Madden NFL 12 General Impressions

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Posted August 26th, 2011 at 6:15 am

The Madden franchise has been held back over the last few years due to a number of factors – not least of which has been the change in focus and direction that seemingly happened with the release of every iteration. Madden NFL 12 though has made the wise decision to concentrate on providing the authentic NFL experience. Whether that be directed at those who are used to watching on TV or others who spend game-days in the stadiums there is something of which that will emotionally connect to every NFL fan.

While there is still a long way to go to achieve the complete vision this represents the first time in a long while that there seems to be entrenched confidence about where the franchise is headed and what is really important when it comes to reaching the respective goals. Madden NFL 12 has its share of flaws but what is does right far outweighs any gripes which thus far have been minor in scope. This is no NCAA Football 12. 

•Make sure to check out the other articles posted today including extensive looks at Franchise mode and Superstar mode, gameplay videos and screenshots, and the Xbox 360 loading time analysis. Online impressions and the full ‘Hits and Misses’ review will come next week!

Gameplay

For those who have played NCAA Football 12 the gameplay will feel somewhat familiar but Madden 12 comes across as bigger, more physical, and plays much more refined – like it has been reigned in a bit. Where NCAA is wide open Madden feels slightly more restrictive but the players have the ability to break out of that and create some exciting moments. Fun factor is very high and games have been exceedingly satisfying.

Player traits have a very beneficial impact on how each individual performs on the field and that has been great to see. The tendencies really come through and it makes playing against someone like Peyton Manning completely different than taking on Michael Vick. The influence of traits and tendencies is noticed most in QBs but it also affects most of the other positions.

What about the gameplay otherwise has been the most pleasing? The CPU running game can not only be effective but deadly. The CPU is actually more consistent with the running game than the passing game. There were games in my franchise where I was able to contain the running backs, other games where they put up 100+ yards, and one instance where Arian Foster gashed me for 283 yards on 28 carries. Backs really anticipate holes better than they have in the past.

Run blocking is much improved and that is probably due in large part to the heavily reduced suction in the new tackling animation system. That pays dividends for both the CPU run game and the user run game. Tosses, pitches, and sweeps tend to be less successful however than going downhill. Quick backs like Chris Johnson that can get into space are especially dangerous, but bigger backs like Peyton Hillis can barrel over defenders. The player momentum effects and stumbling animations are excellent. Screen passes can work really well but the CPU struggles to execute them.

The passing game from the CPU though isn’t as reliable. Again I saw varied results along the way – some instances where the CPU passing really struggled, others where they produced mediocre results, and a few times where they lit me up. What sets it apart from the running game however is that CPU QBs occasionally make errant throws. Sometimes they’ll float a pass into double or triple coverage or force something that gets picked off. Peyton Manning did this in the week 15 franchise game when I intercepted him four times – doubling the number he had on the entire season (the matchup earlier in the year he didn’t throw a single INT).

There seems to be less in the way of leaping linebackers knocking passes away or stealing the ball out of the air which is a relief, but it can still sometimes be difficult to get a pass with the proper velocity over defenders who are underneath. While I’ve had success with finding players who have sat down in a zone often to get the ball there in time it needs to be a strong throw and doing so leaves an underneath defender to bat it away. Otherwise all routes seem to work to an extent and I haven’t had to avoid any (or particular plays) so far. Flats are well covered by the CPU – I actually have thrown several INTs to the flats not noticing the coverage there. It can still be a useful outlet but doesn’t seem to be exploitable.

Play action is still one of the weakest aspects of the game. Play fakes take too long to execute – what Madden really needs is authentic play fakes. Someone like Peyton Manning has a very snappy play fake. A common misconception is that a run game needs to be established before play action should work. That really isn’t the case. Establishing the run should make the defense more likely to bite but play action should be executed well regardless. All Manning wants to buy on a play fake is a fraction of a second hesitation from the defense and he doesn’t get automatically sacked whether the run game is working or not. There just isn’t enough time in most cases to make any reads down the field when knowing the QB is likely to get creamed. Sadly it means leaving play action largely out of my gameplan.

