Review: Madden 2011
September 9, 2010, Author: Phil Ubee
EA Sports John Madden NFL franchise is one of the most successful and longest running in gaming history having now been around for nearly 25 years. This year’s edition was released on August 13th in the UK and is available on both PS3 and XBOX360. I have been playing the XBOX360 version, but the question is; is the game comparable to the New Orleans Saints or is it more the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
Read on to find out?
First and Ten
The game is played in the time honoured viewpoint of behind the Endzone with the offensive team always moving up the pitch, this means that when an interception or fumble occurs the action pauses for a moment while the camera rotates 180 degrees. This has been the way with Madden since day one and as the saying goes “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Prior to the snap you have to select your play, this procedure has been simplified in Madden 11 for newcomers to the sport with the addition of the “Gameflow” option. This removes the play options entirely instead putting you “in the helmet” of the Quarterback. The coach calls the play and a brief description appears on screen (and in your headset) to advise you of how to run the play. Obviously you can still change this with an audible and you can also select to open the playbook should you wish to. In addition for the more complete NFL fan you can edit and create your playbooks to suit your own style of play.
The left analogue stick is used to control player movement but the face buttons usage varies depending on the phase of possession. On Offence for example, A will snap the ball then be used to throw to a receiver as the Quarterback on a passing play (the other face buttons are assigned to separate eligible receivers), once the ball is caught A then becomes the “hand-off” button. At this stage X is used to dive, Y to hurdle, B to spin and RB to cover up or protect the ball. You also have the ability to juke or lean with the right stick when in possession.
On defence, B will change your controlled player while Y will get your controlled defender to raise his hands in an effort to block, bat or catch the ball. This swaps to jump when in pursuit of a runner at which point X is again dive while A is used as “defender assist” (a sort of semi-automatic control) and LB attempts to strip the ball from your opponent.
Throw in a multitude of audibles on both sides of the ball (controlled with the D-pad) and you would be forgiven for thinking this is not a particularly user friendly game. In truth this all quickly becomes second nature even to a Madden newcomer and you’ll be changing plays at the line of scrimmage like Payton Manning in no time.
In terms of the general gameplay, Madden 11 is not dissimilar to its predecessors, so veterans will be comfortable from the off. There are some issues with the default settings as far as I’m concerned though as initially I was tearing my hair out (what’s left of it) at the number of broken tackles I was giving up and the inability of my defensive backs to make any kind of play. There are a number of “CPU Skill” sliders which are all set at 50% initially one of which is “Break Tackle” and dropping this down to a more realistic 20-30% has increased my game enjoyment immensely.
Madden 11 has a plethora of single player modes. The standard Play Now option is broken down into Exhibition; a single friendly game, Superbowl; a chance to play the NFL’s showpiece game as your favourite team and AFL; which gives you a nostalgic look at the game before the glitz and glamour of the NFL. Pick one of the eight original franchises and play out the match in a grainy circulated view that replicates an old 60’s television picture.
In all honesty this is really nothing more than a gimmick as your players are the same as the modern day teams and the pre-match presentation is also basically the same. The grainy look, though authentic, is just a light sheen across the screen that totally drains the colour; it does nothing at all for the action especially the kick meter which is much harder to judge in this view.
You also have the mini-games, which is effectively a training camp. You select your team and your opponents and compete in up to six disciplines. The Forty yard dash, Bench Press and then both Run and Pass plays on both sides of the ball. You score points on your performances and the team with the most points wins the challenge.
Practice mode allows you to do exactly that, practice running plays and is probably the biggest waste of a game mode I’ve ever seen. The plays are the basic ones which you cover in the previously mentioned mini-mames and the Virtual Trainer is much better for honing your skills. The Virtual Trainer mode puts you in a Tron like arena and gets you to run various disciplines (such as running behind blockers) on three different difficulty levels.
Finally, in terms of the shorter game modes we have the now familiar Madden Moments. Fifty of last season’s key moments to replicate or reverse. These range from the Vikings last ditch win over San Francisco (as a 49ers fan I hated playing that one) to reversing the Superbowl outcome. There is a decent variation of scenarios and it’s easily the best mode for a quick fix.
Madden 11 has three long single player modes: Superstar mode lets you take the role of one of this seasons rookies or create your own and set off on the path to Hall of Fame status and a Superbowl ring or two. Initially you have to take an IQ test (I scored 100%) and then you are drafted by one of the NFL Franchises. Unfortunately the Training camp and Combine has been dropped from previous versions but otherwise it is much the same. Your team calendar shows you the upcoming fixtures and you also have team practice each week. The practice is the same as the version you can play separately and frustratingly, not only are the plays selected generally the same six or seven over and over again but there appears to be no time limit.
Franchise Mode is the stable of the modern Madden era and sees you pick your favourite NFL franchise and set off on a thirty year quest for total domination. You can start with the roster as it is for this season or go through the “Fantasy Draft” which lets you build your squad from scratch. You can take as much or as little control over your franchise as you want. Everything from from signing free agents and organising trades to setting up the play books is manageable. Alternatively you can set pretty much everything to CPU controlled and concentrate on just playing matches.
