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Madden 12 Review

madden-12The website TheFreedictonary.com defines the law of diminishing returns as “The tendency for a continuing application of effort or skill toward a particular project or goal to decline in effectiveness after a certain level of result has been achieved.” And that is my Madden 12 review, thanks for reading, folks.

I kid, I kid. Well, sort of. The Madden franchise is one that has managed to defy expectations year after year, and again and again come out with games that justify their annual release. It simply defies expectations, and even logic, by constantly managing to improve upon itself. Madden 12 continues that trend, although to a much, lesser degree than previous iterations. There are several technical improvements, and a few additions to the franchise mode that will appeal to the hardcore gamers, but the lack of any major changes or additions will likely scare away the casual gamer. Put simply, Madden 12 just feels a bit stale.

Don’t get me wrong, Madden 12 is a great game, but maybe the lack of competition has spoiled all of us when it comes to football games. EA Tiburon continues to refine the game, and many of the changes to this year’s title are more on the programming side. The AI is tighter, the lighting and animation are better than ever and the play controls are fluid. The biggest complaint you can level against Madden 12 is that there aren’t enough new changes. There are no new game modes, and nothing that will really blow you away. For those that haven’t played the games or haven’t purchased a Madden title in a few years, that is a non-issue. You have a great football title waiting for you. But for fans who look forward to each year’s new game, you may be disappointed.

The story

There is none, it is football. Moving on…

Actually, while there is no story, there is the franchise mode, which has seen the biggest improvements this year. Most of these improvements are made to appeal to the hardcore fans who revel in the minutia of the game, but those new to the mode should enjoy them, too.

The first change is the ability to cut players, beginning with 75 players at the start of the preseason. You then whittle your team down to those you want, and think can help you over the years. A new scouting mode also plays a part in this. Returning from previous Madden titles is the ability for players to earn tags that determine their role on the team. Some players may be listed as playoff performers, while some back benchers may earn their keep as a mentor to younger players. It won’t sell copies on its own, but it’s a good addition.

One of the more notable additions is the week-to-week tracking of players’ confidence and consistency. The top tier players will remain fairly consistent for the most part, but if you have enough bad games, they can begin to decline. After a few weeks, they will also be listed as either being hot or cold, and that will affect their play. But this addition will have a bigger impact on the up and comers and the players who are a bit more unpredictable. A QB who is just starting out can become a star with a few solid games, but if he is sacked enough or throws too many picks, it could be a tough hole to dig out of.

There is also the addition of free-agent bidding, which is aggressive and acts like a minigame. If you want a certain free agent, you will need to keep an eye on it, as others will try to match or outbid you and steal that player away.

Technical tweaks

As you would expect (and even demand), the technical side of Madden 12 is an improvement over Madden 11 — it isn’t a huge improvement, but there are a few notable changes in the lighting, reflections and the way the game looks and moves. The AI is also a bit smarter, but this probably won’t be as noticeable to people who haven’t been following the franchise year to year.

The character animations are also improved slightly, and things like the tackling animation are impressive to behold. Different players also have different reactions to plays as well, which adds a level of immersion and realism. While playing the game, the graphics are stellar, and the added details like runners kicking up grass and stains on players’ uniforms are very cool. The stadiums also look amazing, and the light and shadow effects are dead on. Where the graphics falter a bit is off field.

After taking my beloved Kansas City Chiefs to their first Super Bowl victory in longer than I want to admit, the team heads to the White House to meet President Obama. While the team looks on, running back Jamal Charles looks like he is about to vibrate and explode, while QB Matt Cassell looks as if he was lobotomized before the meeting. But when it comes to Madden, the graphics on the field are what matter, and that is where the game shines.

The online side also seems to move a bit better, and there are some additions to the team management that are nice to see — especially in the online franchises — but there isn’t much new online otherwise.

The more things change…

While there are several technical improvements in Madden 12, there are no new game modes. At all. Madden Moments return, as does the Superstar mode, but neither are significantly improved, and both modes have been done better in other games. There is a new change in Superstar that allows you to practice and build up stats in your character, something that NCAA 12 featured, but the same issues that plagued the college version plague Madden — it is too easy to increase your character’s stats. It is an instant gratification mentality, which might sound like a good idea so you can immediately get some use out of your star, but after a season or two there isn’t much more for you to strive for.

The commentary from Cris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson is also hit or miss. Sometimes it is insightful and unique to the teams. It might talk about the history of the franchise and even discuss some of the moves the team has made. Other times though, you will hear the same commentary over and over and over again. Odds are you will hear the same commentary spoken more than once in the same game.

If you haven’t played Madden in a while, then the game and its modes will be worth checking out. But for people that shelled out $60 just one year ago, the additions may not be enough to justify a new purchase of what is essentially the same thing, just with new rosters.

Conclusion

Madden 12 is a great game. Just like Madden 11 was a great game, and since they are essentially the same game on the surface, that is a bit of a problem. Maybe the pending strike had something to do with it, or maybe the recent re-negotiations effected the development. Better to believe that than think that EA Tiburon was resting on its laurels, but whatever the reason, this year’s Madden just feels too much like last year’s to get really excited over it.

For those who love the franchise, deciding on whether or not to pick up this year’s copy might be a tough call. There are improvements. The graphics on the field look great, and the lighting effects continue to amaze. The franchise mode is a bit deeper as well, which is important. But there are also no new game modes. None. That’s a hard pill to swallow for people on a budget.

That being said, Madden 12 is a quality game, and the play controls are better than ever. It is in no way a step back for the franchise, it just isn’t much of a step forward either. Maybe that means that the Madden Curse will finally be put to rest. If not, pray for poor, doomed Peyton Hillis.

Score: 8 out of 10

 (This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by EA)