Hey kids, do you like menus? And loading screens? What about un-skippable animations? Wow, have we got a game for you!
Ok, maybe I'm being a bit harsh. As a football simulation Madden 12 is as good as the cumulative efforts of all the previous Madden incarnations. But it also seems that each year the amount of effort required of players before they take the field gets larger and larger.
The NFL is a complicated business. There are player contracts that get larger each year, 50-man rosters, salary caps, injury lists, and trades that can take effect years later, so a depth of menus and options is to be expected. Heck, each team even has a bunch of different uniforms to choose from.
However, there is no quick option with Madden. In order to satisfy the majority of fans, the casual gamer is sacrificed.
Once you are in the game, everything flows like it should. The instant play-calling from Madden 11 remains, and there are only the slightest tweaks to actual gameplay. Most of the changes in Madden 12 are in those multi-layered menus, like new systems that more accurately model the complex business of the NFL.
For example, in franchise mode, you can now trade future draft picks (well, a year in advance at least); free agency feels more like a bidding war as you go after the best players; and a more in-depth roster management system (including cut-days to get your rosters down to the right amount of players before game day) makes it feel like you are a real NFL GM/Coach. And gone are the silly features like setting the price of hotdogs.
I would even go so far as to say this is the best franchise mode in Madden for a few years. However, all of this extra complexity means that loading times are much longer. Expect to sit for five minutes or more waiting for the off-season details – retirements, free agent contract demands and new player ratings, for example – to be simulated. Franchise mode will also change how teams play, so if Peyton Manning is injured the Colts will run the ball more and look to draft a QB. The claim is that you will never have the same franchise experience twice.
The players now have traits. These traits go some way towards how each player reacts in certain situations, but you also need to be aware of them if you are controlling them. Playing them against their traits or not completing their traits (for example ‘brace against all tacklers’) can result in them playing poorly. Players also have hot and cold streaks depending on how they play against these traits.
The other game modes remain fairly untouched.
The Superstar mode is still in dire need of a work-over as playing as anything other than a RB or QB is a fairly dull experience. And when your superstar becomes a free agent or is traded there is no negotiation, you can just play for whatever team you like. The lack of rejection might be my biggest gripe. Unlike MLB: The Show, there is no time when a team will trade you away or drop you down the depth chart for stinking up the joint. And it's easy to stink as offensive linemen seem to only be able to hold their blocks when you're playing as the defence.
Online you can choose who you play, and given that the advertising for the game is based around playing with friends, that's a big thing. If you're a friendly player you don't have to worry about finding yourself in an extreme, all-Madden, 15-minute quarters match-up against some former Madden Bowl Champion who knows some remarkable swears.
You will want to play some real people after a while, too, as the AI will drive you insane. It clearly has a predetermined agenda when it comes to play-calling, and you will get odd calls in certain situations, like a Hail Mary bomb when you’re 8-yards out, or a screen pass when you need more than ten yards. In Superstar this is really annoying as you don’t have the ability to call audible (unless you’ve made a QB). And don’t expect your computer-controlled referees to ever call holding (I suppose that’s an accurate simulation at least).
The music is the usual collection of hip hop, metal and radio-rock from new artists with some oldies thrown in for fun.
When it all comes down to it, Madden is the best football simulation on the market simply because it’s the only football simulation on the market. It has been a long time since 2K games had their own football game with competing ideas. There is talk that the EA exclusive deal might not be extended further and even if it isn’t that doesn’t mean that any other game will ever knock Madden off its perch. Even the retirement of the titular coach couldn’t stop the Madden juggernaut and I’m not sure if it will. As long as there’s a football season there will be Madden.
Gameplay: 8 (despite the menus)
Lasting appeal: 7 (you’ll love it until next year’s one comes out)
Played on PS3, also available on Xbox 360.