Madden NFL 11 – The PS3 Attitude Review
Back in the day Trip Hawkins copied the Strat-o-Matic sports simulation game he was so fond of, where players were represented by cards and a roll of the dice determined what happened next, and put the concept into a computer program on a PDP-11 computer at Harvard.
From that slightly plagiaristic and humble beginning Electronic Arts was born and after a couple of false starts, he and Joe Ybarra eventually landed a suitable icon for the American Football game they had created. His name was John Madden.
It has been a long road ever since for the Madden franchise with all manner of competition trying to run a block or sack the franchise, but every year Madden Day comes along with a list (sometimes long, sometimes not) of feature enhancements.
Does Madden NFL 11 move the franchise forward past the line of scrimmage, or is it just taking another annual punt at the fans of the game?
Madden NFL 11 offers what could be seen as quite the radical departure for the series. Instead of offering you the full playbook – 350 plays at last count – it throws that away in favour of a feature called GameFlow.
GameFlow’s intention is to put you “in the helmet of the quarterback”, with plays being called by the coach from the sidelines. He offers you details on why this particular play is the best option, tells you what to look out for and offers you sound advice on what to do if it starts to go wrong.
Certainly, GameFlow does make Madden NFL 11 much more accessible to those that have never played a Madden title, or those that are not entirely sure of the intricacies of an American Football game. 350 plays have been effectively whittled down into one option.
Of course, you don’t have to settle for what the coach tells you to do. In fact, it pays to mix things up a little by making an audible call and switching up the tactics every now and then. If the coach is telling you to make a pass, try calling a run instead if it looks like the defence is falling back. If they look like they’re about to blitz, try switching to a long pass.
In addition, Madden NFL 11 offers you the ability to alter and customise the plays your coach is likely to call during a particular situation, so those that want a deeper experience – but that still want the simpler GameFlow system when competing against the opposition – can get the best of both worlds.
It isn’t just in offence that Madden NFL 11 seeks to simplify matters. When you’re defending, you can hold down the X button to have your selected player automatically run into position after the hike. If the selected player has good stats, you can just let the PS3 do all the hard work for you. Beware though – most times you have to keep a close eye on the offensive player you’re tracking and if he breaks away it is up to you to regain manual control and save the day.
In fact, it is in the defensive area that Madden NFL 11 falls foul of the new system. More often than not, the AI just can’t handle the offensive force bearing down upon it, and despite the fact that the ‘sprint’ button has been removed from the game, it often seems as though your opposition have used a cheat code to put it right back in.
With that slight knock to the AI out of the way, it is worth mentioning how much the wide receivers have improved. You’ll actually see them attempt to keep their feet in the field of play before they even attempt to make the catch – something sadly lacking in previous Madden games.
Hardcore Madden fans shouldn’t worry though. At the start of each play you can still choose to open up the entire playbook and choose your course of action just like in the old days. It is here that you’ll find the one solitary reference to Mr. Madden himself, since you can still call on him to offer you the best options to pick from.
This MTV Generation approach to Madden NFL 11 doesn’t manifest itself in just the simplicity of the GameFlow system. Games have also been reduced in length to offer a more immediate fix thanks largely to the GameFlow system. Perfect for those with the attention span of your average music video viewer. However, this shouldn’t be read as ‘dumbing down’ in the case of the latest pigskin simulation from EA. All these changes have made Madden a much less bloated experience than we’ve seen for years, and the game is better for it.
You’ll also find improvements in the graphics, animations and audio treatment. The sound is, in fact, the best we’ve experienced in a Madden title and the TV broadcast-style commentary is excellent throughout. Sure, there are still glitches, but they are few and far between and nowhere near as heinous as some of the fun graphical anomalies we’ve seen over the last three iterations of the game.
There are a variety of game modes in Madden NFL 11 as you would expect. All the single-player modes are there from last year’s title plus the AFC and Ultimate Team games that were bolt-ons before now. The online and co-op multiplayer options are also many and varied, including a 3-on-3 co-op which works brilliantly as long as the people you’re playing with take it seriously and stick to the play.
Our only gripe with the graphics is that while a lot of care and attention has been paid to ensuring variety on the pitch, the animation for timeout events is always exactly the same. It would have been nice to see some alternatives to mix things up, especially in light of the much improved presentation – both visual and audio – elsewhere in the game.
Many existing Madden fans may say that this particular iteration doesn’t offer enough in terms of improvements to make it worthwhile. We say that whilst there are flaws in the new system, particularly in defence, there is enough in Madden NFL 11 to show that EA are taking the franchise in a positive new direction.
Die-hard Madden gamers will no doubt buy their copy like they do every year, but we think that the GameFlow system will actually attract some new, rookie gamers who may have been frightened off by the complexity of previous titles.
So Madden NFL 11 may not be a Hail Mary pass straight into the end zone, but it certainly will manage a good running average until next year’s iteration comes along.