Call it a rebuilding year.
A few short weeks ago, the NFL season was in peril, and all signs pointed to Madden NFL 12 as the sole savior for pigskin enthusiasts everywhere, as EA planned to ship their perennial sports powerhouse come fumbles or 4th-and-long. But after a host of key developers hit free agency, it seemed the stage was set for a shaky start for sports gaming’s most ballyhooed ballclub. Hundreds of upgrades, a functional mulligan on the game’s interface, and a new animation system promised to pave the way for the future of football, but would it hold up under the trials and tribulations of a grueling season?
Unfortunately, after an in-depth look at this year’s offering, this reviewer finds a Madden title that looks less like a pigskin messiah and more like a sad analogy to the upcoming NFL season. Rushed, unpolished, and frequently underwhelming, this is not the Madden product I’ve come to expect over the years.
Let’s start with gameplay. I was genuinely impressed by the revamped animation system, which generates tons of memorable moments in the form of amazing gang tackles, incredible catches in traffic, and bone-jarring hits. But beyond this, most of the age-old issues remain: duping the offensive line into allowing a sack is still way too easy, slants and outs are still money, receivers still lose too much speed when making catches, LBs still cheat like a b**** to bat down balls thrown 35 yards downfield, and defensive players still magically chase down guys they have no business catching to help contain the perimeter… I could go on, but let’s just say the overall impact of attribute gaps still fails to create appropriately organic situations on the field, and after six seasons on the current hardware, I admit I’m losing my patience with the lack of progress.
And then there’s Franchise mode. EA apparently got the message that change was needed, offering a host of upgrades and revisions, but most seem to indicate a complete lack of comprehension on how and why people play this mode. Contract data’s woefully inaccurate, failing in any way to present a realistic picture of my team’s contract situation, and they’ve removed the ability to specify contract length on anything outside of internal extensions and re-signings. What’s worse, the changes to free agency have reduced it to a frantic fit of guesswork, forcing you to “bid” on every player on your radar in less than two minutes without the ability to set any of the terms, which quickly fist-f***s your cap number into oblivion. Trades are an issue as well, with a useless meter that frequently indicates sufficient interest then refuses the trade and a trading block that can only be used at certain points in the week-to-week task load, often resulting in the removal of offers before you can pull the trigger. The addition of Dynamic Player Performance makes for some interesting ebb and flow, but it seems to have supplanted midseason attribute shifts, which means you have to wait to the off-season to see any genuine progress instead of seeing talent bloom over the weeks—a bad trade if I’ve ever seen one. There’s more to pick at, but overall, this is probably the worst model of the NFL’s season-to-season grind Madden’s ever issued.
Sadly, Superstar mode doesn’t fare much better. While the idea of focusing on the advancement of a single player’s career is a welcome alternative to Franchise, the execution is similarly flawed, with an oft-illogical scoring system that does a piss-poor job of appropriately rewarding the players by-position, a shoddy UI that fails to emphasize the scoring system, and CPU AI that runs the same 10 plays over and over and can’t get rid of the ball to save its life. The week-to-week upgrades keep it fun, but this should be so much better.
While these aspects were lacking, I was admittedly impressed with 12’s online offerings, and between 6-player multiplayer, upgrades to Ultimate Team, Madden Moments, and Communities, there’ll be no shortage of things to do for the ever-competitive Madden fanbase—and given the state of the actual game on the field, this is a welcome sigh of relief.
The thing is, these moments of gridiron bliss are few and far between. Madden’s supposed to be the be-all, end-all product for football enthusiasts, but the embarrassing lack of polish and thought put into the overall experience leaves me more convinced than ever that it’s past time for the NFL to reconsider its stance on exclusivity.
SUMMARY: Rushed, unpolished, and frequently underwhelming, this is not the Madden product we’ve come to expect over the years.
- THE GOOD: Significant strides in animations, improved roster management
- THE BAD: Change for the sake of change, Superstar scoring system
- THE UGLY: The decline of franchise, repetitive commentary