Madden NFL 11 Review

It isn’t too terribly often that an EA Sports title will feel drastically different from one year to the next, but it does happen on occasion. Typically, these games will generally evolve slowly over the course of several years, with new feature sets being added the gameplay being slightly tweaked from year to year in an attempt in an attempt to discover the perfect sports game.

Madden NFL 10, I thought, was pretty close. Yeah, it was hard, and it was usually a waste of time to try to run the ball, but it absolutely nailed the speed of an NFL play. It was fast and unforgiving, but that’s the NFL.

Madden NFL 11 is very different from that. Thanks to what feels like a large number of gameplay tweaks, the game can be alternately unforgiving and way too forgiving. The new Madden experience is, to put it nicely, unstable.

Madden NFL 11 (XBox360 [Reviewed], IPhone, IPad, PS3, PSP, Wii, PS2)
Developer: Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: August 10, 2010
MSRP: $59.99

You’ll notice this immediately, when you return the opening kickoff to the 17. Then you’ll hand the ball off to Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson, and he’ll break four tackles and take it to the house on the first play, regardless of what difficulty setting you’re playing with or who you’re playing against online. If Peyton Manning or Brett Favre is your quarterback, odds are good that you’ll complete 90% of your passes. When you start up a dynasty, you’ll want to grab OJ Atogwe, because every three or four games he’ll return two or three interceptions for touchdowns. Also, CPU defensive backs have a weird tendency to, every few plays, stand still while a receiver runs past them, and so running streak plays will very often net you a long touchdown.

And it isn’t just the best players in the game who can be ridiculously good when the game wants them to be. As the Titans in Franchise Mode, I played against the Chargers in the playoffs on the second highest difficulty level, and rookie running back Ryan Matthews ran for 120 yards and broke 13 tackles before getting injured in the second quarter. And then Darren Sproles picked up right where Matthews left off, running for another 150 yards and breaking another 10 tackles over the rest of the game. Fortunately for me, Chris Johnson ran for 270 yards and five touchdowns and caught three passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Final score: 56-37.

Is all that fun? Absolutely. Does it play more like NCAA Football than recent Madden entries. Yes. I can’t make up my mind if that’s a negative or not.

One of the big new features this year is Gameflow, which allows you to let the game call the plays on offense and defense for you like in this and NCAA Football that have you control a single player. The game draws from the entire playbook in Gameflow, though, so it works alright, even if the playcalls feel pretty random. Also, an annoying guy sorta vaguely explains what you’re doing with each play, and it usually goes something like this: “If they run the ball, be sure to tackle to guy with the ball.” They are tailored to each team, though, which is nice, and it helps move the game along at a brisk pace. You can also create your own plan for Gameflow if you so choose, though this feature is probably too complex for any but the most ardent players to use effectively. Oh, and you probably don’t want to use Gameflow on defense, because it’s basically a coin flip as to whether or not you’ll give up a big play with the defense the game chooses.

Also new is online Team Play, which lets three players play on one team and control different units, like the linebackers or wide receivers, rather than just one player at a time, and it proves to be pretty entertaining.

The best new thing in Madden NFL 11 is new commentator Gus Johnson, whose enthusiasm, which will come out even in the most mundane of moments, does not ever get old, even if he does inexplicably refer to my team as “the New York Titans” in the pregame talk most of the time. Chris Collinsworth becomes even more annoying in comparison, though. Gus is probably the best commentator ever in a football video game. in the end.

Time for some nitpicks. In Franchise mode, your key players will suffer serious injuries like dislocated hips and broken jaws pretty regularly. When I faced the Patriots, for example, they were playing without Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Brandon Meriweather, all of whom they had lost for the season. I eventually turned on the rewind feature to curb this absurdity once four of my defensive starters were lost in one game.

There are almost no penalties in this game, which is a problem only because if penalties are going to be so rare that the flags only come out for things like clipping, holding and false start, which the player generally has no control over, then why have any penalties? It’s really a minor annoyance, because you might (MIGHT) get called for one penalty in a game.

Oh god, the strategy pad. The means for making pre-snap adjustments is so absurdly convoluted this time as to be worthless on defense, because the offense will almost always start the play before you can do anything. EA is going to patch this at some point, at least.

When judging a sports game, what’s the most important question? This: “How fun is this game?” Is Madden NFL 11 fun? It absolutely is. The game is much more open than it was last year, with the grind that is the authentic NFL experience partially replaced by the thrill of copious long runs and pick sixes. This feels wrong in some ways, and I’m tempted to suggest that longtime fans of the franchise stick with Madden NFL 10 and recommend the new title for more casual gamers. But, then, if you skip this one you’ll miss out on Gus and a variety of cool new presentation and stadium-specific atmospheric elements.

I think, for now, I’ll view Madden NFL 11 not as a replacement for 10, but as a companion to it.

Pros:

It’s just fun
Gus Johnson, baby
You can actually run the ball this time
Chris Johnson is hella good
Team Play
Gameflow

Cons:

Too many injuries
Strategy Pad
Gameplay feels less authentically like the NFL than Madden 10
Gameflow
Tom Cable is less scary looking this time

Final score: 80/100

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