Review: Madden NFL 12

Madden NFL 12 is back this year and while the number goes up every year the settings, features and upgrades Madden fans requested have arrived.  I have to give it to EA Sports for keeping the franchise fresh year in and year out.  Before an official NFL season even begins EA Sports is working on everything that makes up a Madden NFL 12 game that includes the much debated front cover.  While the front cover can possess this so called “Madden Curse” many active players are honored by the annual recognition.  This year the award was narrowed down to two players.   Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Michael Vick and the Cleveland Browns Running Back Peyton Hillis. Ultimately Hillis was chosen by the fans to be the front cover athlete for Madden 12.  So we begin…

Lockout CBA. The NFL lockout may have impacted players on the field but gamers were not that affected.  For those paying attention, the NFL lock out lasted a long winded 132 days.  The owners and players eventually agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement.  Those on-the-field changes were immediately implemented with one of the first updates pushed down from EA Sports.  The first change I noticed was the placement of kickoffs on the 35 yard line which almost always results in a touchback.  Hey, similar to Thursday Night opener, Saints at Packers.  Thanks CBA!


Madden Ultimate Team. MUT has returned this year and EA Sports left it very much like they did in Madden 11.  Just to elaborate a bit on it’s features, here’s what MUT is all about.  Your start off with a sub-par team mixed with players from different teams.  Think of the Bad News Bears with shoulder pads. As you play games either in head to head or vs. the CPU you gain Madden Coins.  Here’s where the fun begins.  You can make several moves with your coins; buy Madden cards or buy/sell players through Auctions.  Buying packs is the most fun and a dynamic experience in the game.  You don’t know what players you’ll get but you are informed what tier of player you are buying determined on price.  Low level player packs sell for 1000, low-medium 3000, medium for 6000 and High’s for 9000.  Legend packs are sold for cash.  You know, George Washington’s and Alexander Hamilton’s.

 

Be a Superstar.  This year Superstar mode gives you the option to walk-on and choose a team or enter the draft.  Since I decided to play as a QB, I was selected by the Browns and had to beat out Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace.  As long as I listened to the QB Coordinator and executed the plays, it was easy to become the starting QB in Cleveland.  Since most plays are sent down to you as Quarterback, you don’t have the option to call your own play.  I found myself hitting the audible button and elected to pass over the run.  Yes, I know it sounds greedy but I wanted to maximize my skill points.  To start, you’re given 1500 skill points.  This year, you’re also able to earn skills points in practice… practice?  Yup, practice man!  With those accrued skill points, you can level up your Superstar with the qualities you want in your player.  I like QB’s who can throw on the run, so I moved that slider first with accuracy and power following.  Play enough games, and you can beef up your guy to 99, but take too long doing that and he will age, forcing you to retire him.  I was able to play with him for 2 years strong since I entered him as a 30 year old.  Customizing his helmet, throwing style and skin color are all there and more.  In fact, I found myself in customization for 5 minutes then leaving the rest on default because there were too many options for me.  I guess people need hazel eyes and a good chin structure.

Franchise your team.  Most people love Madden for Franchise mode alone.  This year I decided to take advantage of selecting my team via Fantasy Draft with salary cap.  You are given a timer just like regular Fantasy draft leagues, but not as rushed.  You’re given 10 minutes to select your team, filling in your roster.  For my first 10 rounds, I selected the best overall player for each position with a focus on salary.  Jamaal Charles and Michael Vick were the exceptions.  But players like Dwayne Bowe are making little money compared to Donald Driver.  As I entered in Round 11, I allowed the CPU to auto-pick.  With enough patience –3 minutes later– I saw the draft end near the 49th round with my team complete.  Franchise mode allows you to evaluate each player and cut those you feel aren’t fit for the team.  This is one of the new features for Madden 12.  You can also scout rookies via the new scouting system and made bids based on your needs.  Another new feature available in Franchise mode and MUT are hot and cold streaks.  Performances from previous games will result in either hot or cold icons in the player profile which can have huge payouts.  It’s like a power-up vita-pak for your player.  Quick tip, throwing 5 more consecutive passes with your QB is a good way to get hot.

