Last year, when EA Sports released Madden 10, I couldn't put my finger on it, but I immediately knew it wasn't a game to live up to the Madden franchise. To this day, I can't fully explain why that version was lacking, but it probably has to do with the slowish gameplay, awkward athlete proportions compared to the field, and its impossibility to put any pressure on the quarterback. However, Madden 11 changes all of that, and takes the series in a new, and much more fun, direction.
Some new features include its all-new GameFlow system which automatically calls plays appropriate for different situations, new running controls, and a smoother gameplay. I didn't test them, but the game also added a new Madden NFL Ultimate Team, which I would assume would comprise of the best players of all time or of the current year (I'm not really sure and don't anticipate myself "cheating" to beat a friend I'm sure I could beat with the Raiders), and 3-on-3 Online Team Play. In the 3-on-3, you can control only a certain group of players; one player can only cycle through the DL, one can only cycle through the DB's and on through the LB's (or anyone can be anyone–all up to you). Additionally, in the 3-on-3, you can flip the camera while you are on defense so the that the camera is behind the Safeties, rather than the quarterback.
The GameFlow system is a very interesting addition. It calls plays for you depending on the situation you are in. For example, if you have a 3rd and 15, it will call a pass play, whereas during a 3rd and short, it will probably defer to a run. According to EA, it cuts down the average game-length from 60-minutes to 30. In order to activate the GameFlow, you press (A) while in the huddle; if you want to look at your playbook and call plays the way you've been doing for the past 20 years, you press (X). It's quite frustrating that (A) skips the playcalling. Between plays, I usually pound the (A) button quite frequently to skip through all the replays I couldn't care less about, and a number of times that has resulted in the game picking the play for me when I would much rather have called the play myself. I can't believe I'm already going to make a prediction about Madden12, but hopefully they'll switch the GameFlow feature so that (X) activates the simpler playcalling. However, the few times when I did decide to forgo choosing a play, the GameFlow worked very nicely. If you're like me and enjoy calling your own plays, I would still recommend using the GameFlow for field-goals and kickoffs to splice off a few wasteful seconds during an extra point or ensuing kickoff.
This year, Madden decided to ditch the Sprint Button. Instead, players will automatically reach their potential speed determined by the ever-so-accurate Madden ratings. All the running is controlled by the two analog sticks. The left, as in the past, is responsible for determining the players direction, while the right can result in juking, stopping, and powering forward. At first this was a bit distracting to get used to, but there's really nothing to complain about. However, it does mean that I can no longer whine to my friends for not knowing the sprint button on the PS3 or some other system–that, I'm not too happy about.
Madden 11's game-speed was great. Madden 09 just didn't feel right, and Madden 10 was even worse, but this year EA Sports has it finally perfected. The receivers didn't come off the line obnoxiously slow or make their cut and then slow down so that even Peyton Manning would throw an incomplete, as in '10. It was exactly how football should be played, and I'm not sure any other way of explaining it other than it just simply worked smoothly, period.
Another nice upgrade from Madden 10 was how you rushed the passer. While the controls are the same (you point the right analog stick in the direction you want to spin or power), it is actually possible to get a sack. I like to pride my ability at getting the ball out of my quarterback's hand even under the best of pocket pressures, but I have to admit, my opponent landed a sack or two against me, much to my chagrin. And despite my sub-par defensive skills, I was able to rush the quarterback and put pressure on him.
Not to sound too detail oriented, but I'd like to point out that kicking has never been simpler. Rather than using the right analog stick to go down, up, down, there is now a horizontal powermeter. You press (A) to start the kick, (A) again once the meter reaches full power, and (A) again when it moves back over the spot you started the kick from for accuracy. I never had anything wrong with the old kicking, but I'd call this a nice change.
Finally, EA made it their job to always mention how awesome their new broadcasting was, even though no one in the entire LA Convention Center could hear the game. According to them, they brought in the "legendary" Gus Johnson for the play-by-play along with Chris Colinsworth (yay?). I'm not sure if I really care that much about the commentators–I sure I'll still hear the same line about 30 times a game and the inadvertent "Now, that was a great job at getting out of pressure" after throwing an interception, but, if EA is proud of its improvement, who am I to argue?
Really the only flaw that I found in the game was the audible system. When calling an audible, your opponent could tell what type of audible you were calling both on offense and defense (run vs. pass or cover 2vs. blitz, for example). Other than that, 11 fixes everything that I've had a problem with in the last couple of Madden iteration and I'll definitely be spending the 60 dollars for it come early August.
Written by Steven Ellis