New Madden games are like football seasons: each one arrives full of promise and hope, and inevitably it's either disappointment or excitement depending on who you are. Anyone who's even slightly confused, apprehensive, or disinterested in the NFL will find no friendly hand of welcome from Madden: at its heart, this is a game for football fans, not football hopefuls. We start with that observation because, unlike last year's efforts to make Madden 11 more accessible for the newcomer, Madden 12 chooses to deepen the deeper parts of its game instead.
I'm speaking mainly of Franchise Mode, that perennial way for fans to endlessly play out alternative NFL season histories with obsessive detail. Franchise mode now has a deeper free-agent bidding system, between-game practices, and player attributes beyond mere ratings that flux on a per-game basis like a role-playing game, to name a few. My favorite is the more realistic preseason period, where games now cycle first-, second-, and third-streamers more realistically, and cut-down days make you force hard decisions on your rosters just like a real NFL team, turning your preseason into a mini reality show.
All of these details are fine nuances that don't even register on the main game itself. Madden is Madden, and it's no different than last year's, except for physics that once again seem a little more real, presentations that are a little more dynamic. I noticed sharper hitting, smoother wide receiver cuts, but a lot of the interface remains the same. I'd mention the additions to Superstar mode, but I don't play that part of the game. I'm a Jets fan, and I play as my team, always.
This brings me to one point about Madden present: it's a living NFL souvenir, a necessary accessory for any football fan. Yet, it doesn't offer the type of NFL fan content it could. I'd love more team-by-team history. Licenses for older players are difficult to come by, but EA needs to see if there's some way that decades of older teams could be dialed up, complete with year-by-year schedules. Obsessive, yes, but this is a game for obsessives. Most NFL fans would pay more for that content.
And, a gripe on the preseason games: if roster cuts are to be so detailed, then up-to-the-minute roster updates need to be, too. Last year's Madden often had third and fourth stringers on the Jets who were long gone. If the goal is to simulate the 2011 preseason, then give it to us: every player, every signing. Up to the minute.
This is where video game football--and video game sports--are headed. Always on. Madden 12 is another little step forward, but at some point Madden should be bold enough to take a much larger step. The day approaches.
It's tough for me to even follow up Scott's hard-core analysis of Madden 12. I'm a casual Madden fan at best, but I've played each title since as long as I can remember. There's no denying, Madden 12 certainly looks the part, but even a fly-by-night football fan like myself notices the negligible changes in the game's overall foundation. Yes, as Scott explained the game does do a respectable job in making preseason football much more important in the Franchise mode, but in terms of pushing the realism as far as the game of football is concerned, it may be tough to justify a new purchase if you already own Madden 11. Beyond an improved tackling system, there's really nothing new.
Presentation-wise I've noticed the game is totally committed to recreating the magic of Sundays, but I think Madden is now suffering from one of the biggest gripes I've had with the otherwise stellar NHL series: lack of contextual replays. Far too often are interceptions, fumbles, and touchdowns seemingly ignored from the game's replay AI. It's a bit confusing that such a integral element of sports has deteriorated within the game, especially when it's obvious that TV-realism remains such a high priority for developers.
Unfortunately I've been able to identify a handful of issues that have surfaced again--in some instances for the second and third year in a row. As Scott had mentioned to me as well, menus still seem awfully sluggish in loading jerseys and other information. I also think the "vacuum hands" annoyance is more present than ever, with players being able to suck up fumbles and deflections with superhuman ease. I used to complain that the puck didn't react realistically enough in the EA NHL games, and now I find myself saying the same exact thing about the football in Madden.
It's no secret that once again Madden 12 releases unopposed by any other competing software. Year after year I complain that such exclusivity causes a lull in production value and with Madden 12 it comes through clearer than ever. Let me be clear: Madden 12 should not be considered a poor game by any stretch, but the lack of innovation this year is very noticeable--more so than in years past.