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September 28, 2011
Madden NFL 12 - PS3 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
2/9/2011EA GamesEA SportsEA Tiburon1-62-6
Media HDD Install Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating
Disc220MB720pNoYesG

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We know, these Madden NFL 12 screens are for XBox 360 - so sue us they look almost identical.
The Madden NFL franchise stands for nothing if not longevity. Madden NFL 12 is the 23rd game in the series Ė a staggering number by anyoneís standards. Over the past few seasons there has been growing rumblings that the franchise is now treading water, with each subsequent release adding little more of significance than an updated roster. We took a long, hard look at this yearís title to see if thatís the case this time around, or if EA still have a few tricks up their sleeve. How does Madden NFL 12 fare? Read onÖ

Iím going to admit straight off the bat that I have been, for almost all of my life, a massive Madden videogame fan. I owned every copy of the game from its very first iteration on the Mega-Drive all the way up to Madden 2008 on the PS3. It was only when real life got in the way that I finally stopped purchasing the yearly updates. After a three-season break itís been interesting taking a look at where the series has gone. I can say that without a doubt the presentation is better than ever, on-field it plays much as it did back in í08, while the menus (where any hardened Madden Franchise mode vet spends plenty of time) are worse than I remembered.

In terms of on-field additions kickoffs have now been moved to the 35-yard line (as the NFL implemented this year), but unlike the NFL your kicker will struggle to put it deep in the endzone. Quarterbacks now have distinct throwing motions, based on their real life action. Tackling animations have been improved, and there are a bunch of new gang-tackles that make the action more realistic.

One cool new thing you can do is kick an onside kick from a regular kick formation. This appears to be limited to once per game which is a shame, but perhaps makes sense given itís open to abuse in online matches. In terms of presentation games now start with team mascots leading players out from their tunnel, with cheerleaders cheering them on and all the other flashing lights and confetti that goes with it. The intros do look good, but impatient people like me will just hammer the X button to get to the game quicker.

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In-game Madden NFL 12 is solid.
All of the standard game modes return to this yearís title, and in the interests of brevity Iíll try to focus on whatís new to them. First up is the Franchise mode where you take one or more teams through as many NFL seasons as you have the energy for. The biggest addition to Franchise this year is dynamic player progression that affects their performance within a single game. If a player starts the game poorly they may suffer a ratings drop for the remainder of the game. An extension of this is the return of hot and cold streaks for players, which can span a month or more. Weekly player progression is based on two new ratings Ė consistency and confidence. The higher these ratings are, the less likely your player will experience a rating drop.

Thereís added depth in some off-season tasks this year too. During the pre-season you carry up to 75-players on your roster just like real-life teams, and before every pre-season game you have to cut a few hopefuls from your team. All rookie players have question marks next to their overall rating, and their ratings change from game to game meaning youíre never quite sure how good a rookie is until after the pre-season. While both of these elements add a bit of intrigue to roster decisions, in reality neither element is particularly exciting and I can imagine many people simply simulating them after their first pre-season.

Free-agent signing is more dynamic now, with CPU controlled teams bidding vigorously for the best players on the market. When a player receives a bid a timer starts counting down, giving you a limited amount of time for you to place a bid yourself. The timer doesnít refresh with every new bid or at least, not always. This works well because, unlike past seasons, you do occasionally miss out on a player youíre interested in.

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Madden NFL 12 is out now on PS3.
Superstar mode, where you play as just a single member of a team, returns as well. You can choose to create your own player or play as one of this yearís rookies which is pretty neat. All those kicker and punter wannabes are out of luck though Ė they are the only two positions you canít use in Superstar mode. Before every game you participate in a ten-play practice session. In both practice and games you earn points for your performance which can be spent on upgrading your skills. You can simulate practice and games but you earn no points for doing so. Progression here was a bit too straightforward for my liking; in six lackluster games I took Cam Newton from a 77-rated QB to a 90-rated QB, by boosting his awareness. I suspect that by the end of the season heíll be considered a top-3 QB by rating, making greatness a bit too easy to achieve.

