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Wednesday | August 15, 2018
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MADDEN NFL 11 (X360)

MADDEN NFL 11 (X360)


MADDEN NFL 11 Review

There aren’t many games that manage to break free from their cultural shackles and find an audience among new people. It is even all the more unlikely when the game in question is a representation of something real, something that the consumer would have little exposure to as part of their daily routine. Yet none of that stopped the Madden franchise becoming a rip roaring success across Europe where "American Football" is far from popular. It’s a safe bet that down the years more people have played Madden outside the US than actually watched – and understood – the NFL.

The simplification of a complex sport, one that manages to inject more pace and action into one that feels sluggish and laden with commercial breaks to people brought up on "soccer", is no mean feat, yet the Madden series has always managed it with an entertaining take on realism. Of course, as becomes an inherent problem with all sports titles, how to make the next title innovative and value for money as opposed to a roster update with a few bells and whistles here and there?

Of late the Madden franchise hasn’t really found that balance, struggling to find a top quality title on the next generation consoles that matches the fun and depth of the 2006 version. They have generally been too much of one with not enough of the other to completely please the core fanbase. Yet in other sports games EA are starting to find that balance and Madden remains a flagship game for them. Forget the talk of motion detecting gimmickry and other such potential future developments. What every Madden fan wants, just the same as every NFL coach, is solid fundamentals. Is Madden 11 the one that scores a touchdown and reignites the franchises fortunes, or does it get sacked by a rampaging defence who have seen it all before?

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The most important component of a Madden title is how it feels out there on the field. A physical game needs a weight to it, a believability to the crunching tackles, while at the same time not overly imbibing the star players with cartoon-like super powers in a bid to make them distinguished from the rank and file. We’re pleased to report there’s nothing out of the ordinary here and it does feel very much like a football game ought to. The players move a lot better than they ever have, shielding the ball with their bodies, or making slight adjustments to make sure they can get past a member of the opposing team. Tackles are solid, but the big hits – unleashed by using the analogue stick – are devastating and can all too satisfyingly lead to an injury prompting whoops of "it’s my house" while dancing in front of the TV like an idiot.

Key to the feel of the game are some adjustments in the controls, not all of them minor. Get ready for it – no more turbo button. Seriously. Players will now adjust their speed accordingly based on in game factors such as distance, stamina levels and overall speed. It might sound revolutionary in theory and will prompt grumbles from the gallery but in practice the turbo button isn’t really missed. In fact players may well be grateful for the lack of an extra button to have to consider. Why? Well, attacking movement is now dictated by both analgoue sticks with the right one being used for all the jukes and spins that the nimble and fleet of foot can execute, as well as the explosive trucking through defenders that teams get from a powerful running back. It requires a lot more concentration and timing than the button bashing methods of old.

AI has also been improved and the defensive pocket seems to be a lot better drilled, perhaps too much so. Being sacked is a rarity and they seem to cope far better with blitzes, giving a significant advantage to the offensive quarterback. Equally, because the defence is well drilled a savvy player can find means to exploit this and a running game seems to often be more effective than passing as defenders can be isolated then left behind by a series of clever shimmies. Offensive minded coaches will probably find themselves enjoying this instalment more than others as they rack up the yardage.

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There are also some optional radical shifts away from the core ethos of the game. Some coaches like the playbooks, even constructing their own plays; however some players aren’t comfortable with the term shotgun outside of an FPS title. Those players can relax and take advantage of a one play system called GameFlow. It has all the hallmarks of another gaming gimmick but it does serve the purpose of cutting down game time significantly. Long standing players will know a game of Madden is not short and this function does cut down on the amount of time it takes to rack up a result. For the hardcore or even just players that don’t like the idea of anything being dumbed down it’s a feature that will likely be rejected. Understandable really – the tactical importance of X’s and O’s on a chalkboard is what’s hammered home in every sporting underdog movie.

The thought process is clear, to try and make the game of football all things to all men. If a player wants a simulation, that’s still here in spades. For a more fast flowing and arcade like experience, that’s here too. The only frustrating part is when the two overlap with no concessions or choices. Seeing a player jiggle his way past an entire defence might be something wonderful to behold but the reality is that it’s a rarity across the period of a football season. Here, it’s something that is seen a little too often.

