#3 of 2011: Madden NFL 12

Posted January 3rd, 2012 at 10:15 am

Madden NFL 12 faced a number of obstacles on its way to release – from the uncertainty over the league lockout to a number of defections at the EA Sports Tiburon studio. It also followed up a largely disappointing iteration the prior year with the prospect of two disappointing releases in a row doing some irreparable long-term damage to the series.

Despite some glaring areas of weakness Madden NFL 12 was the most complete and well-intentioned version of the series to arrive this generation. Drastic improvements to Franchise mode and the best online experience to date have brought the series to the cusp of being a standout in the field. Now the question is whether the development team can take Madden to the next level or if it will falter due to yet another change in direction.

The ranking of games in the best of 2011 list is based on number of factors including the personal amount of enjoyment had with a particular title, whether advertised features were fully delivered, post-release support, community interaction and communication, overall gameplay experience, feature set, and online play performance. Again this is largely a personal take and one with the advantage of tracking the games beyond just the release frame and does not act as some sort of recap of those with the highest scores on Metacritic. The analysis is weighted heavily towards those high in fun factor while considering them as a whole and compared relatively to the field.

Related: Hits and Misses ReviewOnline ImpressionsGeneral ImpressionsFranchise ImpressionsSuperstar ImpressionsThe Formula Behind the Launch – Post-Release Support Slows

My take on the issue with Madden over the years has always been that the exclusive license isn’t itself to blame for the series’ deficiencies but rather being the only game on the market means EA Sports has chosen to produce a nondescript product intended to appeal to the largest audience possible. It has led to bland offerings that were simply decent across the board – taking little risk – and therefore excelling in really no regard.

This was the year where Madden seemed to break out of that way of thinking. It may have been because of the lockout as comments made by EA suggested they took a more ‘hardcore’ focus with the thinking that an extended lockout would mean primarily the dedicated fans of the series buying rather than the casuals that so often are the concern of the executives.

Madden NFL 12 was able to avoid many of the issues that befell other high-profile titles this year. All the features worked though obviously there were some elements that were not up to par.

The commentary was certainly one of those areas. The flow was decent but accuracy spotty, comments lagged behind the action, stories were repeated every game, and sound balance was all over the place. Then there were the inexcusable gaffes like calling the Tennessee Titans the “New York Titans” at the coin toss and there being no Playoff or Super Bowl specific commentary. In fact the announcers considered the Super Bowl to be any other game – even citing elements like home-field advantage!

Superstar mode was largely a waste of time. Custom Playbooks – though functionally much better than the implementation in NCAA Football 12 because they worked and they tied into GameFlow – were still too intimidating to arrange and the omission of their use in Online Communities and Online Franchise was baffling.

Franchise mode and presentation both got huge revamps that paid dividends and the gameplay tweaks were refreshing. Though the scouting portion of Franchise was lacking the rest of the changes and improvements turned out to really make the mode much more engaging. Presentation touches such as authentic camera placement, team entrances, blimp shots, and crowd cuts all enhanced the overall experience immensely.

The most impactful adjustment to gameplay came with the loss of suction which opened up the field and improved player control. Proper football strategy was rewarded more than ever and that was a big reason the fun factor was so high. Issues remain though: play-action still isn’t close to where it should be, kick and punt return blocking were horrendous as special teams always gets overlooked, and there was no fight for the ball from defensive backs.

Dynamic Player Performance was meant to better reflect and differentiate individual’s performance level from play-to-play. It has been hard to quantify its effect but the concept at least was a good one. Player “traits” turned out to be more evident in their reflection on the field as well as “roles” and how they affected Franchise mode being a nice addition.

This was the year that Tiburon really nailed online play – delivering the best performance out of the studio to date. Little to no lag and consistent connections were the key to that. Even an adjustment was made to the kick meter which made slight corrections due to any latency and in doing so the responsiveness felt ideal. It’s the first time that kicking in a football game online hasn’t been at least occasionally problematic. Online Communities was a nice idea but not fully realized – the decision to go with that over Online Franchise was a questionable one.

Post-release support has been a mixed bag. Madden continues to have the most consistent and detailed roster updates delivered on a weekly basis and this time around added a new valuable twist with “traits”, while Madden Ultimate Team was pushed throughout the season (though that one is because it’s a revenue source). The big disappointment has come with only a single feedback-based patch being delivered and no “tuner” updates at all despite being touted as a feature long ago. The caveat is that the game didn’t demand any drastic fixes but it still has meant lost opportunity to enhance some areas that could have used it.

Madden NFL 12 was a well rounded effort that corrected some of the missteps from the prior year and in doing so produced reason to be optimistic about the future of the series – that is as long as the vision from EA Sports remains consistent going forward.

Earlier Year-in-Review Pieces
•2011 Community Choice Award Winners
•The Biggest Stories of 2011
•#3: Madden NFL 12
•#4: MLB 11: The Show
•#5: NBA 2K12
•#6: WWE All-Stars
•#7: NCAA Football 12
•#8: NHL 12
•#9: Fight Night Champion
•#10: MLB Bobblehead Pros