Football fans often debate about the relative importance of the positions on a team. Can a great QB make the receivers around him better? Can marquee receivers make a mediocre QB look good? Does an ineffective pass rush doom even the most skilled corners? Madden NFL 11 spurs a similar kind of discussion based on the features it has chosen to address for this latest iteration versus those that have remained unchanged. Does the inclusion of online co-op play trump a bare-bones online franchise mode? Is making a stud running back like Chris Johnson feel like a world-beater more important than not cleaning up past AI issues? The answers to these kinds of questions are up to you as a Madden player. I like a lot of the new additions to this year’s game, but the lack of progress in some areas is unfortunate.

Madden NFL 11 features a new motion engine that makes running with the ball a dream. Subtle cuts, bursts of speed (without the turbo button), sheer physical power, and other characteristics are layered on and make NFL players come alive and showcase the abilities that make some of them stand out from the crowd. The game makes you feel like you’ve got unprecedented control over the runner, and every run feels a little different – particularly in the tackles or the lack thereof. Because of all the different factors that go into a player’s running and tackling, you’ve got to watch that your defenders wrap up the ball carrier, otherwise it’s common for a guy to get loose after a couple of sloppy tackles.

I love the varied outcomes in tackling and animations, but inconsistency elsewhere in the gameplay is maddening (no pun intended). Running with the ball is one of the highlights of the game, but the passing game shows some flaws. Players can be shockingly unaware of the ball as it sails by within their grasp. You also see players standing around without a clue of who to block or tackle. This is conspicuous when such great work has been done to highlight receivers’ tracking of the ball for sideline catches and grabs in the back of the endzone. For every cool catch you see, you’ll also see the ball suction into a receiver’s hands or vice versa (where it looks like a player shoots forward suddenly to catch a ball otherwise out of their reach), as well as old staples like dropped gimme interceptions and auto-INTs.

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