Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is left vulnerable by his tissue-paper-soft offensive line in Madden 12.Image courtesy EA Sports
Madden means a lot of things to a lot of different people. To some it is emblematic of the worst parts of the videogame industry: a franchise with endless new iterations, year after year, with changes that often appear superficial at best. To others, it’s the only game worth playing — a frenetic, blood-pumping experience filled with strategy and competitive thrills that never get old.
I’m not about to attempt to resolve that divide, but here are my first impressions of Madden NFL 12, this year’s edition of the gridiron game.
For football fans, the only official videogame of the National Football League has become something of a yearly ritual. Every September, one or two weeks before the NFL season begins, Electronic Arts releases a new Madden, and fans eat it up, attending midnight launch parties and playing the game for weeks and months on end. Last year’s Madden NFL 11 won the top sales spot for its release month, moving close to 2 million units.
Madden NFL 12, which EA Sports will release Tuesday on multiple gaming platforms, raises the bar set by its predecessors in several ways. First and foremost, running the football is a much smoother, more elegant experience. The “suction” feature from previous games is completely gone, so rather than hammering forward and hoping you don’t get vacuumed into the dangling arms of an opposing defensive lineman or linebacker, you can weave and zip through holes like Barry Sanders.
EA has made a number of improvements on the other side of the ball as well. Zone coverage is no longer a joke — safeties finally know where they need to go before the ball is thrown. Tackling also feels more organic, thanks to the much-hyped new collision engine that allows players to fling each other around like they do in real life. Does this have much of an impact on the gameplay, or it is just a clever graphical technique? I can’t tell, but it looks pretty damn real.
Casual players might not pay attention to something like Dynamic Player Performance, but experts will love that every player on every team has his own set of traits that change the way he acts on the field. Some players might hit harder than others; some might throw tighter spirals.
Players even have “confidence meters” that go up and down based on their individual performances. You can take advantage of this system, giving your squad some easy plays to quell their insecurities before sending them down the field on tougher routes.
But in some ways, Madden NFL 12 is not as good as previous games in the series. Announcers Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth are fantastic in real life but subpar in Madden, dishing up the same tired lines we’ve heard for several years now, often delivering them at the most inappropriate moments. At one point after a particularly hard tackle in an exhibition game, Johnson shouted “He’s going all the way,” which was odd because my wide receiver was actually lying on the turf barely moving.
I experienced some lag while playing online. One or two of those lag spikes even cost me plays, which served as a solid excuse for why I got my ass kicked.
So is Madden NFL 12 worth playing? That depends: If you’re looking for a drastically different, brand-new game that revolutionizes the sport of football, you might want to look elsewhere. If you want a football game that feels just a little bit better than former incarnations in some ways (even if it’s a little bit worse in others) then Madden 12 should be up your alley.
(Also, EA shuts down the online servers for older Madden games every year, so you might not have a choice.)