Madden NFL 12 (Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii)
Developer: Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Release: August 30, 2011
Price: $59.99 (360, PS3) $49.99 (Wii) $39.99 (PS2, PSP) 

We know it’s cool to bash Madden and praise NFL 2K5, but guess what? Much like a good, new Lauryn Hill song or a Greg Oden comeback, the chances are slim to none that 2K Sports will be making an NFL game anytime soon. Get over it and check out our highs and lows of Madden 12.

AN UPGRADED MADDEN – FROM VISUALS TO GAMEPLAY FEATURES

The presentation is on point this year. Players look more realistic, stadiums received a visual upgrade and even though most of us won’t bother to wait long enough to see them, the team intros are accurate as well. The developers even went as far as adding uniform degradation based on weather as the game goes on. Bottom line: the game looks great.

Most Madden players have been asking for custom playbooks for hella long. EA Sports finally gives us what we want via a robust playbook option that includes 400 plays that can be selected from 75 different playbooks. This also helps with the new GameFlow system, which is a lot more football-accurate than last year given the options for different scenarios.

Hitting is also improved in Madden 12. EA Sports says they have added over 100 new animations for blocking and hitting. We didn’t see all 100, but we can say that we witnessed a few four-letter network-worthy hits during gameplay.

Tiburon put a lot of work into the Franchise mode and we can’t really front on any of the changes. It’s evident that the developers put an emphasis on getting this ode as close as possible to how a real NFL front office works. Users have to fight (and sometimes overpay) for free agents; there are cut days in pre-season; there is a more authentic rookie pay scale and users can scout rookies now, as well. In order to give the game an RPG feel, Madden 12 also added player roles where game-selected players are given roles that they must live up to or excel beyond. This could have been better if users could change the player rolls a la NBA 2K, but we’ll just have to keep hopeful for next year.

Player progression or digression is also a big deal in Madden 12. In Franchise mode, players have hot and cold streaks depending on performance, which makes week-to-week matchups a lot more interesting.

Dynamic Player performance is pretty legitimate, too. Spend a few hours on the game, and you’ll see for yourself that player traits and confidence are taken into consideration on each play. How a character plays in a game – as well as how they’ve played throughout their career – finally matters. Eighteen new traits are used, and they affect not just your play but also the AI. You have to actually play Madden 12 to feel how game-changing this feature is. Expect every sports game to bite this in the very near future.

CHANGES WE COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT

If you agree with the old school credo, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” then you will be pissed that EA has changed the kicking method (yet again). It seems like these guys switch up kicking more often than Tip goes to jail. In Madden 12, we’re forced to use the buttons again on a meter, which wouldn’t be so terrible if it was actually accurate. We’ve noticed that when the accuracy/power meter comes around for the second hit, the player must press the corresponding button several times fairly quickly to get the meter to properly respond. Kicking is a big deal in the game, so this will no doubt spell a lot of defeats for some of you not-so-savvy special teamers out there.

The second knock we’re making is game speed. On normal, the game feels too fast—almost arcade-like. With better defensive AI, it’s very difficult (on All Pro and All Madden levels) to effectively read defenses and simultaneously run an efficient offense. Added double moves and improved pump fakes mean next to nothing if you don’t have time to see what’s going on because of the speed. Before you make any assumptions, we actually did try turning the game speed down. Putting the game speed on slow makes gameplay slower than it should be (even slower than NCAA 12). Every player has their own preference for game speed, so why not change the current options (slow, normal, fast) to a number-based scale? Seems like a no brainer to us.

Last (and admittedly least) is the new Franchise menu. Obviously the bulk of new features to this mode mandated a menu-change, but it’s significantly more difficult to get to the navigation screen for all the options. Simple issue, sure, but annoying nonetheless.

AN ULTIMATELY SOLID NEW MADDEN TITLE

Madden NFL 12 is going to take a little bit of time for most hardcore players to get used to, but that is to be expected with so many changes to this iteration. All the new features – from the revamped online play to less popular modes like Superstar and Ultimate Team – show that EA Sports has gone to extra lengths to create a new gaming experience. Even though it’s by default, Madden is still king.

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Score: 8/10