Madden NFL 12 EA Sports Xbox 360 (Review Copy) PS3★ ★ ★ ★
As Detroiters eagerly anticipate what many expect to be the payoff year in the Lions' most recent rebuilding project, gamers are already enjoying the latest edition of Madden, which is a gaming franchise more reminiscent of the New England Patriots than our lowly Leos. Unlike the Lions, who have become known for overhauling their entire coaching staff and roster every three to four years due to paralyzing ineptitude in the face of mediocre expectations, the Patriots have a strong foundation of talented players and coaches who expect to make the playoffs every year, and then do. For them, the offseason consists merely of tinkering with their roster and playbook, making what already works even better, instead of always starting from the ground up. Similarly, the Madden series consistently puts a high-quality product on the field and, yet again, this year's version takes care not to mess with what worked before while still adding subtle, yet significant, improvements.
Madden NFL 12's gameplay gets a jolt from faster on-the-field action, more intense, hard-hitting tackling animations and improvements to the GameFlow play-calling system. The game's AI now selects decent plays more often than not, but still gives players some flexibility to switch between several categories of alternate plays without having to sift through the team's entire playbook. The result is a well-paced, exciting experience that allows players to complete games in less time and focus more on the gridiron action than a bunch of menu screens. Improvements to Franchise and Superstar modes are also evident, with streamlined interfaces and added features. Preseason roster trimming, trading of draft picks, an authentic injured reserve system and a new free agent auction system add realism and depth to the long-static mode. Superstar is more fun than ever with the scaling back of redundant, tedious practice sessions, faster transitions between plays involving your Superstar and the new Dynamic Player Performance development system, which also enhances Franchise mode and regular roster updates based on players' real-life NFL performance. Online play, a major staple of the Madden franchise, adds a new Communities feature, which allows gamers to find like-minded players against whom to compete. Whether you're looking for absolute realism, fans of a certain division or someone else who likes passing on every down, you can find it or create a Community for it.
The only real negative about this year's Madden is actually the presentation. While the graphics are certainly up to snuff and new visual improvements like authentic pre-game entrance routines and the addition of numerous dramatic camera angles are great, the audio commentary is excruciatingly repetitive, glitchy and distracting. Commentators Gus Johnson and Cris Collingsworth react slowly or even incorrectly to plays, and their comments often spill into the next play, causing them to miss the call on the following play, and so on. For the first time ever, I am seriously considering just turning the commentary off. It's that bad.
Despite some painful flaws in the audio department, Madden 12 lives up to the series' strong reputation with revamped game modes and gameplay that feels faster and decidedly more violent than before, truly capturing the intensity of the NFL game. | RDW