By Corey Andress
With the NFL season around the corner, August is normally a time for gamers to get a taste of the pro gridiron. This year the NFL comes to us in two different forms on the iPhone platform. Gameloft’s NFL 2011 and EA Sports’ Madden NFL ‘11. With EA clearly being a leader when it comes to the sports genre Gameloft did the smart thing by releasing NFL 2011 a week before its big named competitor.
Gameloft secured the NFL license last year for use on the iPhone and released NFL 2010. The game was poorly received and was hurt by the crippling AI that plagued the company’s first effort. With a year under their belt Gameloft has improved with its second attempt, but still falls short of a truly enjoyable mobile NFL experience.
The game includes your standard sports modes for single player. Exhibition, Season and Playoff modes are all available. Exhibition matches are set up as quick burst games, using 2 minute quarters and “easy” as the default settings. The season and playoff modes are your run of the mill offerings, giving you the ability to set rosters, browse stats, and go through a full 16 game season. There is also a tutorial mode to help accustom players to the various controls. Strangely, Gameloft did not include multiplayer in the offering. Considering the fact that EA’s Madden has included it, it almost wins by default if you’re looking for a Bluetooth match-up online.
I’m going to dive into the positives. To be honest, NFL 2011 is a fairly decent looking game. First off I think it’s important to note that I played through the game using the iPhone 4. Gameloft’s title utilizes the incredible Retina Display, and it really shows it off. Colors jump off the screen and the graphics hold their own considering it is a mobile effort. There are no sharp edges or jagged areas to speak of. The players, stadiums, and menus are as smooth as can be. In fact, the whole game runs incredibly smooth. There is very little to no lag and things run without much of a hiccup.
One thing I really enjoyed about NFL 2011 was the animation of the players. Comparing it to EA’s previous efforts (Madden 10, NCAA) and the first Gameloft game, this version has done some impressive work when it comes to how well the players move on screen. Tackling looks especially polished. I noticed more than a few different tackling animations, where as most other mobile NFL games only seem to have one or two.
If you have played a Madden or NCAA on the iPhone you’ll find yourself right at home when it comes to controlling your players in NFL 2011. Controls are simplistic enough when it comes to running the ball, using a virtual stick and a spin, turbo, and dive button. Actually, considering the smooth animation and easy controls, running was a pretty enjoyable experience on the device. I found myself leaning heavily towards it because the passing game was a totally different story.
To put it simply, the passing game is where this game totally falls apart for me. At first glance it seems easy enough. Again, like NCAA and Madden before it, NFL 2011 has you hitting color-coded icons above your receiver’s head to get them the ball. According to the tutorial, the longer you hold the icon down, the harder the ball is thrown. Unfortunately none of it works. For some unknown reason, every single time I went to throw the ball, the game didn’t recognize it properly. Sometimes it would take up to 3-4 taps of the icon in order for it to register.
The biggest issue with that is originally the icon would be green (meaning the receiver was open) but after 3-4 taps the receiver would no longer be open. Obviously this caused many interceptions and incompletions that just weren’t necessary. The bullet passes didn’t work either. Since the icons are always on the move with your receiver this option was inconceivably impossible. Once the icon moved the area I was touching on the screen would not register as a pass. Overall I ended up just ignoring the passing game completely. This created issues considering half of my offensive game was useless.
Another issue I had with NFL 2011 was the playbook system. They weren’t bad by any means selection-wise, they just seemed out of place and slow compared to the rest of the experience. Maybe it was due to how fast Madden ’11 seemed to operate with Gameflow on the iPhone (more on this in my upcoming impressions), I just felt that it took longer than it needed to going through various plays. I want an iPhone game to be quick, and come without issues that slow down my playing time.
Although Gameloft did a fairly commendable job in improving the CPU AI in the 2011 version, compared to 2010, it is still incredibly imbalanced. Easy difficulty was just that, easy. Pretty much any attempted pass (when they actually ended up working) was a completion. Running involved bursting to the outside, hitting turbo, and hitting pay-dirt almost 90% of the time. Moving up the difficulty managed to fix the offensive issues, but created balance issues. Both medium and hard seemed too difficult regarding the running game. This, combined with the passing issues I had, basically put a screeching end to my offensive game. I was left with the options of completely dominating the CPU or not scoring a point.
The other areas of gameplay didn’t fare much better. On the defensive side of the ball I found it pretty boring to control. I’ve come to the conclusion that football games need to find a better way to play D on the iPhone. Using a virtual stick to control movement is tough on defense. It’s mostly due to the fact that it sometimes requires very precise movement, such as lining up a tackle or getting in front of a WR for an interception. The virtual version of a joystick the iPhone uses isn’t precise (at least in most cases). This makes switching players mid-play a very difficult experience. For the most part this just means for the whole defensive play you end up controlling one player. If anything it just becomes repetitive and dull.
I must commend Gameloft for fixing a lot of the issues that gamers had with NFL 2010. They managed to fix some of the AI issues (albeit not all of them) and made a much better and smoother looking game. If it weren’t for the broken passing system, and the out of place playbooks, I could see this as a very playable experience on the iPhone. Unfortunately for NFL 2011 the things it does wrong ruin the game.
There are some positives to take forward however. If Gameloft can work on the AI balancing, get the passing to work and find a more intuitive way to play defense, they have a good shot at a great title come 2012. With a strong animation system, good graphics and a smooth running game, there are impressive areas to build upon. For 2011 however I have a hard time recommending this as a $6.99 purchase. Hopefully EA’s Madden ’11 will give NFL fans a more well-rounded football experience. Look for my impressions soon.
These impressions are based on using a 16gb iPhone 4 (4.0.1iOS). NFL 2011 was version 1.0.0