PS3 Review: Madden NFL 11

…a running back at full speed is more likely to break through weak tackles, and a huge sack on the quarterback looks and sounds genuinely painful.

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This year’s game offers everything you would expect in terms of game modes. In addition to the standard Exhibition match, you’ll be able to play through a 30 season Franchise mode (yes, 30) giving you plenty of time to turn even the least successful team into a Superbowl winner by trading and improving your players. EA have also included Ultimate Team, a card collecting fantasy-football style game, and Madden Moments which give you a set of 50 challenging scenarios from last season to beat. These moments vary in difficulty, and lead up to an attempt to recreate the amazing closing moments of the Superbowl – a massive challenge. If you want to experience the glitz of a full Superbowl without a whole season beforehand then there’s the option to do so, and you can even play an AFL match for a more old fashioned classic feel, complete with film grain and faded colours. However as varied and lengthy as these modes are, they’re nothing new to the series and were all available in some form in Madden 10. So where are these significant changes?

The biggest changes become clear when you actually start a game. The new Gameflow system removes the need to select from a set of over 300 plays every few seconds, and instead gives you a single selected play that would be used in that situation in a real-world game. Connect your headset and the coach will even use it to explain the next play to you which is a really effective touch. By removing the overwhelming choice (which is still available if you prefer) EA have not only made the game far more accessible to casual fans, but have halved the amount of time it takes to play an entire match. This is a welcome change, and coupled with the ability to set the length of a quarter to anything from 1 to 15 minutes means you can have a full game in around 10 minutes – far faster than ever before. If you fancy getting your hands dirty and setting up your own plays for Gameflow to select from then just dive into the comprehensive gameplan editor to either create a new set from scratch or edit an existing team’s setup. This is a good balance of having a speedy game while still having control over the plays selected, so even avid fans should find a use for the new system.

There are also big changes in the way players move. The right stick is used to dodge side to side and alter your player’s momentum, and gives far more control over a runner’s movement to find those small gaps in the defence and pick up a few extra yards. The new locomotion system also adds far more realistic momentum, meaning a running back at full speed is more likely to break through weak tackles, and a huge sack on the quarterback looks and sounds genuinely painful. Removing the sprint button has also made a big difference, with the AI now controlling the speed of your controlled player and making offensive blockers far more helpful when trying to following a running route. All of this on top of the usual spins, jumps and dives contributes to the players moving far more like their real life counterparts and along with the gorgeous looking stadiums make the game look absolutely fantastic.

In fact, everything looks great. As we have come to expect from an EA title, menus are crisp and well designed, and the TV-style coverage changes depending on what type of game it is. The Superbowl, for example, is much more glamourous than a pre-season game and the footage shown in the lead-up to the game gives a great feeling that you’re actually about to watch a game. The audio is equally impressive; crowd noises and chants are specific to the teams involved and add atmosphere to the game, and the commentary does a great job of calling the play in an exciting and accurate manner. It isn’t perfect though – at times they’ll be happily talking about a certain statistic between plays and seemingly miss the fact you’ve just scored an amazing 50-yard touchdown, and it does inevitably sound slightly disjointed at times, but on the whole it’s well put together.

What’s also nice to see is EA’s commitment to improve and add to the game as the season moves on. They’ve already added the NFL’s breast cancer awareness campaign which not only adds the option to play a one off match with the relevant on-screen branding and team kits with pink accessories, but also reflects this in any matches played in October in the franchise mode. There’s also extra commentary which talks about the campaign, even mentioning the charity auction which will be happening later in the season. Very slick. Another recent addition is Madden Moments Live, which updates weekly offering new Madden Moments from recent games in the NFL. These have to be bought by coins, the in-game currency, which can be earned by playing through the Ultimate Team mode or by buying them with real money. This seems like a slightly wasted opportunity; forcing to make people play for hours to earn these coins or making them pay will put quite a lot of players off, but at least it keeps the game fresh if you’re an avid follower of the sport.

All this comes together to provide a highly polished and accessible package. Add in a huge online mode offering individual matches or a full online franchise mode with up to 32 teams, regular extras throughout the season and a host of other smaller new features and you’ve got something fairly brilliant. For a more casual American Football fan it’s great – games tend to be higher scoring because of a lean towards offence, offline multiplayer works really well and is a great laugh, and you can even have a quick game even if you’ve only got 15 minutes spare. The biggest problem here is that enthusiasts will probably already own Madden 10, and there isn’t enough big new features to warrant buying this year’s game. Not only that but if you happen to end up online against someone across the pond (which given the game is highly likely), you can expect game-ruining lag – quite a problem when you get penalised for quitting games. But despite these flaws if you’ve had a few years away from Madden or fancy something a bit different you shouldn’t be disappointed, especially if a couple of friends pick it up as well.

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