Online play is thoroughly supported in Madden NFL 12. As well as the ability to play exhibition matches and full-on Franchises with up to 32 players you can also join a community or play Madden Ultimate Team. Communities are places where like-minded people can hang out and chat, as well as set their own rules for each game played between community members. Whether youíre after a hardcore league of All-Madden difficulty and fifteen-minute quarters, or a total noob just looking for fun there will be a community for you.

Madden Ultimate Team is a game based on cards. Youíre given a deck of cards when you first start comprising of a bunch of the lowest-rated NFL players as well as a coach, stadium, uniform and playbook. This is your team and you use it to play games against other online players or a CPU opponent. You earn coins for your performance in games (how many rushing yards you gained, how many yards you allowed, points scored etc) and you use those coins to buy more cards. If you feel like taking a shortcut you can buy coins with real money instead. New this year is the option to trade cards between users, or sell them in an auction.

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A Madden Ultimate Team screenshot.
Madden Ultimate Team looks like fun but thereís a heavy time investment required. I earned around six-hundred coins per game in the few games I played, which isnít enough to purchase even the cheapest pack of cards. A pack of bronze cards costs one-thousand coins, silver costs three-thousand, gold costs six-thousand and legendary cards cost nine-thousand coins a pop. Each card has a limited life-span too, so itís not like you can play your best cards in every game. Instead youíll need to replenish your deck often, relying on players with low-ratings (60-65) to sustain your team.

Another online mode is Madden Moments which lets you take control of some of the best moments in the 2010-11 NFL season. There are five moments to choose from currently, with EA promising more moments based on the current NFL season as it progresses. One of the current moments asks you to take control of the Philadelphia Eagles and overturn a 21-point deficit against the New York Giants with just a few minutes on the clock. Thatís extremely tough, but luckily that is the hardest of the five available challenges.

The online experience was extremely smooth in the time I spent with it. Matches against human opponents were pretty much seamless, with no lag or unexpected dropouts. There is never a shortage of online players to test your skills against either - the game sold 1.4m copies in its first week on sale in the US, so this is no surprise. You can download up-to-date rosters (which is a must Ė the lockout had a big effect on the accuracy of the starting rosters here) and slider settings too, both of which are very handy.

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Preparing to pass the ball.
As far as issues go, I had a few with this yearís game. Most of these are nit-picks from a long-time player, but given the game has been around for 23 years I think we can demand something close to perfection now. The biggest issue I have with Madden NFL 12 is the clunky menu system. I donít know how itís possible, but the menu layout and implementation is worse now than I ever remember it. Flicking between positions or teams in Franchise mode takes a couple of seconds, and to do it you have to hold down L2 or R2 instead of just flicking a button. Stats are displayed poorly now too, with only a few visible at any one time. Gone are the days when just about everything you wanted to look at was on-screen Ė now you have to scroll across (and then back) to check the figures youíre interested in.

Whatís worse is that the menu system has been set-up for the biggest klutz in the universe. Whenever you start or finish a game you need to select the option three times before youíre allowed to proceed. Youíd think hitting ĎExit Gameí would indeed exit the game, but instead it takes you to the option to exit. Hitting the next ĎExit Gameí prompt brings up an on-screen confirmation Ė ĎAre you sure you want to quit?í By which stage I am belligerently smacking the X button in the vain hope EA wonít suck any more seconds from my life.

Whatís worse is that the system isnít infallible. After loading a Franchise game I hit circle to take me to the menu screen, forgetting that these days you have to press triangle. The result was a quick trip straight back to the main menu (no Ďare you sure?í prompts in sight), followed by the need to re-load the Franchise and another couple of minutes wasted in the menu screens. These issues may sound small, but when you spend a long time sifting through information in Franchise mode the time quickly adds up.