DPP.  Dynamic Player Performances keep Madden NFL 12 fresh, each and every game.  My issue with DPP was EA’s ability to make it feel like an uphill battle.  Harder to go up, easier to come down.  I find running is by far the most realistic in this year’s Madden and I have to thank DPP for that.  With some big runs my Running Back, Jamaal Charles was threading the needle thanks to my Offensive Line collapsing like a house of cards.  He still managed to get 8 yards per carry and shoved off manny secondary blockers while he was in a hot streak.  Those streaks only last for 3 games.

EA’s Law.  Playing EA games since I was a child, I always noticed the challenge of play increase or decrease… dynamically.  In other words, when you play the CPU, there will always be a time where I will say, “There goes EA Law… again”.  EA Law is the inexplicable talent from a CPU player used in his advantage to level the playing field.  I still feel that in Madden 12.  On two separate occasions, I was winning vs. the CPU.  I knew since I was up, throwing even a conservative pass would somehow end up in the defenders hands, so I did what anyone with EA Law knowledge would do.  I ran consecutive plays up the middle.  The result, a fumble.  An unexplained fumble that was caused by running into the back of my own Center.  And speaking of running over Passing, I also theorized that after the first interception is made by which ever player first, there is a 99% the opponent will have an interception relatively soon, thus balancing the game.

Fantasy and Video Games under one roof.  EA Sports and NFL.com have combined forces to bring you Fantasy Football included within Madden 12.  The setup is quite easy.  On the main menu, go to Online then Fantasy.  Once you enter in your NFL.com user name and password, you’ll be able to see your league standings, player stats and transaction wire.  You also have the option to turn on the in-game notification of your Fantasy players’ performance.  To sweeten the deal, EA Sports is offering a 3000 coin incentive to link your accounts.

Visuals.  One of the first enhancements I noticed was how great and shiny all the helmets were.  In between downs, the camera will focus in on a player– most of the time the QB — and I was impressed.  Some other on the field detail was streaking grass on wet fields and seeing yourself on the huge jumbotron in Cowboys Stadium.  While most of the in-game detail was enhanced last year and carried over to Madden 12 a much needed area is still the fans in the stands.  EA needs to understand that this minor realism will set the standard that much higher for those not looking for it.  When you watch a real NFL game, there are several references to fans showing appreciation on a 25 yard pass or the anxiousness on 4th and goal on the 1.  A couple of cheese heads with face paint is enough for me to be satisfied.

In-game Commentary.  Cris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson blend surprisingly well.  I found many of Gus Johnson’s enthusiastic calls to be properly timed although repetitive.  Collinsworth on the other hand throws football (no pun intended) tidbits at you such as how wide the football field is, 53 1/3 yards.  With my favorite quoting a Star Wars line “It’s a trap”.  Most times, they are accurately depicting the on field plays but remember people, it’s all pre-recorded.  Unless you fly those two to your living room and ask for live commentary, you getting last nights dinner.  Some minor number calls were awkward such as, the New England Patriots 24 – New York Giants 112 — where the 112 was said in a different tone.  You know that robot voice number calling I’m talking about, right?

Detailed Player Characteristics.  Big Running Backs such as Mike Turner and Brandon Jacobs have a high and tight styles while smaller guys like Darren Sproles and Maurice Jones-Drew run with quicker steps with their short strides.  Style for tall wide receivers like Andre Johnson use long strides.  Several sacks on the Quarterback saw my defensive lineman pick up a fumble and slowly run towards the end zone like a kid holding a dozen eggs.  Even kickers have a swagger about them but I’m glad kicking is now easy again. The dreaded and annoying kicking mechanics for Madden 2011 are no more.  EA sports brought back the original kicking mechanism which makes kicking field goals and punts much easier and more accurate.

Bottom Line:  The year in an year out Madden will always live.  Madden fanatics want the latest game, with updated rosters (even though a digital push can update Madden 11) and new modes.  To say this year is better than Madden 11 is difficult.  If you purchase Madden every year, you will buy Madden NFL 12.  If you’re waiting, what for?  For your money, Madden NFL 12 is worth the purchase even if you’re a rookie looking to start.

9/10

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