First Look at Madden 12: Enough to save the NFL?

We played the latest Madden in Times Square on the eve of the NFL draft, but is it enough to help rehabilitate a precarious NFL fanbase?

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It's a weird time for the NFL, to say the least. The league has been in a state of suspension since the Super Bowl in February, engaged in a lockout that seems, at the moment, to be lifted. And, of course, the NFL draft is about to kick off tonight amid the confusion. No better time to check out the latest edition of EA Sports' Madden franchise, which was unveiled today in playable form during an event in New York City's Times Square.

Enter EA Sports, which decided to engage in an unorthodox campaign of its own for this year's Madden 12 by putting the yearly cover athlete up for a bracket-based public vote.

New Madden cover star Peyton Hillis.
Underdog: Madden cover star Peyton Hillis. Scott Stein/CNET

In a shocker, the Cleveland Brown's gritty running back Peyton Hillis beat out the controversial Mike Vick, becoming the first cover athlete on EA's box in recent history who most people can't even recognize.

The cover photo shoot happened as a live event in Times Square, and alongside the session were the first playable versions of Madden 12, tucked away in a press tent. Needless to say, I stuck around to play (I'm a bit of a New York Jets fan , in case you didn't know ).

I also spoke with Madden 12's art director, Mike Young, and executive producer, Phil Frazier, about how this year's version will fare amid a season that's still very much in flux. In addition, I asked about my continual pet peeve: Bill Belichick's mysterious absence from the Madden franchise. Check out the video above for the interview. Down below, I'll briefly discuss the game and my initial impressions.

It's hard to see the gameplay advantages right off the bat, unless you've been playing every edition of Madden--however, especially for a casual observer, Madden's looking more like a real NFL broadcast than ever. EA Sports is employing 500 virtual broadcast cameras throughout the virtual stadiums in this year's game, along with virtual cameras that are "shot" by actual NFL Films cameramen. It sounds like virtual cinematography, and Madden's art director Mike Young equated the process to James Cameron's "Avatar." How this transforms the game remains to be seen, but early pregame footage shows some promise.

Putting an early version of Madden 12 to the test.
Putting an early version of Madden 12 to the test. Scott Stein/CNET

Three quarters against the New York Giants turned out to be a good slugfest, with the Jets up 14-7 at the end of the third quarter before I kindly gave up my PS3 controller to another player. Field-goal kicking is more unpredictable--just like the real NFL--and audibles were easier to call in a pinch. It also seemed, at first play, that more big-play scores tended to happen. Maybe that's an attempt to imitate the big-play nature of the NFL, or maybe it's my lack of tackling skill.

Is this year's Madden worth the $60 ticket price, however? It's impossible to tell from a quick session, but Madden's producers are quick to point out the myriad additions to this edition's Franchise and player A.I. enhancements. Another touted feature called Dynamic Player Performance, which claims to realistically generate fluctuating player skills throughout games, sounds like an attempt to give the vaunted Madden Ratings for players a bit of a situational tweaking.

Madden 12 comes out August 30, a few weeks later than usual. Hopefully the NFL will be ready for kickoff then, too.

 

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