Hurricane Irene slammed into New York City this weekend. While the damage wasn’t as bad as some ratings hungry Whether Channel executives would have you believe, the rain and wind were crappy enough to keep me inside playing Madden NFL 12.
Thus I will give you my rambling first impressions of the game. I’m a casual gamer so I am just going to talk about what stood out to me and what I think most people will be interested to hear. As with all reviews, your mileage may very. Each person will probably have a different impression of the various aspects of the game. These are mine.
From a game-play perspective, Madden 12 is a big upgrade over Madden 11. While there is a lot here that is familiar, there is enough that is different that it doesn’t feel like a retread of last year’s entry.
For starters the game looks a lot different. The broadcast style has changed, as has the lighting. The Madden team also added 3-D grass whish really looks great. Sometimes a player’s foot will sing into it a little too far but on the whole it is really cool to see the individual blades of grass in the cut scenes.
The new tackling animations, which you probably got a taste of in the demo, are fantastic. They feel a lot more realistic than anything we’ve seen in previous Maddens. The players appear to have weight to them and balance seems to matter. Suction tackles are also gone for the most part which might be the biggest improvement in the entire game. It is also nice to see that when a ball-carrier gets engaged with one tackler and another tackler comes flying in, they actually make an impact and change the direction the ball carrier falls. In previous editions the extra tackler would just run by or fall down.
The defense is also much smarter in Madden 12. I am sure I will start finding money plays the more I play but so far, playing offense is much more difficult. In the past, any time I got in 3rd and long situations, I could just throw a deep pass over the middle and pick up the first down. In Madden 12, just like in the real NFL, 3rd and long is a really bad situation to find yourself in. The middle is taken away so all those old money plays won’t work. If you try to force your pass into coverage, you’ll get picked off.
Another great addition is that defensive players will break off their routes if it is appropriate. If a corner is in man coverage on your receiver and you check down to your receiver in the flat, he’ll break off his route to break up the play. He might get there in time and he might not but the days of abusing the flats for a quick and easy first down appear to be over.
More after the jump.
The running game feels more realistic as well. In past versions of the game I found early on whether or not I was going to be able to run the ball on a particular defense. If I could run early, I could run the whole game and rack up ludicrous amounts of yards.
If I found the defense was playing the run tough, I couldn’t get anything going. Every run would be stuffed in the back-field. I’d finish the game with 12 yards rushing if I was lucky. It was like the game just decided I wasn’t running and that was the end of it.
In Madden 12, the running game is balanced. You might have success on one play then get stuffed on the next. In most games I played with the Chiefs, Jamaal Charles seemed to average around five yards a carry, which is close to what he does in real life. When I ran with Thomas Jones, he was not as effective, just like in real life. It isn’t perfect yet but it is getting better.
My favorite part of this year’s game has to be the new “Dynamic Player Performance.” This is a new AI system Madden has developed so that each player is not only unique but changes throughout the season and individual games.
Players are assigned different attributes that can impact their in-game performance. A player is given a “consistency” rating and a “confidence” rating. These are important because they determine how a player will perform on the field. A guy like Peyton Manning, who is incredibly consistent, will always be pretty good. However, a guy like Chiefs MLB Derrick Johnson, might be great one game and disappear the next. Just like in the real NFL, some guys show up every Sunday and some guys only show up when they feel like it.
There are also hot and cold streaks. These only come into play in Franchise Mode. If a player has a really good game he might go on a “hot streak.” This is indicated by a little flame or ice icon next to the player’s name. Players on hot streaks will perform with a higher rating for up to three games. Once their streak is over, they will go back to their default rating. How long a player stays on a hot or cold streak depends on their consistency.
One thing I found annoying about this addition was that the game doesn’t show you what sort of increase a player is getting. All you know is that he is on a hot streak. I think it would be much more interesting to see the actual rating change on the player page. If Matt Cassel gets on a hot streak, maybe his rating goes from an 86 to a 90. A cold streak might take him down to an 80. Unfortunately, all you see is the fire or ice icon.
So how does it work? At this stage it is hard to say. I haven’t played enough games to really workshop something like this but I can give you my initial impressions.
When playing in Franchise Mode, the game to game streaks seem to work really well. Playing through a season with the Chiefs, Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers went on hot streaks at the same time. Accordingly, the KC defense became very stingy. Berry was all over the field making tackles. He had an interception and even blocked a FG. Flowers shut down his man and when he was thrown at, he nabbed the interception. He had two in the game. It seemed pretty realistic. It really felt like those guys were just having a really good day.
On the other side of the coin, Matt Cassel went on a cold streak and I suddenly had a difficult time getting the passing game going. I then had to rely on the running game and Jamaal Charles to get the offense going.
While there are no hot and cold streaks in individual exhibition games, there is Dynamic Player Performance. If a player makes a mistake, it could change how they perform for a little while. For instance, if a RB fumbles, he might suddenly get super protective of the ball. His paranoia about fumbling again causes him to cover the ball and brace for hits. This means he loses a little bit of his elusiveness and he is thus less effective.
