Releasing a new game every year is no small task and it’s something that Madden Franchise has done now for over 20 years. This year’s iteration of the series, Madden NFL 11, adds in several new features to keep the game fresh while still retaining a lot of the core gameplay elements that Madden fans crave. While last year we saw the introduction of a proper online co-op mode, this year that mode has morphed into something slightly different.
The biggest change Madden fans are going to notice this year, in terms of how the game feels, is the Locomotion system - EA’s name for their physics engine. Running is now incredibly realistic as several factors are taken into account as your halfback or wide receiver takes the ball up the field. Weight is the biggest factor - and running your 220 pound running back into a 300 pound linebacker usually creates a losing battle for your running game, it’s one that visibly apparent when it happens on screen. You’ll know it happens when everyone in the room goes “OOOOOOOOH” as your guy is staring up at the 110 foot screen in the Cowboys new stadium from his back. Other factors come into play as well for character motion, including how the player’s feet are planted while making cuts and moves. In the end, running the ball just feels good this year. It’s fluid, it’s visceral, and it’s satisfying.
The other big change is the Gameflow system, an optional play calling method that lets the game decide which play works best for the current situation. While similar to the “Ask Madden” - Gameflow actually allows you to build a playbook of situations and what plays you’d like to run on them. During this mode the offensive and defensive coordinator will tell you about the upcoming play - and if you have a headset on - it’ll do it through that just like a real NFL player with helmet communication. As someone who knows very little about NFL defense, this is great for speeding up my games. In fact, I’d say it takes almost half as long to complete a game if you utilize Gameflow on both offense and defense. Thankfully, even with it enabled, you still have the option to go into your playbook and call a play.
Other than these two things I didn’t find much different for the core Madden experience between this year’s game and last years. The kicking game is back to the three click system instead of analog, the menu system is slightly changed to be a more streamlined for quickplay, and there’s new play-by-play commentator in Gus Johnson - who has some pretty solid one liners throughout the game’s I’ve played. Anyone that can work the Batman theme into the running game is OK in my book.
Graphically the game is as solid as ever, having had a almost 5 years on next gen platforms have done wonders for the series. Players animations are smooth, characters look more realistic and less like cookie cutter “football dudes,” and the chosen soundtrack is mostly pleasing. Machine Head by Bush just seems to fit football quite well.
Moving onto the co-op aspects of Madden, all the local options are still available - and up to four players can work through a franchise or quickplay games together taking control of different position players. But when things move online, that’s where things change up from previous years.
Online Teamplay is one of two modes available when you jump online, the other being versus, and this mode allows up to three human players on a team. You can play 3vs3 if you want, or if you prefer, 2vsAI or 3vsAI. Players can choose to lock into skill positions like the quarterback, running back, or wide receivers, or they can choose to cycle between any available position. You can even split up duties on the positions if you choose and the game will auto cycle them for you. We're still waiting for a full featured co-op mode - much like FIFA's 11 on 11 that's coming this year, but what we have is still a lot of fun.
The nice thing about the online co-op is that each player gets an individual camera, something that’s difficult while playing offline. Offline players tend to go out of the main cameras point of view, online the camera tracks your controlled player. Last year’s camera angles were dependant upon position, while this year is more of a generic three-quarter view. Of course there’s a downside to this - normally the camera is tracking the ball making it easy to focus on where it is, but when it switches up to tracking the player it becomes a little more difficult - especially since it’s zoomed out a bit more. It takes some getting used to, but eventually I got the hang of following the ball and not just my player.
Much to my surprise, the online community for the Team Play games I got into were great. Players communicated well calling for the ball when open or asking for advice on picking the next play. Like any good sporting event there was even plenty of compliments on “nice plays” and “good catches.” There was very little Keyshawn Johnson “just give me the damn ball” time moments, something I honestly was kind of expecting.
Madden NFL 11 feels very much like football, the whole atmosphere is nailed, right down to the over abundance of advertising. Even the damn achievements have sponsors this year - so look out next year when we have individual plays like the Starbucks Buzz Cover 4 and the Jiffy Lube Halfback Pass. EA Sports, if this happens, I want a cut.
Every year it’s easy to say that “this is the best Madden game to date.” With every upgraded system the game gets, it also seems to miss out in some other areas. Thankfully this year’s negatives are very minor and for most but the hardcore, unnoticeable. So yes, I’m going to say it, this is the best Madden game to date.