[12 September 2011]
Quarterback is said to be the most important position in sports, and on a professional level, it’s also considered to be the most difficult. A quick spot check of a quarterback’s responsibilities bears this out. They’re charged with making pre-snap reads, protection adjustments, audibles, two-minute offense play calling, and post-snap reads to say nothing of actually executing the play and delivering an on-target pass. Furthermore, in the NFL, coaches and quarterbacks are constantly looking for mismatches and advantageous defensive playcalls (single man coverage or zone or getting linebackers in coverage against slot receivers, for example). If all of this sounds like jargon or vague concepts, chances are you’re not going to enjoy EA’s latest installment in the Madden series.
Madden NFL 12 is uncompromisingly realistic, which is both its greatest attribute and its biggest flaw. While the Madden designers have always striven for realism, arcade qualities always governed the gameplay. In the series’ early games, throwing Hail Mary passes was comically easy, and in recent iterations, defensive ends become pass-rush monsters, recording unrealistic sack numbers as player-controlled defensive terrors. Madden 12 fortunately shucks these physical inaccuracies in favor of a game that makes you psychologically crumble under the weight of quarterback pressure and air tight coverage.
The most noticeable difference between Madden 12 and previous Madden entries is timing, more specifically, time in the pocket. Real-life NFL defenses can collapse a pocket and get to a quarterback in a matter of seconds. Most professional quarterbacks have an internal clock that once it hits three seconds sends off alarms to get rid of the ball. Madden games have typically allowed players slightly more processing time, but in Madden 12, memorizing your reads and having an internal clock are the only way to succeed. Otherwise, you’ll find your quarterback smashed to pieces on the turf while your controller suffers the same fate.
This decreased processing time doesn’t necessarily make the game harder. It makes it harder for people that are used to playing Madden games. Any die-hard Madden fan will be able to tell you the three or four plays that they utilize to pick up big chunks of yards. More knowledgeable players can even tell you why they work in a football sense.
But those plays always take time, something you rarely get in Madden 12. So instead of reading the safeties on a four verticals passing play and hitting the deepest, most open receiver, players must now make snap judgments and typically hit their check down.
Schematically, this necessitates more running plays and play action. Fortunately for Madden fans, the running dynamics and physics system are the best that the series has ever delivered. The most important change made to the physics of the game is the removal of suction, which has always plagued the series. In previous games, defenders only had to be within yards of a ball carrier in order to magically gravitate toward him and make a proper tackle. That sort of attraction has been removed from this game, allowing running backs to burst through the offensive line and turn the corner for long runs.
The loss of suction can be difficult for Madden players, though. Gamers have been using suction as a crutch since the series’ inception, but with Madden 12, if you recklessly run upfield to cut off a ball carrier, he will cut back inside and run by unabated. Proper defensive position is now a must, as is heady defensive playcalling.
Unfortunately, some of the chronic Madden problems persist despite being mitigated. For instance, linebackers are still remarkably adept at batting down passes that should sail well over their heads, and defenses are still too difficult to crack when you ramp up the difficulty level. Overall, though, the massive physics overhaul has made this year’s Madden one of the best to date. With realistic additions to the franchise mode—gaming’s most in-depth and realistic franchise mode already—like draft day trades, cut days, and a rookie scouting mode, EA continues to build on the model that’s been chugging along for years.
The Be a Superstar mode is nearly unplayable because of the incessant chirp of a coordinator always booming through your speakers—it’s a feature that you can’t turn off. EA thinks it ramps up the realism, but in actuality, it’s just more banal, repetitive chatter—and the online play is just as crisp as it’s always been. Most importantly, though, Madden 12 is the first game in the series for quite some time that you can say provides a unique experience.