 12 on the right path to reclaiming its former glory?
Let's kick things off with Madden's greatest strength - it's visuals. Madden 12 is an absolute stunner. This year's entry takes visual fidelity of sports gaming to a new level. At times it's hard to separate graphics from presentation, but there is a subtle distinction which will be elaborated on further in this review. First off the players on the field look amazing. Proportions are nearly spot on and each player looks more or less like they do in real life. Facial animations more clearly reflect their emotion and the eyes are slowly adopting a more natural and lifelike appearance. Some faces look better than others, and you will notice a few leatherfaces among the crowd. Players uniforms and equipment are spectacular. Colors are vibrant and the lighting engine really brings the atmosphere to life. The new (or returning - depending on how you look at it) progressive time-of-day helps each game come alive as the sun moves across the sky during day games, and sets a mood in the late afternoon as darkness descends. Add in the good looking weather effects and you will get shots of the stadium that look almost photo-realistic. The stadiums themselves continue to look authentic even though the crowd in the seats are an eyesore. Fans need a lot of work and really should have graduated from the 2D animations by now. At a distance though this is not a big problem.
Every year EA layers in an impressive amount of new player animations. Madden 12 is no different, and veterans of the series will notice some great looking new tackles, evasive maneuvers, interactions and celebrations that continue to keep the game looking fresh. The addition of textured blades of grass on the field is a fine example of one of those subtle visual layers that ultimately helps paint a very realistic looking football game. Sidelines have also been improved with livelier teammates and coaches. However there still remains an odd un-awareness between players in and out of bounds. There is no interaction between a running back that darts out of bounds as her barrels into a crowd of teammate watching from the sidelines. There are a few stutters in frame rate and graphic elements popping into picture on certain shots where there is a lot going on. For the most part the game looks smooth and frame drops are kept to a minimum.
Madden 12 still hasn't ironed out all those little oddities between the whistles were players still look confused on what do to next. Some animations are clunky as players stand up and run to the sidelines or back to their positions for the next snap of the ball. Overall, Madden continues to be EA's flagship sports game in terms of raw technical graphics. Even with those slight visual miscues and a cardboard audience in the stands, Madden 12 is one of the best looking sports games ever.
Not much, if anything substantial has changed with the control scheme of Madden over previous years. If you've ever played a Madden game you will be completely at home with the use of the sticks and buttons to move the ball downfield. The strategy pad returns for a 2nd season and still feels a bit cumbersome when compared to the traditional pre-snap adjustment buttons we've grown accustomed to over the years. It's a novel idea to map all these adjustments to one "button" like the D-pad, but unless you are familiar with it, or can read at the speed of light, you will probably not have enough time to cycle through the menu before the computer snaps the ball. This CPU QB "quick-snap" is still a bit of an issue, but less so in the retail version of the game when compared to the demo. Thankfully the old pre-snap controls are still an option to turn on. On the offensive side of the ball the running and passing feel great. Running in particular has a natural weighted volition to it. Big backs lumber forward and get that extra push after impact like you would expect, while smaller backs finally control with fluent responsiveness when making moves to evade defensive would-be tacklers.
The play at the line of scrimmage continues to have its own share of issues. Blocking is definitely better than it was a couple of years ago, but you will still find offensive linemen confused and unable to effectively pick up a blitz, or double-team when the defense only has 3 linemen. Regardless, the play in the pocket is excellent. Staying within that protection is key to success for those kinds of quarterbacks. Unfortunately there are still times when quarterbacks have a super-human ability to scramble for tons of yardage or drop back too far to make a deep pass downfield. The QB running ability is compounded by problems associated with zone defense, where defenders will have a tough time coming out of their assignments to tackle an QB who is obviously running the ball. The defensive AI is improved in most situations, but handling quarterbacks, even ones not named Michael Vick, is not one of them.
One big issue that has plagued the passing game for years is the inability to throw the ball to players on the run in full stride. It always seems that no matter who you are passing to, that receiver has to slow down to make a catch and then re-accelerate to break away. Most of the time this is realistic, but I have yet to see a deep pass to a player on a fly-route that can catch and continue running without loosing speed. This is something you see in real NFL games a lot and it should be a part of Madden. The only time deep passes are successful for gains after the catch is when that receiver is either all alone with no one around him, or a defender makes a move on the ball that takes him out of the play like a stumble or a missed interception attempt.
When playing defense the game continues to tread water. While the AI is smarter in zone defense, you will still notice an inordinate number of questionable dropped interceptions. This could be because EA still has not figured out a way to properly animate those plays on defense where the ball is swatted or deflected, or when defenders interact or engage an offensive player. It just looks unrealistic when your defender is the only guy in the area and the ball hits him square in the hands only to fall to the ground. It's understandable why that happens because there would be 10+ interceptions per game per team if those drops never took place since that scenario happens so frequently. EA needs to so something to make the defense act more natural in future releases.
One big area that has seen improvement is in the tackling engine. EA has declared an end to suction tackles and blocking. While this frustrating anomaly has been nearly erased, it still does exist in a few instances where defenders will magically gravitate to a nearby blocker who realistically should not be a factor. But for the most part this long-standing problem has been neutralized and tackling feels a lot more responsive and realistic.