Another source of disappointment is the lack of changes to the franchise mode, which is something that seems to have been neglected for some time now. This time around there are no significant new features and the package feels lacking. A franchise mode game generally only gets really interesting over the course of time, when those draft picks start to develop into stars in their own right and the sporting landscape has altered from reality. The first few seasons can feel like a bit of a drag to players who been there, done that and have the championship ring. Still, winning a Super Bowl feels better than ever before, with special commentary, special cut scenes and even an appearance from the most powerful man in the world (Not Superman). It’s something that is so simple that will make players wonder why it wasn’t this good before.

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The overall presentation of the game is a lot more polished and it’s clear that this was a big part of the EA strategy. Everything here from the menu system in feels official, the colouring familiar to everyone who has ever sat down and watched an ESPN presentation. The on-field graphics are greatly improved to, the level of detail truly impressive, right down to the grass stains on the player uniforms. Player animations are far more detailed as well and this is all incorporated in a much better looking replay system that is so detailed the beads of perspiration can be seen on a player’s face.

This being a fairly fast paced title it’s sad to report on some slight slowdown during graphical transitions, which is probably the pay-off for so much detail going on. It doesn’t happen often but it is noticeable when it does. In general though the game mechanics feel and look fluid and the issue only raises its head in those scrambling moments that have descended from a slickly executed battle-plan into a grotesque free for all where the outcome is uncertain.

Slight cosmetic improvements have also been made to the stadium and the crowds which were worryingly flat in previous versions. No more watching a ball from a field goal disappear through a stand as if it was nothing more than a cinematic projection onto a canvas. Sure, it’s not photographic realism by any means but it’s now possible to say that each stadium does have its own feel that goes beyond a colour co-ordinated army of clones in the stands.

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Two thumbs up for the vastly improved commentary. The addition of Gus Johnson for Tom Hammond was a masterstroke because the guy sounds like he actually cares. Appreciate passion, intensity and dramatic turns of phrase? Then this is your man. It adds something to the experience and it’s a welcome alteration to the flat and occasionally dull commentary that these titles of contained. After all, Madden is known as the king of stating the obvious and Hammond, while functional, never felt like he was really enjoying what he was seeing. Gus Johnson is the best thing to happen to the franchise for a long time and needs to be signed on a long, long contract.

A shame then like with every sports game to date the commentary can’t be delivered without those jarring gaps, or out of sync overlaps, that make it clear it’s a game and not the real thing. For once it’s fair to say the commentary engine doesn’t do the commentator justice (think about Mark Lawrenson in Pro Evolution Soccer, now mercifully replaced… All the engine polish in the world wouldn’t have made him any less irritating) and it’s something that hopefully can be improved on as the technology develops.

Other audio details put the icing on a cake. Unique chants from certain sets of fans, audible sounds from players including grunts, calling plays, and sometimes screams if they sustain an injury are all here and make it the most authentic sounding representation of football yet.

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It’s a huge step in the right direction for the franchise. Although, ironically the franchise mode being completely overlooked is the only real downer. The game clearly wants to unite both types of Madden players – those who love the sport and those who don’t even know the rules but like the idea of the game and it mostly succeeds. Long standing players may feel short changed because the online mode of playing seems to have received all the polish this year, while the mode that should be the bread and butter of the game is the same as the previous version.

Still, there’s no doubt Madden remains king of the hill and that is unlikely to change for some time. A huge improvement but this fan is tentatively eying next season as the one that sees the return to the glory days.

Gameplay 85/100 Simpler in some areas, more complex in others, the game hasn’t lost any of its appeal in offering a simple interpretation of something extremely complicated.
Graphics 88/100 Won’t find a better looking football game… or a better looking sports game out there. Loses some points for slow down, a bi-product of the detail it delivers.
Audio 88/100 Gus Johnson is such a huge addition and the nice touches all serve as the icing on the cake.
Value 80/100 It’s a good game, it has online play and it’s a must for football fans. Franchise mode needs an overhaul though to stop it from feeling a little more than a roster update.
(Not an Average)
85/100 A return to form, more successes than disappointments but still room for improvement before it can be called the definitive Madden title.

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About Author

Stuart Davidson

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