The lights are on
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I'm about as big an NFL fan as you're going to find. I watch as many games as I can during the season, tape preseason games and re-watch them to gain insight on position battles, play in multiple fantasy football leagues, and spend the NFL offseason pouring over scouting reports as if my opinion mattered and I could affect the decision making of my beleaguered Minnesota Vikings. Being such a football nerd, I eagerly anticipate the release of Madden each year.
After starting out with the disastrous Madden NFL 06, by and large the game has gotten better each successive edition this generation. With developer EA Tiburon's focus this year placed largely on franchise mode – the place I spend the majority of my time playing the game – I had very high hopes for Madden NFL 12. Unfortunately, a lot of the great ideas the team had fell flat in execution. After playing the game for review, I haven't been as keen to spend my free time with the game as I was with prior versions. Here are a few reasons why.
PRESENTATIONMadden art director Michael Young did a fantastic job of integrating the camera angles you see broadcasters use on Sunday into the game this year – for the most part the awkward replay angles are gone, and the close-up cams bring energy to the events. That said, there are problems abound with the presentation – most notably the rough commentary of Gus Johnson. Color commentator Chris Collinsworth's delivery sounds natural, but Johnson sometimes sounds robotic, sometimes comes across as overzealous, and most of the time is a few seconds behind the play. Gus also apparently doesn't know what constitutes someone being a game changer. Each game he highlights the Gatorade Impact Player, but apparently the only qualifications you have to meet is to be a living, breathing quarterback. Many times he has called out a QB with an abysmal rating rather than a player who just set the NFL single-game record for sacks, the stud running back who scored the only points on the board, or a defensive back who made a key interception. Way to show awareness of the game at hand, Johnson.
The crowd reacts more realistically to big plays this year, but sometimes cheers at inappropriate times as well. Late in the fourth quarter of one game, the crowd cheered enthusiastically when its defense got a third down stop. The only problem? That "stop" was courtesy of me kneeling on third down to run out the clock and preserve the victory. The stadium operators are prone to similar mistakes. When my struggling rookie QB Christan Ponder threw a pick-six, the stadium erupted with the "Skol, Vikings" celebration song while the opposing team lined up for the extra point.
Speaking of extra points, I wasn't happy to see EA remove The Extra Point weekly summary show from the franchise mode. It didn't always work in the past, with the commentators calling out worthless stats and highlighting inconsequential games instead of those with playoff implications, but with a fresh pass they could have reinvigorated the show. The NFL Countdown show in ESPN NFL 2K5 made me care more about league happenings than any other feature in a football game, and I wish EA hadn't abandoned their version without giving it a second pass.
Here are a few other problems I noticed as I played the game longer:
The commentators made no mention of the fact they were broadcasting a divisional round playoff game- Gus said "Welcome to Foxboro," the home of the New England Patriots, when the Super Bowl was taking place in New Orleans.- The pre-game commentary and player introductions are way too repetitive. EA needs to embrace diversity.
GAMEPLAYMany of the gameplay changes to Madden NFL 12 are positive, especially in regards to the running game. As I mentioned before, I love the (almost complete) removal of suction blocking. The renewed physicality during tackles is a welcome change as well, and the defensive pursuit seems better this year. Linebackers and defensive back move in more quickly to limit the potential for breakaway runs. As a gamer who tends to build off the running game, I appreciated all of these improvements (though the lack of gang tackling is noticeable).
The passing game, however, still gives me fits. EA spent a lot of time talking about the improved zone coverages, and the passing windows do seem smaller, but this tweak takes a backseat to problems I thought the franchise had done away with in the past. Quarterbacks fail to get rid of the ball even when they have enough time to complete a throwing motion before taking a sack. The ESP secondary is back too – several times I watched safeties with their backs to the play make a break toward the intended receiver a split second before the ball was released from my quarterback's hand. The leaping linebacker problem from last year wasn't fixed, either – I can't tell you how many times I swore in disbelief when an otherworldly linebacker leaped to knock down a pass intended for a receiver 20 yards away.
I noticed a few new problems, as well. Occasionally receivers don't locate passes, and oftentimes they fail to work back to the ball. Many stand there like Randy Moss during one of his ineffectual tantrums and make no effort to fight for possession; content to simply watch the defender make a play. This doesn't just apply to scrubs with low ratings, either. I watched All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald make no attempt for a pass while the mighty midget Antoine Winfield jumped to break up the play on a highly thrown ball. The odds of that happening on Sunday? Slim to none. Maybe the lazy effort of the wide receivers is why pass interference rarely gets called.
Last year EA introduced GameFlow, which promised to streamline playcalling to keep your nose out of the playbook. It worked on offense, but the defensive calls were seemingly made without regard to the opposing team's personnel on the field. Why call a base defense when the other team comes out with a four-receiver set? This year, EA gives you more control, with multiple options. Once again, the offensive system works well, and I love the option to specify if I want a run or a pass play. The changes to the defensive side of the ball, however, once again come up short. You have the option to choose between a recommended, aggressive, and conservative play. It makes sense on the surface, but in practice all logic is thrown out of the window. I'm not sure who told EA the definition of "aggressive," but Madden himself will be the first to tell you that cover four is the antithesis of the word. Since the plays often don't match the intended philosophy, I ended up calling my own shots in every game. Maybe next year they'll get it right by giving us options for blitz, zone, and man instead of these arbitrary categories.
Here are a few other minor things I noticed:
-Flipping formations may earn you an encroachment call because the nickel back's pathfinding is poor.-Defenders staring down the quarterback in zone are very slow to react to scrambling quarterbacks once they cross the line of scrimmage.
-If a guard doesn't locate someone to block on passing downs, they'll stand around instead of doubling the guy next to them who is wreaking havoc.-Highly rated right defensive ends are useless unless you directly control them. In three seasons with the Vikings, the most sacks Jared Allen accrued in a season was six.-Players still don't block well on special teams.-I watched a few ballcarriers clip right through a referee who couldn't get out the way.-The hot and cold streaks don't always make senses during the games. If Adrian Peterson fumbles he's immediately on a cold streak, but he doesn't go on a hot streak when he has 107 yards and two touchdowns on a mere six carries?-Poor clock management is back. With 23 seconds left in the half and the ball on the 20 yard line, a team called a running play. This makes sense given their distance from scoring position since they can run one play and head for the locker room. But after burning a few seconds off the clock, suddenly the team reversed it's thinking and called a timeout. For what? To run another run play, that's what. I also witnessed some teams who chose to run during the two minute drill when they should be throwing to preserve the clock.
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