Simply put Madden NFL 11 is an alright game. That’s about as plainly as I can put it. It is a shrug raiser, lip curler, feet shuffler of a title. Though however basic I would like to put it and be done with it Madden NFL 11 isn’t going to let me go that easy. It’s just that those pond splashers over the way do have a penchant for overcomplicating the simple. So in turn sharing my opinion was never going to be that simple either.
Especially when it comes to sports, the Yanks tend to make the plain into the elaborate. That which starts with Cricket ends in Baseball. That which starts with Hockey ends by being played on ice. And that which starts with Rugby ends with American Football. The trouble is that with all this complication going on in one place, how does a game that is meant to replicate that exercise maintain a sense of control and ability whilst also making sure the title runs and plays like you see it in ‘RL’?
The easy answer is that you do what Madden 11 has done and you take away one piece of this simple conundrum. You make it a one hander and decide that this year, in the two decades of Electronic Arts presenting NFL titles; it is all about the spectacle, more about the experience than ever before. The armchair is your house and Madden dives in for a visit.
American Football is an extraordinary amusement, a mix between Rugby and essentially Dungeon and Dragons. Two teams take it in turns to out stratergise each other in the pursuit of gaining yards whilst keeping possession of the football or pig skin at the same time. Critically each play is a chance to out maneuver your opponent, rolling the dice hoping to guess what defensive/offensive moves they’ll try on you and then trying your best to counter in return. After all that, if you end up with the oval in the end zone then you score points and the most points win. Easy as that!
It is a complicated game and that is reflected in pretty much every area of Madden’s presentation bar the exceptionally well crafted replication of the sport on the pitch. EA’s attempt to streamline your play and offer up a smooth “in and out” style still ends up feeling cluttered because EA have abandoned any hope of the uninitiated gaining interest of the title and therefore little to no explanations, tutorials, or guidance is given to the depth and variety on offer, so you’re left to find your way like a shred of hay in a bottle of needles.
I am sure though that hardened Football fans are having a blast in all the modes on offer. Amateur leagues, mini-games, the usual extensive online functions and the very, very extensive Franchise mode, which unlike the paltry Manager Mode in FIFA – which only lasts for four or five seasons – in Madden the challenge is to be on top of your game for thirty. Three decades of football!
Seasons are quite short, but EA’s eye is on delivering an experience away from the actual physical playing of the pig. The world of the Football Franchise is so in depth I was worried at one point that it was going to ask me how often the grass should be cut and when the Quarter Back should be getting his nails done. Again, to the hardened fan, I bet making sure that his minions of badly modeled spectators will have super fast broadband and personal firewalls whilst watching the game is of up most importance.
If you want, you can of course simulate all of these decisions and leave it to the CPU to arrange signings of players and make sure your winning staff stays paid and wealthy. You even have the option to simulate all the football games scheduled for you to play. In fact I found all this simulation a little demeaning. I just wanted to play football, and to go into a mode and then have the computer ask me if I am sure that I want to actually play the game and not ‘simulate’ felt like the emphasis was trying to be drawn off the game itself and for me to utlise the more in-depth manager mode.
For a while now EA’s target for the franchise has not been to necessarily make an intricate and complicated replica of American Football but instead provide an experience, the experience of taking part in a televised event. Once you’re squeezed into a game, it starts with huge team logos planting on the pitch, fans relaxing outside the stadium, players, coaches and warming up. It all looks like it should look. The commentary as well is nice and playful, never too over the top and actually comes highly commended. It seems that the golden rule with sports announcing remains to be that ‘less is more’.
The world of the football game is very exciting to be a part of as well. You can challenge calls you think are wrong, and get treated to replays and officials arguing on the sidelines. You can silence the crowd and get them pumped up just before a big play, and all of this adds to what you would see on T.V during the weekly matches. Though as much as the experience of goggle box viewing struggles to be maintained it still lacks the polish to be truly immersive.
Announcers will talk over each other when trying to skip through lengthy cut sequences or they will get things plain wrong, sometimes just pausing the game can take up to a minute to show up a menu and the crowd participation gets repetitive very quickly. Even the addition of The Extra Point, a real life show with real human hosts analyzing the weekend’s best games becomes best ignored very soon as the disc that spins away inside to find the audio that contains the right numbers sounds more interesting than the hosts themselves…
Overall the whole experience has been streamlined to try and cater to those wanting to just get ready to watch the real thing by playing a simulation. While once you had to cycle though the hundreds of plays on offer to try and out play your opponent, this is all done now by the computer through one quick button press. The CPU decides the best play and you are simply an envoy taking part in quirky quick time events. Even the defence can be controlled by CPU just by the press of a button and it all starts to become all too tempting to just hit the switch and have the decision be done with, and with the orders being piped in through your PS3 or Xbox headset it feels so authentic. However, as time moves on you get the itch to learn more about the plays and decide for yourself what works best to take advantage of the depth that Madden 11 tends to scream and boast about, though when you do do that, American Football is still too much of a complicated sport to warrant full control over the field, so no matter how much you’ll start taking control away from the computer you cannot shirk that horrible feeling that you’re not doing any of the work.
Madden 11, looks pretty and the animations on the field are slick and interesting, American Football nonetheless is a sport that will never translate properly to a full video game simulation. It requires too individual movements and design to ever be controlled by one person. All EA can do is to carry on developing their attempts to convey the experience of a televised effect because the results are often fascinatingly appealing, dragging you back for another fling of the football.
MLG Rating: 7/10
Platform: PS3 (Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, PSP, iOS) Release Date: 13/08/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Madden NFl 11 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of seven days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.