Replay Value: 8.1
I have been a fan of this series for 19 years. Although I haven’t had time to play every recent installment to my heart’s content, I’m quite familiar with the franchise’s progression over time. And to be brutally frank, this is the least amount of fun I’ve had with an entry. It’s not that Madden NFL 12 is a bad game; it’s more strategic than ever, online play seems better, and the overall package really is solid. But not much has changed in comparison to last year’s effort, and in my opinion, EA Tiburon made some very questionable decisions. And they still haven’t fixed the lingering flaws, which is more than a little irritating.
The graphics are actually the best part of this production, as that 3D grass we’ve heard so much about is quite attractive, and there are more player animations than ever. Those are darn pretty, too. Plus, if I’m remembering last year’s installment correctly, I’d have to say this year’s is brighter and features better shading and coloring the whole way ‘round. The bottom line is that this looks like football so from a visual standpoint, the game makes its case for the label of “super-realistic simulator.” The cheerleaders are still too robotic and plastic-y, but all in all, Madden NFL 12 looks great.
I’ve never been a big fan of the music available in recent Maddens, but that’s probably because I don’t like hip hop at all. That’s subjective but the hit or miss commentary isn’t anywhere near as subjective; the typically spot-on voiceover work seems…I dunno, tired, I guess. It’s just that I’ve heard all this before; it’s not that guys like Cris Collinsworth are incompetent (they’re really not), but did they even record new lines for this year’s game? On top of which, far too many calls come too late, which hinders the flow of the game. The effects are excellent, though, and the overall balance remains top-notch.
Okay, before I vent a little, let’s enjoy the good stuff; it starts with the amped-up AI. There are tons of different options available to the player: you can actually set the impact rating for a defenseman (i.e., how hard they hit), and dictate how a player performs under pressure. The game takes various tendencies into account, too, as scrambling QBs will take off if they spot a seam and a particularly opportunistic linebacker will try to exploit a hole in the offensive line. The AI seems a lot smarter on the whole, which is both good and bad; in truth, I felt outmatched quite often. The game is pretty freakin’ hard if you’re not used to Madden, by the way.
Then there’s the improved tackling system. Everything is more authentic and we don’t have those cheating shoestring tackles from last year (oh, it’s true, they were there). You also won’t get sucked into another player and in terms of control, you just feel more competent and confident. And you’ll need all the confidence you can get, because that Franchise mode is a definite challenge from top to bottom. I also appreciate the added strategy that goes into the actual planning and ultimate execution; it’s a little more troublesome because of some slow menus, but it’s worth the time. Hardcore pigskin fans with plenty of patience and dedication will be rewarded.
But then things start to slide downhill. First on the agenda is the ball physics, which still aren’t right. Balls that bounce off players or get knocked around make some truly ridiculous hops and spins, and while comical, it’s starting to get old. Secondly, the camera angles just don’t seem as sharp or as agreeable; I couldn’t seem to find one I really liked. Could just be me, though. Thirdly, there’s a definite collision detection issue that can get downright infuriating. "Why did I miss that tackle? My hands were on him." Oh but wait; if you check the replay, it proves that the ball carrier literally ran through half your body.
Also, there are no new modes; everything you see was included in last year’s title. They even took away one of my favorite mainstays of the series; the manually controlled instant replays. Now, the game will automatically show you replays of certain plays. Ideally, this would only feature the game-breaking plays that made the crowd stand and cheer but no, they’ll replay three-yard runs up the middle from the 39 to the 42. And then, when you intercept the ball with a 4-point lead and 2:30 left in the game, no replay shows up. The way to avoid all this is to jump online and get involved with some friends: the matchmaking has been improved and it’s a relatively smooth experience.
But the bottom line is that Madden NFL 12 just isn’t a significant upgrade by any stretch of the imagination, despite some noted enhancements. They ignore things like crazy ball physics and collision detection problems, and opt for changes that are just plain bizarre. I liked the increased AI, the strategic demand, the cool animations and sweet visuals, and better tackling mechanics. I really liked all that. But the rest feels either dated or uninspired and in the end, I just don’t have much fun with this year’s entry. It’s still realistic and features plenty of content and depth (as always), but I remain underwhelmed.
The Good: Great detail and animations. Better tackling system. Gridiron strategy has hit a new level. Smarter AI, especially on defense. More streamlined online action.
The Bad: Commentary is tired and inconsistent. Ball physics are still wonky. New replay system was a mistake. Annoying collision detection issues. Just feels too similar to Madden NFL 11.
The Ugly: “Fumble recovery! So awesome…hey, where’s my replay?”