QB’s who throw a pick or get sacked might get a little gun shy. A player that is less confident might start pulling the ball down and running with it instead of staying in the pocket and taking another sack.
When these work it is great. Sometimes, however, it isn’t clear what the heck the game is thinking.
To check the DPP you just need to pause the game. On the right, there will be a little menu telling you what is going on with select players. Sometimes it seems to reflect what is happening in the game but sometimes it seems completely random. For instance, once it told me the entire Chiefs offensive line was playing poorly. On that drive I ran the ball down the field with ease.
Again, I am still getting used to it so I may not fully understand the system yet. I can tell you that when it is working, it can be really fun. Playing against the Ravens earlier today, I noticed Joe Flacco was feeling trigger happy. I adjusted my defensive game play accordingly, sending more blitzes and eventually forcing Flacco to throw a pick.
An important thing to note is that you can impact how DPP pans out. A player going on a cold streak or getting a little rattled is not a death sentence. If your QB goes cold, try getting him a few easy completions to get his confidence back up. As you do that, his rating will improve as will his play.
While DPP may not be perfected just yet, it makes the game a lot more fun and a lot more realistic. In the past, games of Madden seemed to go one way or the other. This year there are a lot more highs and lows, just like on Sunday.
The big new feature that is supposed to be the feather in EA’s cap this year is the revamping of Franchise Mode. Being a Franchise player myself, I have been waiting for this moment for a long time. The hot and cold streaks really add a lot to the experience but there are other additions that really rock.
There is a new scouting system that makes perfecting your team much more interesting. There are now different phases so that you can scout players throughout the season, then at the combine, pro days and even individual workouts. In each stage you have a finite number of players you can scout. The longer you stick with a guy, the more you can find out about him. By the end of the process, you can bring in five guys for an individual workout. That will give you the actual rating of those players, including their potential. For the other guys, you’ll have to go on whatever info you were able to collect.
Of course getting the rating doesn’t mean you get the player. For that, you still have to go through the draft. The draft feature is pretty much the same. The menus are a little more clear and it is easier to follow. The only big change here is that you are able to trade future draft picks throughout the game. So if you are a Raiders fan, you can trade away all your future draft picks for busts. Just like in real life.
Another key change comes in the free agency period. No longer can you sign whoever you want so long as you have the cap space. Now you actually compete with other teams in a free agency bidding frenzy. It is fast and furious but it is a lot of fun. Free agency goes in waves just like in real life. The top free agents at each position go first. Each player is available for about a minute so you need to cycle through and quickly input bids on your targets. As you do so, other teams will place bids on the players as well. It is all automatic so all you need to do is hit a button to outbid a team. The team who places the last high bid “agrees to terms” with that player. The contract details are worked out late. Once all the top tier guys are gone, you move on to the second tier guys and do it all over again. It is a lot of fun.
Madden 12 also introduces cut days. Just like in real life, you can fill up your roster in the preseason. You won’t know the final rating of all of your rookies and undrafted free agents until after the last cut-down so you have to choose wisely. Each week, you have to cut a few more players. The longer you keep a guy, the more you learn about him. This is fun and actually gives you a reason to play the preseason games.
The absolute worst aspect of the game is the broadcast presentation. Most of the commentary is recycled from last year’s games. The new stuff is interesting but gets repetitive very quickly. It is also extremely buggy. You will score a TD while Chris Collinsworth is in the middle of a monologue and you’ll be kicking the extra point before Gus Johnson yells “touchdown!”
There was also a weird instance where I was playing the Ravens and Johnson announced that Terrance Cody was about to kick off. Seriously?
There also appears to be a lot of calling players just by their number. It isn’t that they don’t have recordings of the player. On one play, Johnson will tell us that Tamba Hali made a tackle and on the next he will call him “number 91.” It happens a lot and it is kind of annoying.
The new entrances are fine but they also get old really quickly. The announce crew also introduces the key players the first time the offense and defense take the field. I noticed on offense there were recorded bits about Jamaal Charles, Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe but on defense I only ever heard Johnson talk about Brandon Flowers.
There are also spots of audio that are not the same quality as the others. Particularly at the beginning of the game during the coin toss. This sounds really shoddy and unfinished. This may be corrected later but it really should have been ready out of the box.
It is evident that commentary was not the focus this year and it shows. EA seemed to put all their work into revamping Franchise Mode and improving the overall game-play. In these areas, they succeeded.
In closing, this is a pretty good game, especially if you like Franchise Mode. As with every new Madden, the longer we all have to play it the more we will find wrong with it. They clearly haven’t perfected everything. For instance, play action is still pretty much impossible to run.
Still, this is definitely an improvement over Madden 11 and the new features really make it a new game and not just a $60 roster update. If anything, EA finally seems to be focusing on the stuff that matters. The game play is much improved and the addition of DPP really makes me excited for the future of the game. Hopefully EA will continue to develop this AI and uses it to make players even more true to life.
Those searching for the perfect football sim won’t be impressed. For me at least, as a casual gamer and a big football fan, I’m having a lot of fun playing the game. For me at least, that is what is all about.