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Requesting a player trade.
Gameplay issues from many seasons ago persist too. Itís still frightfully tough to complete deep passes, and indeed hitting your outside receivers is exponentially harder than passes over the middle. CPU defenders seem to know where a route is going better than your own receivers, players who make a catch running sideways take an age to head upfield, and when theyíre close to the goal-line they donít even reach out for the score. CPU defensive-backs are rarely, if ever, called for pass interference despite the fact that theyíll often crouch in your path, completely obstructing your efforts to get to the ball.

The developers have pushed a one-button play-calling system onto us (though you can still choose your own play if you want to), but the plays selected for you are extremely bland, often repeating the same play over and over throughout the game. Defensively the game isnít smart and frequently calls the wrong types of plays; defending the pass in obvious rushing situations and vice-versa.

There were also a couple of issues unique to Superstar mode. Sometimes the scoreboard you see when your superstar is off the field is different to the one you see on the field, causing some confusion. Also, there are times when the clock is ticking away when it shouldnít be Ė like the first play of a drive. These are the kind of minor bugs you expect in games with a lesser budget, not when youíre playing Madden.

Graphically the game is impressive. The new tackling animations add more realism to the action, and itís great to see a hard-running half-back require multiple defenders to take down. The new pre-game animations with mascots and cheerleaders donít add a whole lot to the game, but they look just fine. The default camera view now lets you see the whole field, which is handy, but at the same time players do look small this way. The old standard view, now called Ďzoomedí makes for a much better-looking game, though the tradeoff is losing sight of some wide receivers and defensive backs. Itís a shame that the better-looking view comes with such a compromise, but thereís not much to be done unfortunately.

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The stadiums have been faithfully reproduced.
As far as sound goes Madden NFL 12 lives and dies with its commentary. Thereís no doubt that the commentary is much-improved since the old days when John Madden used to say ĎBoom, whereíd that truck come from!?í, but itís still not perfect. Chris Collinsworth is entertaining to listen to, and he has stories for just about any occasion. The downside is that these stories tend to repeat often and arenít always accurate. During one game Collinsworth told how Aaron Rodgers (a 98-rated QB) has limited arm-strength and also how heís not noted for his accuracy. This would be a surprise to the developers who have given him ratings in the low to mid nineties for accuracy and power.

Gus Johnson is the other commentator and to be honest I am not a fan. He injects passion and excitement to the game, or at least tries to, but for whatever reason I find him a chore to listen to. I consider him a chore in real life too, so if you like him outside of the Madden games youíll probably like him here. The commentary descriptions of certain plays are often wrong (youíll be told how a player got beaten for big yardage on a two-yard TD toss for example), but such mistakes are easy enough to forgive if not forget. The sound effects are all fine, much the same as they have been for years now.

Giving any new games in the Madden series is a bit of a challenge. Thereís no doubt itís a fine game of American football, but should we judge it based more on the improvements since last season? After 23 years are customers entitled to expect something bordering on perfection? I donít have answers to these questions. I do know that seeing a game with some of the same AI issues it had four years ago is off-putting, and the menu system feels like something from the dark ages. However Madden NFL 12 is still a quality game of NFL football, and the number of different modes that let you play the game in different ways makes it a deep and engaging package. If you have Madden NFL 11 I donít see any reason to upgrade to Madden NFL 12. If itís been a while since you played then youíll likely forgive the small issues and relish the return of football for another year. Hopefully next year EA works more on the gameplay wrinkles and less on the bells and whistles.

Review By: Michael Allison

GRAPHICSItís a good looking game but the default view makes the players look very small. More tackling animations make for a more realistic look.
84%
SOUNDThe music is blah, the commentary has depth but also some problems, while the sound effects are pretty good. Yep, itís a mixed result this year.
82%
GAMEPLAYIt feels like the same game I last played in 2008, which is a good and bad thing. Minor issues aside itís a great representation of the sport.
85%
VALUEThis is where Madden shines. You could lose months in Franchise, Superstar and Madden UItimate Team modes, and thereís still all the online modes to consider...
91%
OVERALLWould love to see some on-field improvements next year, as well as slicker in-game menus. The rest of the game is polished, but after 23 years itís showing some signs of age.
85%

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