The gameflow play calling scheme is back and it is improved over last year. You now have the ability to tailor the kinds of plays you want to call without having to open up the entire playbook - although that option is absolutely available to you as well. Unfortunately you'll see the CPU selecting questionable plays on your behalf that do not fit the situation. It hurts when you're 2nd and 3rd and goal and the CPU calls for deep passes. Game modes are generally all in tact from previous years of the series. Exhibition, practice, Superstar, Franchise and Online play are the staples that we've come to expect. Franchise is the only mode that received any worthy upgrades this year. However, these improvements will only impress the most hardcore of Madden gamers. Things like improved draft logic, scouting and free agent negotiations will definitely be welcomed additions to some and completely ignored by others. Superstar mode is exactly the same as it was last year. Camera angles can be a problem depending on the position you choose for your superstar. It's the little things that continue to keep Madden from achieving that elite polished level of execution. Madden 12 is a very solid playing football game - easily the best the franchise has seen on this generation of consoles, but it needs to innovate and repair a few sore spots that can take you out of the experience from time to time.
Here we go again. I hate to say that Madden continues to pave the way for what should not be done with audio in sports gaming. The commentary has been bad ever since the infamous "Radio Guy" took over for John and Michael in 2006. Last-gen announcing was far better than anything we've endured these past 7 years. The commentary team of Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth return for a dismal 3rd year in the booth. The sound engineers at EA Tiburon should have their qualifications examined because Madden sounds worse and worse every year. While other games in the genre push forward with dynamic commentary and natural sounding inflection and delivery, Madden patches generic phrases and incorrect analysis like a robot reading a poorly written essay. Cris and Gus clearly did not record their dialogue in the same audio space. Their resulting "conversations" are fragmented and sometimes unrelated. Uttering player numbers rather than names is bush league. The way the audio engineers splice their sentences together is embarrassing. What makes it worse is how repetitive and dull everything sounds. Let's face it, Madden has not found an announcing team yet that works because they have not put together a fluent foundation that naturally pieces the dialogue together. Whether it's the Radio Guy, Tom Hammond or Gus Johnson, they all sound equally bad because they employ that same faulty engine. Madden 12 almost sounds better when you turn the commentary off and pretend you are at the game. This fact is an issue for EA's broadcast presentation push. Ambient stadium noise is marginally better. Crowds are still a bit lost and quiet overall. The stands will suddenly go silent when they should be going nuts. Stadium music and the PA announcer sounds fine and mirrors the kind of stuff you would hear at a real game. The soundtrack is your standard and suitable hip-hip/hard rock listing that have been a part of the the series for as long as I can remember. Overall the sound in Madden 12 is worse this year simply because it's getting left behind those other sports games. The entire audio design needs to be revisited and redone. 3/10.
Presentation was clearly a major focus in Madden 12 and the results are just shy of spectacular. Broadcast camera angles are the gem of this season's game. Being able to watch and play a game from those same television angles does more for a sports game visually than anything else. EA went to the NFL to see how games are filmed and have incorporated proper angles and edits into this year's version with obvious care. Each stadium plays from its own broadcast angle which gives the game some nice visual variety. Replays are also improved, with realistic camera angles, cuts and edits. There are still problems on longer plays where an instant replay is cut short and that momentary freeze frame that occurs between the edits between camera angles and cutscene changes. The broadcast angle can be a challenge to play the game from, but there is no doubt that it will immerse you in the spectacle of watching the NFL every Sunday like never before in the Madden series. Some stadium's broadcast cams are a bit too zoomed out to be absolutely authentic, and it would be nice to be able to control the amount of zoom as is a feature in the Fifa series. The Classic, Wide and Zoomed gameplay angles return to cater to every player's taste. A behind-the-defense cam has been a requested feature for years and it's strange why it hasnt found its way into the console versions of the series.
The presentation starts to fall short though in some other areas. Team entrances look great, but start to wear on you after a couple of viewings because they do not change up the camera angles. After a while you feel that fatigue of watching the same extended cut-scene over and over again. Tickers in franchise mode do not show scores other games. There is no halftime or postgame show to speak of. What is branded for Madden 12's "Halftime Show" are short repetitive montages of canned celebrations and a few disjointed replays. There is no analysis, commentary nor sense of league presence in Franchise mode. The game's graphic overlays are very well done and add to the broadcast aesthetic EA is going for. Ultimately Madden 12 feels incomplete from a presentation perspective when you measure it against other modern day sports games. What is in there is excellent, but what isn't there is that extra level of authenticity that defines a genre. This is by far the best presentation the series has ever had, but it still has a ways to go.
Madden 12 is a great football game. It does a good job in relaying that moment-to-moment excitement that you see every weekend in the NFL. The graphics and presentation are highlights of this year's package. It's a fantastic looking game and finally has a true broadcast flare thanks to new camera angles. But for as good as this game looks, its sounds equally horrible. The commentary is inexcusably poor and needs to be completely rebuilt from the ground up. The gameplay is mix of more good than bad. Work needs to be done with the AI - especially with defensive player interactions with the ball in play. Madden 12 is certainly not a departure from previous installments in the series. Greater innovation in the game's physics, AI and especially audio are required to get the series back to top dog form. That said, Madden 12 is a must buy for hardcore NFL fans and will surely delight those of us that have craved for a big presentation year. This is the best looking Madden to date. Final rating = 8.6/10