The last Single player mode in Madden 11 is Ultimate Team. Now, as a big fan of the FIFA ultimate Team mode I was pretty excited to see this was part of the standard game rather than a purchased DLC to come later as with the FIFA version. It plays much the same as you begin with a crop of decidedly average players and need to earn coin in matches or use auctions to build your squad. Each player card has a contract length and this works down after each game. Besides the players you also have cards for Jerseys, Stadiums, Coaches and playbooks. In addition to your game squad there are also collections in Madden Ultimate Team and each collection completed brings a coin and card reward. Unwanted cards can be sent to auction to try and gain some coin for your own purchases either via the card packs or auctions.
Personally I feel that the UT mode in Madden 11 has been totally wasted. Firstly the menus are nowhere near as user friendly as the main game or even the massively in depth Franchise mode. The auctions are almost redundant as each card has a minimum value assigned to it and you cannot list or purchase a card under this value, so there is no such thing as a bargain. On top of this, adding a card to auction costs coin and there is no guarantee of a sale so you can (and will) find yourself losing coins in trying to sell cards.
In addition due to the squad structures in the NFL you will find that some thirty players will come out of contract at the same time meaning renewing these is a logistical nightmare made worse by the fact that in an online game you will lose contracts if your opponent quits without getting any sort of coin payment for the trouble.
Finally you can only play single head-to-head matches against the CPU or over Xbox Live. There are no Franchise, Season, or Playoff style tournaments to compete in. It’s a massive shame as UT could and should have been the deal breaker in making Madden 11 the ultimate sports game.
Visually Madden 11 is pretty impressive. The main menus carry the now familiar structure and polish. Animations are better than ever with clearly visible joy shown after a Touchdown or big First Down in the offensive player celebrations, likewise in the posturing from the backs after a big tackle or interception. You can almost see defined characteristics from the players on the pitch, it is truly brilliant.
Match days on the whole have a TV style presentation with a pre-game look at the players arriving at the stadium and then going through their warm ups and the team huddle. During the game the camera regularly cuts to the side-lines to see the coach going through his playbook and the subs getting some liquid. This is rounded off with post match, on pitch interviews. Despite the fact the player has little or no input to these it certainly adds a real shine to the proceedings.
As you would expect from an EA Sports title the menus are accompanied by the EA Sports Trax system whereby an assortment of different titles are played supposedly at random and as usual you can remove any you don’t like via the settings or order your playlist. The titles are nice and varied but a lot have been heard on other EA Sports titles and unless you do edit the playlist you always seem to hear the same three or four tunes.
When the game starts, fans of the NFL will instantly recognise the gravelly undertones of Cris Collinsworth and his “expert” opinion. He is paired this year alongside new arrival Gus Johnson and the play by play again adds to the overall presentation of the big games on TV. Sound effects include the cheer of the crowd, the thump of pad on pad in the blocks and tackles and the occasional audible from the Quarter Back. It all adds up to giving the matches a good authentic feel but there is nothing particularly new and the play-by-play can get a bit repetitive.
The new Gameflow feature mentioned earlier offers an additional in game sound effect where, if you connect your headset, you will receive the coach’s instruction on how to execute the play directly to your ear, just like if you were actually “in the game”. This is a nice, novel feature which I do feel adds a bit to the game but again it can get a bit repetitive. It is also worth noting that without the headset attached this guide is written on screen and can also be heard if there is a break in the commentary.
Madden 11 Online is just as huge as the offline game with standard ranked or unranked Head-to-Head matches, Online Franchise and the new Online Team Play. Remarkably there is more than a little lag that only seems to effect the kick meter, making Field Goals and extra points nothing more than a lottery. Also the defensive frailties within the game, such as missed tackles and weak pass coverage are all the more evident and games can be extremely frustrating because of this at times.
Online Franchise works in much the same way as the offline version with games played against both CPU and human opponents depending on how many members you have. You can access all your details and view stats via the EA Sports website in order to keep up to date with all the goings on both on and off the pitch and overall is a great game mode to be played as part of a community.
Online Team Play is the big new online feature that sees you take the role of a position and team up with your friends online. You pick an offensive and defensive role and then take to the field. The choices on Offence are Wide Receiver, Running Back or Quarter Back with Defensive options of Line Backer, Defensive Back and Defensive Line. You then control that unit of the team so, for example if you are Wide Receiver you can pick which receiver to control rather than just being one individual player. This is definitely a huge addition to the Madden playbook and certainly a welcome one that will keep me entertained for a long time to come.
Madden 11 is a specialist game in that, if you have no interest in the NFL you wont like it; having said that, you certainly do not need to be a massive fan of the sport to enjoy it. There are a few issues like the slight lag on the kick meter in online games and the default settings hampering your defence and causing unnecessary frustration. Also the Ultimate Team mode fails to impress.
Having said that the massive variation in game modes, coupled with the adjustable levels of depth available means that either as a casual fan or NFL fanboy, you will have more than enough to keep you entertained. If you have any interest whatsoever in the NFL I implore you to go and get this game.