Madden NFL 12 at E3: Impressions

Posted June 10th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

It’s always difficult to express detailed impressions of games coming out of E3. The environment and time pressure makes it difficult to dig into the games, the noise drowns out the audio, and everything is new so the tendency is to over-value the emotion felt when playing.

Instead I’ve generally tried to get across the vibe towards a game following the event – not just of my own but of the others in attendance – and compare that to expectations and the experience of having seen how from E3 all of that tends to translate to post-release reception. Last year my gut feeling was that NCAA Football 11 would be the premiere product and Madden NFL 11 was falling flat having put the focus primarily on casual-friendly features.

That perception held and may have in turn influenced the direction those respective series went this year. Madden NFL 12 appears to have answered the bell and delivered a well-rounded compelling product that could exceed the expectations of many.

The enhancements to presentation are front and center and have a huge impact on the enjoyment level as a fan of the NFL in particular. The authentic entrances, TV-style camera cuts and angles, more natural celebrations and reaction scenes, and on-screen displays are all great touches. Even the simple camera cut to the crowd after a big play makes a huge difference compared to what was shown in the past.

Graphically the game looks amazing, on several occasions we marveled at how great things such as the helmets and grass (in replays) looked. Player models look much better though several QBs appeared a bit too stocky or ripped with Christian Ponder one prime example.

Gameplay wise the action does feel sped up somewhat and – as a proponent of the slower speed in the past – I thought this new speed felt just right. The slower speed did a better job of covering up some of the issues but now that seems unnecessary. What really stands out is the new tackling which removes most of the sense of ‘suction’ and true player momentum. As seen in some of the videos it is a very dynamic experience and provides that “anything can happen” sense that is so important. Ball carriers stumbling forward and either falling or regaining their footing looks exceptional.

Having been asked about the Dynamic Player Performance feature I can provide little feedback on it. In fact if I didn’t know the feature existed I wouldn’t have sensed anything different. Certainly this will be different when playing it for extended periods of time especially in Franchise mode. However without any sort of visual indicators on screen (can pause and find them) it just didn’t make its presence known. It could still have been driving some of the results however I wouldn’t know how to determine that.

What did appear immediately is the impact of the ‘Player Traits’ on actions within the games. Individuals do play more like themselves displaying certain tendencies. Seeing Philip Rivers sit in the pocket compared to Michael Vick taking off when spotting daylight is just one example of that. Operating with Tim Tebow became difficult as his passes frequently sailed on me and that seemed tied to the “tight spiral” tendency not just simple accuracy. It was refreshing not just to see guys playing to their strengths but to feel that differentiation as well.

Not sure how well it comes across in the videos but controlling the defensive line proved a lot more fun and effective than in the past. In one game I took on Ndamukong Suh and was able to get consistent push. On one play Suh completely flattened the offensive lineman. The expanded move-set for lineman should make the good ones more successful than in past iterations where only one defensive end ever seemed to get in on the action. Pressure from the front four was present and blitzes were able to get home.

GameFlow utilizing packages was a pleasant surprise. In my game with the Seahawks I noted plays where Aaron Curry was lined up at DE or Chris Clemons was standing up. This being just simple default GameFlow, and given the enhancements they’ve made there like choosing pass vs run or aggressive vs conservative, makes that a more appealing play-calling option.

While Madden 12 has made such significant advancement in several areas it still is somewhat rough around the edges at times. On several occasions safeties made boneheaded plays – check out part three of the Chargers-Chiefs video (at 3:20) where Eric Weddle is literally looking the wrong way for some reason allowing for a TD to be completed right by him. Mistakes by safeties tend to stand out.

When quarterbacks get hit and lose the ball it might look like a fumble but be called incomplete without recourse to challenge. On one I had a terrific speed rush around the edge, hit him from the blindside, and jarred the ball loose. Apparently he had begun to throw but it sure didn’t look like it. The result is deflating.

Play action is still very hit or miss. There didn’t seem to be any hesitation on the part of the defense due to PA and the process of the play fake still seems too deliberate. The sample size to judge on this is too small but we weren’t particularly encouraged by the results.

The zone defense does seem to be improved but in turn there are even more dropped interceptions by the defense. Understanding that no one wants a game where teams end up with 5+ INTs on a regular basis it is still frustrating to play good defense and drop a sure pick. Considering there was only a single INT in all of the gameplay I witnessed it goes to show how the defense can be hampered by that to an extent.

The real-time scenes following the end of plays are covered well by the cameras but still display some level of awkwardness particularly with the way players walk around and how frequently they seem to bump into each other.

Audio and commentary is very difficult to distinguish at E3 given all the surrounding noise. What I did catch was Gus Johnson yelling some lines and it accented how timing wise he was off on several occasions. My understanding is that commentary didn’t get much work this year but will advance significantly in Madden 13 instead.

It’s impossible to say how well Madden NFL 12 will be received in the long run simply from playing it at E3 and judging reactions to it. However at the very least there is a lot to be encouraged by and excited about and that is in stark contrast to how Madden fared last year.