QBs tend to have a lot of success scrambling but this is just the case when darting out of the pocket rather than running outside the tackles. From what I’ve noticed linebackers especially seem slow to react to this (almost as though they hesitate) and QBs often have a lot of daylight because of it. It doesn’t seem as though they are necessarily too athletic or too fast – rather the defense doesn’t recognize they have left the pocket until they are already a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

One area of the game that has brought about some disappointment is the lack of much of a battle for the ball in the air. Receivers that get to a spot early may square up and leap to make a catch but that is about it about it and the defender may not even be able to make a play on the ball. It can be frustrating to press the ‘jump’ button and just have a receiver or defender that seemingly can’t raise their arms up and barely get off the ground. Spectacular catches are also so rare that all I’ve encountered have been a few one handed catches – nothing of the diving variety or anything particularly thrilling.

Pressure from the defensive tackles has created more sacks than pass rushing defensive ends. Looking at my franchise stats it is evidenced by Jason Jones leading the league in sacks with 18. I believe in one game a top DT sacked me five times and don’t remember a game with a DE getting more than two. Ends tend to get the QB if they run outside of the pocket but the tackles collapse the pocket. Simulations favor the ends as they should in sacks.

Special teams remains largely neglected as kick return and punt return blocking is horrid. Check out the stats from my franchise season where despite having a Pro Bowl returner I had (by far) the worst return average in the league. There may be the possibility of breaking a kick return for a TD but I don’t know if it could be done on a punt return. The new addition of the surprise onside kick is welcome and implemented well. Out of five attempts I’ve only recovered it once. Just like the real NFL now moving up kickoffs to the 35 means a large number of touchbacks.

Having played on All-Pro difficulty the results have been varied and it has been challenging (in a fair way unlike All-Madden tends to be). Opinions on difficulty and sliders will of course vary from individual to individual.

Other Notes Related to Gameplay
•Game speed feels just about right unlike the demo which was too fast.
•No huddle really isn’t handled all that well. The NCAA system should come over where more than just audibles are available to call at the line. There are also times where the CPU runs no huddle and snaps before all the defensive players have even made it back to line up.
•Weather effects are noticeable. QB dropbacks are affected, WRs slip when making cuts, RBs slip coming out of the backfield, kick power and accuracy takes a hit.
•There is still some sense that there is more in the way of “hitting” than “tackling” but much better than the demo.
•CPU doesn’t “quick snap”. The pacing feels almost perfect in this regard. Someone like Peyton Manning will take longer at the line too.
•Punt returners don’t always raise their hand when a fair catch is called.
•Most sideline catches end up being incomplete. Maybe that is related to the “makes sideline catches” trait.
•In my full franchise season there was only one blocked XP and one blocked FG. A relief compared to frequency seen in the demo.
•I’m pretty happy with the improved “Strategy Pad” now. I think I prefer it to the old system/one used in NCAA.
•I love being able to slip under tackles by using the dive button. Can save my players from taking some big hits.

Presentation and Atmosphere

The most immediate thing anyone will notice when first playing Madden NFL 12 comes with all the improvements to the presentation. Authentic team entrances, blimp shots of the stadium, the TV style camera placement for scenes and more all make a huge impact.

What I found most interesting is that I have not had the urge to skip through those elements of presentation like I have in past sports titles. Quite the opposite actually. I feel as though I’m learning about traditions that I had no idea existed. Usually full team entrances are not shown on TV so what each team does is interesting to watch. It’s also neat seeing the stadium from the exterior and the surrounding environment.

The graphics are sharp and look especially good in replays. The 3D grass adds a lot and the field looks much better than NCAA 12′s during gameplay action. The lighting doesn’t feel as dynamic as NCAA 12 but the crowd looks far better. Jerseys get dirtied up and helmets get scuffed but there is no field degradation.

Replays for challenges are in a very sad state. More often than not what is being challenged isn’t even shown in the replays. Instead the replays tend to show the very end of the action rather than the relevant event that had taken place. In the case of challenging a fumble it’s unlikely you’ll actually see the fumble in the replays. Instead it’ll be the defensive player picking up the ball or getting tackled after doing so.

