Like last Sunday, only better. Sort of.
EA has a tough job, making yearly sports titles and keeping them fresh enough to give fans a reason to buy each one. I’m not entirely without sympathy for them, but they do bring it upon themselves. This year’s Madden boasts a whole lot of changes, the thing is, most of them are the ‘under-the-hood’ type of changes. Things like ball physics and AI upgrades. But are these updates enough to bring in a new round of armchair quarterbacks? Let’s find out.
Same as always, you’ll be playing football. The american kind. At first glance, this will feel largely like last year’s effort but if you look deeper you’ll see the differences. It starts the moment you play your first game, provided you don’t skip the intro. The stadiums, the lighting, the sound, it’s all much more polished. I know this might sound like something that doesn’t matter at all, but let’s say you live in an NFL market and visit your team’s home turf frequently. Wouldn’t it be cool if it felt like you were actually there, down to the position of the sun and shadows as the game progresses. I don’t know, maybe you don’t care, and ultimately it doesn’t make the game any more fun, but I think EA Tiburon has the visual experience down pat.
Ok, ok, the game looks cool, but how does it play? Well, on the surface, much like Madden 11. Look deeper and you will see a host of improvements. Real ball physics and real player physics are the ones that stand out for me. A football is a crazy shape and deserves to have its own physics so it can bounce realistically. But who really cares if the ball bounces properly on the ground? Let me stop you right there, the ball behaves as a real object all the time. Meaning a defender can tip a pass slightly out of reach of a receiver or a receiver can bobble a ball and have it still be live, in the air, to be caught by a defender.
The player physics engine also means each player behaves like a real object instead of a series of animations now. That diving tackle that used to be simply the game engine looking for contact between two players can now detect the force of impact and which body parts have hit each other. The possibility for real events you would see in a game, but were so used to missing from the video game, is now much greater.
The player tendencies engine has also received an overhaul. Defenders now hit harder when they are down on the scoreboard. A QB who has been sacked a number of times may throw the ball away more quickly. The Defense can now recognize plays and will punish you if you use your go-to play too often. These aren’t simply robots you are playing anymore. The human aspect has been re-injected into the game.
Mulitplayer remains largely the same in terms of game modes but there is one huge addition to this year’s online game. EA is introducing Online Communities. These are basically clans that can have up to 2000 members and provide you a rank only within that community. The owner of the Community sets the house rules and controls membership. Want to finish a full game without your opponent quitting? Join a community with your friends, and all their friends and get as serious as you want. Be a jerk, get booted from the community. Start your own and play how you want to. Each player can join up to five communities and have a separate rank in each. I really like this idea and I’m sure we all wish something like this could be implemented in online shooters. Online Communities could be big and could also bring players, who were tired of the online scene, back to the game.
I was impressed with the upgrades to this year’s Madden, I’m just not convinced it will be enough of a difference for the casual fan to want to pick up. If you do grab this year’s Madden and play it for a few days, then load up Madden 11, I promise you will see the differences. I can’t promise you will think they were enough, however, the Online Communities are a big step forward and I think something that will draw a lot of players back to the series.
See the expanded revew at The Controller Online.