Video Game Review: ‘Madden NFL 11’ Wins Championship Again

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CHICAGO – It must have taken a lot of guts to suggest radically altering one of the most successful video gaming franchises of all time. The “Madden NFL” series of video games are as influential and wildly popular as any on the market. With loyal fans lining up at midnight tonight to buy their new copy, the developers at EA Tiburon merely had to update the rosters and spit out last year’s edition before they counted their money. But they have taken a risk by releasing “Madden NFL 11,” a title significantly altered in several key ways that could throw some diehard players off their game until they realize that it’s the best football release in years.

HollywoodChicago.com Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0

The first difference that players will notice is a visual one. “Madden NFL 11” looks amazing. The last couple of editions have been a bit stagnant in the graphics department but this is the best-looking football game ever released. The backgrounds make all the difference from the way the grass at Lambeau Field looks just right or how the odd new look of Soldier Field has been meticulously recreated. There are still a few shots of cheering fans that look somewhat dated but, overall, the animations both on the field and around it are remarkable.

Madden NFL 2010
Madden NFL 2010
Photo credit: EA

The most notable change is a focus on speed. The player is practically encouraged to discard the playbook and act as if a computerized offensive or defensive coordinator is calling the plays for them. It’s called “Gameflow” and it significantly speeds up the game not just in the play-calling department. If you’re one of those players who likes to make defensive adjustments after you get to the line, you better do it quickly because everything about this game feels sped up. It’s still possible to revert to old-fashioned play-calling but the quickened pace of the title in other departments can not be adjusted. If you’re a huddle-heavy player, it will take some adjustments. It’s just generally a speedier game as evidenced by the press release slogan, “Simpler, Quicker, Deeper.” But it in no way feels “dumbed down” as some knee-jerk responses to the change have accused the game of being.

Madden NFL 2010
Madden NFL 2010
Photo credit: EA

What’s most interesting about “Gameflow” to this critic is that it purports to make each team experience feel more like that team. In other words, the Gameflow calls are based on what that team is most likely to do in that situation (something you can go in and adjust if you take over a franchise). So instead of every team being “your team,” they still play more like the actual team. In other words, it’s not merely a pacing adjustment but one that attempts to add authenticity to the experience.

As for actual gameplay, the most impressive and significant change comes in a department that commentators have been stressing the importance of since John Madden ate his first turkey leg — the ground game. Personally, I’ve been a pass-first “Madden” player for years but I fell in LOVE with the ground game of “Madden NFL 11.” The sprint button is gone and your success depends more on something that feels closer to actual motion and letting your blocks develop. In other words, the running game finally feels developed to the point that it’s somewhat realistic. If you have to cut one way to get the ball on a play-action play then it’s going to take you a crucial second to turn your weight and cut in another direction. It’s an amazingly improved element of the game that finally balances out the offensive attack. In my current franchise with the Cincinnati Bengals, Cedric Benson has more TDs than Carson Palmer (and over 100 yards rushing per game) and that never would have happened in previous installments.

Embracing the future of online co-op play, EA hopes fans will fall for “Online Team Play,” a deep new feature that allows for 3-on-3 online gameplay. Each player controls an elements of the offense or defense with three on quarterback, running back, and receivers going against three on defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs. Having received the game early and being otherwise occupied during press co-op times, I can’t speak on its success but it is yet another example of developers always looking forward and trying to improve an online experience that would have made just as much money without it.

Madden NFL 2010
Madden NFL 2010
Photo credit: EA

I did get to experiment with another new addition and it’s similarly ambitious but a bit hit-and-miss. It’s “Madden NFL Ultimate Team” and it feels like the developers were trying to play off the success of fantasy football. You start with a “pack of cards,” as if you bought some trading cards at a drug store. With your random pack, you form a team, which you then use to compete against other online teams or real ones. To start, you’ll have very few (if any) household names. I’m talking third-stringers. But as you win games, you’ll be able to buy new packs or even participate in auctions for special cards like Randy Moss. It’s an odd hybrid in that even stadiums and uniforms are random, so my odd assembly of players (under the name Kick Puncher) wore Rams uniforms but played in Buffalo. We still beat the Chiefs.

So, what doesn’t work about “Madden NFL 11”? Just a few little things. Announcers Cris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson sound more repetitive than usual and often hiccup over the incredibly useless audio of your coordinator explaining what needs to happen on a play. The cross-promotion is somewhat nauseating. Do we really need replays brought to us by Verizon and do I have to hear the Old Spice whistle during every game’s red zone recap? Where do we go from here? How long before the helmets have Viagra logos on them?

There are also the standard gameplay issues like all-star wide receivers with magnets on their hands (I’m looking at you Steve Smith) that simply feel impossible to defend, a bizarre lack of penalties, and the fact that I played dozens of games and neither saw nor executed a kickoff or punt return. (I barely got ten yards on any of them.) And the new location of the Strategy Pad (to adjust coverage after the play) and its relative inefficiency considering how quickly you opponent snaps the ball feels like a mistake.

Despite the game’s flaws, rarely have I been so surprised at my enjoyment of an established franchise. The developers of “Madden NFL 11” were basically handed a Superbowl-winning team and instead of merely trotting them on to the field to win again, they looked for ways to improve it. And in the ways that really matter — how the game looks and plays on-field — they absolutely did just that.

‘Madden NFL 11’ was released by EA and developed by EA Tiburon. It is rated E (Everyone). The version reviewed was for the PS3, but the title is also available for the XBox 360, Wii, PSP, and PS2. It will be released on August 10th, 2010.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

Colton Spenner's picture

Great Review

You assured me that this game will be worth the wait at midnight! Thank you.

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