Like in the demo the biggest issue with the post-play scenes comes with the two minute warning. A play that ends with the two minute warning cuts immediately away. In that case and some others very often the scene just shows something like the field and nothing interesting.

As with NCAA 12 there is too much of players bumping into each other post-play as they walk back to the huddle. This looks less ridiculous in Madden 12 though due to the different cameras that don’t tend to linger on it.

The lack of a halftime show and post-game recap with highlights is glaring. If I had to choose one presentation element to add though it would be live cut-ins from around the league in franchise mode. Way back when that was my favorite thing that would happen during the course of a Madden game.

Crowd noise is pretty good and certainly much better than NCAA 12. There are still times where the crowd is quieter than would be expected – sometimes that is on critical 3rd or 4th downs. It would also be nice to bring in some sort of home field advantage. Maybe integrate that into ‘Dynamic Player Performance’ and have some players affected by suiting up in hostile environments.

Some misc notes and minor errors related to presentation:
•The crowd is too sparsely populated when raining or snowing. Recognizing that it could affect attendance maybe it shouldn’t for certain teams with stronger home field advantages, rivalry games, ect.
•There is a minor visual bug where a pulling guard’s assignment shows as going all the way down the field to the corner of the end zone. The guard appears to pull properly however and does not just run off.
•The Colts team entrance announces Reggie Wayne running out but in his place is actually Delone Carter.
•Sometimes a scene of a team in a huddle will be shown when they shouldn’t be on the field in the particular situation (like after the half before a kickoff).
•The “performer of the game” is often questionable and the one replay shown after the game is too often a field goal.
•Can we please get rid of the jumbotron flashing “Win” or “Lose” after a game? It’s a remnant of worse Madden times.
•The “seizure” animation on the ground after being tackled is here but less so than NCAA.
•Touches like the “shaky” camera after a TD and cuts to the crowd are excellent.
•I wasn’t able to determine 100% if this was the case but it seemed to me that crowd chants occurred more when the playbook was opened up compared to using GameFlow. Like some of the chants don’t trigger until the full playbook is opened.
•Would love to see “Skycam” shots in primetime broadcasts in the future!

Commentary

There is a decent flow to the commentary this year though there isn’t a whole lot new to it. Unfortunately what stands out the most is how different the recorded lines from Madden 11 sound compared to those from Madden 12. It is obvious especially with Gus Johnson when one line goes into the next and they were recorded at different times. The most stark example comes during the coin toss. A better flow between lines is there compared to his introduction in Madden 11 but it comes across very stitched together when the lines sound so drastically different. Gus also on occasion fades out and becomes hard to hear in longer dialogue sequences.

The commentary often runs behind the action that is taking place. In one case I was already to a kickoff and Gus was still calling the touchdown that had taken place prior. That isn’t a frequent thing but happens to an extent throughout each game. Once Gus and Cris Collinsworth begin a call they complete it no matter how long it is and if it still relates to what is on screen. They also tend to ramble on with explanations of things that don’t apply to what had happened – all too often with the same story.

There is no special commentary for the pre-season, playoffs, or even Super Bowl unfortunately. The Super Bowl also considers there to be a “home team”. At the coin toss Gus and Cris began talking about the importance of home field advantage of all things. In a regular season game within Franchise that goes to overtime Cris also explains the “new” OT rules. First of all they aren’t “new” this year but more importantly they only apply to playoff games!

If you’re a Titans fan you’ll have to get used to Gus calling the them the “New York Titans” at every coin toss. There is also too much made of where a player went to college. Do we really need to hear about Tom Brady being from Michigan or Chris Johnson from East Carolina at the start of every game? Some players are also called by their jersey number rather than their name.

Custom Playbooks
Creating a custom playbook, both for offense and defense, involves first choosing a current book (for a particular team or general style). From there formations and plays can be added or removed. It is all similar to the general setup for custom playbooks in NCAA 12 and can feel a bit overwhelming akin to a major project.

