Like death and taxes, a yearly Madden videogame is yet another inevitable life certainty. Still, thousands continue to line up for midnight releases, millions of online games are played each year. There’s even an internationally televised game show on ESPN dedicated to matching up the title’s best players.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the entire Madden videogame phenomena is how little things have changed. While its legacy builds, the game itself remains surprisingly redundant. Still, this fails to deter Madden’s legions of faithful, individuals who collectively purchased 85 million copies of the gridiron great since its introduction in 1988.
Sure, a few willing upstarts along the way were courageous enough to challenge the seemingly unbeatable. The last great revolutionaries among us steadfastly hold dear to a beloved NFL 2K5, a Sega Dreamcast classic that dared to defy the Madden engine and its famous, former National Football League coaching namesake.
These days, however, it’s either Madden or nada, a gridiron reality that gives Electronic Arts and its developers, Tiburon, little reason to mix things up. If it ‘aint broke, no need for a dramatic onside kick. Regurgitation realities noted, Madden 12 is the Madden you’ve either grown to love…or the one you’re likely to dismiss for the 22nd time.
Madden 12, however, does throw a few wrinkles into the old playbook to keep things interesting. A new collision detection system backed by updated tackling animations promises less slippery escapes via quick, Houdini-esque darts left or right. Ditto for better open-field tackle consistency, and with it realistic purpose for middle linebackers formerly relegated to zone coverage or blitzes, exclusively.
Speaking of zone coverage, Madden 12 simultaneously boosted artificial intelligence for computer-controlled backfield defenders. Safeties and cornerbacks now better roam their territory, proactively reacting to offensive flow versus a ball in air or in hand. Sounds as if the AI folks from NHL and Madden 12 were comparing notes in this regard.
A few more extras in Madden 12 consist of additional plays (25 to be exact), tuner updates (to address gameplay tweaks required post release), also greater customization to players and playbooks. Presentation fanatics will find updated player entrances, quarterback throwing motions, team mascots, plus kickoffs now appropriately from the 35-yard line. Last, Franchise-specific, dynamic hot and cold streaks contingent on in-game performance.
Of all these additions, however, none truly stood out during actual gameplay. Advances in AI and physics meant little to my online opponent still capable of exploiting the same running tactics (and blocking flaws via 'suction' effect) of Madden past. The game’s chess match core remains its lifeblood, success and failure once again relegated to countering strategies on the other side of the ball pre-snap.
If all of this is a foreign language, consider yourself duly warned. The barrier of entry to Madden remains extraordinarily high…a near-impossible hurdle for those new to gridiron and/or the Madden videogame series. Simply navigating through play selection screens – even with ‘Ask Madden’ and simplified flow play-calling intact – is very challenging. Reversing play direction, calling audibles and/or putting players in motion adds difficulty exponentially.
Unfortunately, on-field play is just as difficult, with literally every controller button required…at all times. Thus, the learning curve in Madden can be unforgiving, making it a title not recommended for those trying to learn the sport. A second ‘no-no’ to blokes new to the sport game genre. Expect regular trips to the pause menu and control settings.
Madden veterans, however, will feel right at home in Madden 12. The game plays just as I remembered, now 4 iterations removed from a Madden ‘08, Wii foray. Moreover, Madden continues to reward gridiron obsessives through its attention to detail. An advanced understanding of NFL strategy will yield significant gaming dividends; playbooks will be maximized, also - and even with recurring series flaws - the ability to exploit opposing tactics and players.
The heart of Madden remains its Franchise Mode, with Madden 12 continuing to push the envelope. Recognizing the popularity of fantasy gridiron, free agents can now be bought and sold akin to their fantasy counterparts. The game also syncs live with NFL.com’s fantasy football service. I caught a taste of this online/offline mesh via NBA Live 10, and enjoyed the flavour considerably.
Perhaps the most interesting addition to Madden franchise is 12’s intelligent interaction between rosters and gameplay strategy. Playbooks will automatically adapt to retirements and/or free agency, emphasizing tactics best fit for the current slew of players. Related, online trades are now possible in Ultimate Team Mode for those favoring building talent via this method.
These additions noted, Madden 12 thankfully still does what Madden has always done well: play a damn good game of gridiron. While complicated at times, Madden remains visually pretty, sports decent commentary and sound, and –most importantly – makes a complex game highly playable to those committed to its inner-workings. Exploiting an opponent via superb play-calling…followed by a spectacular explosion through a seemingly stacked defensive front line…concluded by stiff-arming a once-committed safety toward touchdown paydirt…is all do-able and magical with a lone controller. Watching the instant replay of said events produces a smug satisfaction few games can truly reproduce.
Usual disclaimers exist when purchasing any Electronic Arts sport title: buy new or be prepared to drop $10 for an Online Pass to access network-based content. If ever there was a game where online was essential, Madden is it.
In closing, Madden Nation will find much of the same to love…perhaps to a fault at times…with a few subtle AI and Franchise Mode additions in store. Those new to the franchise and/or gridiron are in for a difficult first yard of the overall 100. It’s a complicated system and game, but rewards those willing to invest in this console legend.