Review: Madden NFL 12

EA are certainly doing their best to give gamers a new experience. Our review copy of Madden 12 was accompanied by a 20-something page document outlining what’s new in this year’s version, demonstrating EA’s commitment to the series which has been going for a staggering 21 years.

The game itself is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a Madden title. Visually you can’t fault the game, with players moving realistically and smoothly, and replays looking sharp and more varied than previous outings. But what about all of these improvements, and are they enough to make you drop another chunk of cash 12 months after the last shopping spree? Well, that much is up for debate, but either way this is a cracking game.

Your enjoyment for Madden will depend on various factors. Firstly, those of you with no interest in American Football might as well stop reading now and check out something else on the site. That much is obvious. But what about those who are interested, but haven’t played Madden before? You guys will be in for a rough ride, with EA seemingly taking a break from helping out newcomers to focus on those players who have a more in depth knowledge of the sport. Things aren’t entirely out of reach especially with Gameflow making a welcome return after it’s debut last year, but it’s unlikely you’ll get the most out of what’s on offer in some of the game modes.

But those you do know their stuff? Well, you lot will be in heaven. The depth in game modes is as epic as it always has been and offers a great range of different ways to play. Whether you want a quick game or start a multi-season career, you’ll be well catered for.

The matches themselves carry the same TV style polish that graces every EA Sports game, with overlays and replays giving an authentic “hey this looks like actual TV” feel. This gets a pretty solid kick in the nuts when, after only a couple of games, the commentary starts to get repetitive and crops up at entirely inappropriate times. It’s a great shame and ruins the feel of the games a little, but you’ll still probably leave it on for the times that it does work as well as intended. Strangely, turning the commentary off almost makes it feel more authentic, with crowd noises and crunching tackles sounding far more pronounced.

These tackles have definitely been turned up to 11 this year – players hit each other with wince-inducing power, scuffing clothing, helmets and the pitch as they land. Those hits that land when the player least expects it (such as a head-on tackle moments after a receiver catches a pass) feel the biggest and it’s not unusual to find yourself holding your breath waiting for your star player to get back to his feet. The rest of the gameplay is as razor sharp as you’d imagine after 20 years of perfecting; players are responsive and the controls give you chance to duck and weave past tackles or just put your head down and force your way through a crowd. Pulling off a decent pass or finding the gap to complete a dazzling run has never felt more satisfying, and with the defenders seemingly smarter than ever you’ll need to mix it up to get ahead, forcing you to try out your full box of tricks of running plays as well as long and short passes. It’s tough, but entirely fair and immensely satisfying.

Online play is in full effect, although with the majority of gamers being in the US you can expect some lag in your matches, something which is a bit of a problem when split-second tackles could be the difference between winning and losing. Find some slightly closer friends, or better yet get someone sat next to you, and the multiplayer options are both hugely varied and enormous fun. They certainly make the fake throw and fake snap options far more useful, the computer-controlled opponents never really seem to fall for them.

Also on the menu (and my personal highlight) is the brilliant Be a Superstar mode, letting you set up a new player at the start of their career (it’s admittedly very hard to pick something other than a quarterback, although I had huge fun building up a running back) and use the RPG-style improvements to build yourself up to the next big superstar. Unlike a real NFL rookie you’ll be making contributions to the matches from day 1, but the mode would be a bit shit if you had to sit and watch for 3 seasons before getting a game, so I’m allowing a large dose of artistic licensing on that one. You won’t play entire games initially though, and you can easily simulate all of the defensive plays and any offensive moments that don’t involve you which means you’re always doing your job and nothing else – a really nice touch. Your coach talks you through each play before it starts too (which even reaches you through your headset if you decide to put it on), giving you chance to figure out what each play is about before diving head first into the snap. It’s a fantastic mode that is only dented slightly by some directionless training sessions, but the Superstar mode could quite easily keep your going for ages, and if you’re willing to try out a few different positions (stop sniggering at the back) then you’ll get even more enjoyment out of it. Not only that, if you’re a Madden newbie this could well be your way into the game while having a laugh in the process.

You’ve also got the enormous Franchise mode which has been bolstered by free agent auctions, scouting options and plenty of other complicated stuff to sink your teeth into. There are a few shortcomings in this, but if I’m honest time didn’t permit me to get too far into this mode so it’s entirely possible things become clearer and more helpful as time goes on. But one thing for sure is that this is a big, big game mode that will leave you entertained for a looong time. Any of you who follow the NFL closely and know its ins and outs will fall in love instantly.

You’ve also got your standard exhibition matches with customisable setups (such as a Superbowl, Christmas match and so on) which affect how the TV stuff looks, and Madden Moments are back too, giving you a series of scenarios to complete that update as the real life season progresses. Pretty neat. There’s a lot here, and a fair few game modes that you could comfortably sink a huge amount of time into.

So where does that leave us? Well sure, there are a few gripes like the near vertical learning curve and ropey commentary, and there’s the ever-present argument that those with last year’s version might not see much new unless they’re a Madden obsessive, but let’s not get away from what’s important. Madden 12 is a brilliant sports game with enough to easily keep you busy for the next few months and quite possible beyond.

If you’ve had a couple of years away from Madden or fancy the challenge of starting from scratch then it’s worth a punt. And yes, that’s an intentional pun. Thanks for noticing.

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