The difference from NCAA 12 – and it’s a big one – comes in being able to rate the plays and apply them to situations. This is for use with GameFlow. Rating a play high in a certain situation will make it more likely to show up in GameFlow when in that situation.

It was hard to determine if this was working completely as it should when in games but at the very least it seemed to be. In one book I worked on I moved every play action down to zero stars and was not presented with PA to choose from in the GameFlow suggestions.

Testing resulted in none of the issues encountered with custom playbooks in NCAA 12. No performance hit (framerate) was noticed when using the custom playbook either.

GameFlow/GamePlan
Because of the custom playbooks being integrated into GamePlans it’s hard to imagine now playing without GameFlow as the pace is improved immensely.

Default GameFlow however has some issues. The same plays seem to rotate through too often, on defense zones are offered far more often than man coverages, and the concept of “aggressive” vs “conservative” on defense is not properly represented. Cover 6 zone often falls under “aggressive” and a heavy blitz may be under “conservative”. On offense being able to flip through and select “pass” or “run” and see the name of a play before choosing is a great change and makes using the feature much more viable.

Dynamic Player Performance
Having gone into this in the Franchise mode impressions it just isn’t completely evident how it is driving results. If it wasn’t known to be a feature I wouldn’t have noted anything different about on-field performance as it relates to ratings or hot and cold streaks. This may not be a bad thing actually but it just makes it near impossible to quantify.

Madden Moments Live
They’re back though only five are initially offered. The biggest change comes with them using last year’s rosters as opposed to the latest rosters. Presumably though they wouldn’t be able to do that with retired players just active ones. They are locked at five minute quarters and Pro difficulty and given the time constraints quite difficult to achieve. There is also no ‘restart’ option – a frustration considering early on in an attempt it may be obvious that it will be a failure.

New ‘Moments’ are expected to be released throughout the season. As of now it doesn’t look like they’ll be charging for them given there is a sponsorship involved but that remains uncertain.

Fantasy Football
As posted about earlier this week there is NFL.com fantasy football integration in the online section of Madden 12. It is basically just a way to look at results and standings and no changes to the teams can be made through it. Logging in with the NFL.com FF credentials brings 3000 free coins ($1 value).

Miscellaneous Notes
•The team select screen locks up for a few seconds when moving the controller to one team or the other as well as when pulling up the advanced menu for things like playbooks, difficulty, and uniforms. This is annoying to say the least.
•I’m shocked considering all the graphical enhancements that a screenshot feature (very popular in the NCAA Football series) has not been implemented in Madden.
•Had two instances of the console freezing up. One came in the transition from the 3rd to 4th quarter in a Franchise game. The other happened in Superstar during the SuperSim in the 1st quarter.

As just one individual there is no way to assess Madden NFL 12 and state definitively whether there are any severe bugs that will soon be discovered (I haven’t stumbled on them where many were obvious in NCAA) or ultimately how the masses will receive this year’s release.

What I feel confident in saying however is that Madden NFL 12 represents the series regaining its footing while showing glimpses of greatness. It’s not quite there yet but it has never had more promise than now. The new features are all valuable and targeted to the more hardcore fans and it pays off. Madden NFL 12 has likely done enough for the franchise to establish itself as a leader in the sports gaming market yet again – and the future finally looks bright because that.

  • Jeff Aka Taz

    i think that players being called by their jersey numbers is just uncalled for. I cant get over it! Last year some players had their names used like ben jarvis green ellis yet this year he is only refered to as # 42 which makes me feel like its just some created player. it bugs me sooooooooooooooooooo much for some reason.  Not even DANNY WOODHEAD who was a cover athelete qualifier. Is there anyway to patch that in Pasta or is it something that will be in next years game i guess?

  • Jeff Aka Taz

    i think that players being called by their jersey numbers is just uncalled for. I cant get over it! Last year some players had their names used like ben jarvis green ellis yet this year he is only refered to as # 42 which makes me feel like its just some created player. it bugs me sooooooooooooooooooo much for some reason.  Not even DANNY WOODHEAD who was a cover athelete qualifier. Is there anyway to patch that in Pasta or is it something that will be in next years game i guess?

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