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Burning through 2010 just a little faster: Madden 11 hands-on

Though it's true that many of Madden's yearly tweaks have bordered on the nearly invisible to those who weren't hard-core fans, EA Sports has taken a decidedly opposite approach to Madden 11's improvements.

Now playing: Watch this: Game trailer: Madden 11

It's often been argued that Madden, EA's premier exclusive sports franchise, has had nowhere to go with its yearly editions--that users are paying for glorified "roster updates." Though it's true that many of Madden's yearly tweaks have bordered on the nearly invisible to those who weren't hard-core fans, EA Sports has taken a decidedly opposite approach to Madden 11's improvements.

Here, we look at the console version of Madden, specifically on the Xbox 360. Read here for our take on the iPad version.

"Simpler. Quicker." These are advertised on the box boldly. Clearly aware that the video game version of football has become a little like gridiron Street Fighter, with too many moves to explain without hours spent on proper training, much less the 40 seconds between plays, the emphasis in this year's Madden has clearly been placed on streamlining and mainstream appeal. Is that a smart idea, and more importantly, does it work?

Edging toward simplicity is not a trend limited to Madden. Shooters, RPGs (Fable III, in particular), and casual games have all been boiling down their interfaces, removing text and icons, and making complexity easier to grab in a shorter period of time.

"Gameflow" is the most prominent new wrinkle to Madden, and as we mentioned in a previous playthrough, it fast-forwards to an autoselected play rather than drifting through playcalling menus. Those menus are still available if you prefer, and the autopicking playcalling AI can be quite impressively scripted and tweaked, too, effectively letting you build coach's playbooks. But the autocalling lets users dive right into making the most out of the play they have--audibling, adjusting players and routes, or simply focusing on running, passing, and playing defense. It's a bit like Madden is reading my mind, since I've secretly been using Madden's play-recommending feature for years anyway. Maybe I didn't want to be a coach all the time, so much as a side-seat player in a living simulation.


On the game control side, runners are completely controlled with dual-analog sticks; the old standby right-trigger turbo button is gone. Though it's surprising for old-school Madden players, the shift allows some great focus on patience and blocking schemes. Breaking tackles feels a lot more realistic, although every year it feels like Madden overdoes it in some category to the point of repetition (gang tackles in Madden 10 felt this way). Defense offers some shortcuts, too, including a sort of defensive autopilot accomplished by holding the A button down. The D-pad brings up a simple menu for shifting lines and tweaking schemes.

For online players, the biggest new add is a 3-on-3 mode where players control sections of the offense or defense: quarterback/wide receivers/ running backs, or the secondary/linebackers/d-line. Controlling sections of a team versus individual players is a great idea for a complex sport such as football, and though I haven't played much of this yet, it seems like Madden 11's true lasting legacy.

As for me, I'm playing with the Jets. They're finally fun to play with, and their wide receiver position is stacked. And at least the video game version doesn't have a Revis holdout. It's hard to say that this year's Madden is "worth the purchase"; after all, any NFL fan is buying this game regardless. For new users or the football-apprehensive, however, Madden 11 is as comfortable a way to start as there's ever been. OK, I'll say it: Madden 11 is better than Madden 10.


Scott has taken a look at what hard-core football fans might like in Madden 11, but I'll be speaking from a more casual fan's point of view.

First off, Madden 11 is the most accessible football game we've played in quite some time. Anyone can pick it up and start playing. There are also countless minor tweaks and additions here designed to speed things up, turning what used to be a guaranteed 45-minute excursion into a 15-minute play session. The driving force behind this initiative is Gameflow, the new mode that essentially puts play-calling on autopilot. Of course, conventional playbook mode is still intact here, but utilizing Gameflow gives the game a much quicker progression.

Sure, there were times when we didn't agree with what Gameflow chose and thankfully there is a laundry list of audibles and play changes that can be made at the line of scrimmage. We really enjoyed having quick button access to such options, and we truly felt in control at all times, something previous Madden games didn't necessarily allow for.


The running game in Madden 11 also feels more natural as the franchise once again looks to analog control as a main staple--perhaps an idea it should have borrowed earlier from the successful NHL series.

To the veteran Madden gamer, it might feel like hand-holding, but the various pop-up cues, button shortcuts to control specific players, and auto defensive positioning (holding a button will put your selected player in appropriate defense coverage) is a welcome addition to a franchise that occasionally had a knack of getting downright frustrating and overly complex.

Don't let us fool you, there is the same amount of depth and customization there has always been, but Madden 11 also opens its doors for gamers who may not have memorized entire button schematics and just want to hop in and get a realistic football simulation experience.