Madden 11. Does it live up to the hype?

Just like how the Super Bowl is an unofficial national holiday, the release of the latest installment of Madden is just as much a reason to celebrate for the sports gaming community. This year’s edition of the premier football franchise (not to be confused with soccer by the European citizenship) happens to be the best thus far.

This increase in quality can be attributed to many new and improved features in game play. The most obvious – and most advertised – addition is gameflow. This new feature allows for the user to select a play in the press of a button instead of scrolling through hundreds of plays searching for that certain one. This is similar to the “ask Madden” button in previous editions, but this feature picks the play for you with a better and more realistic play choice. To some this can seem like blasphemy. Luckily, this feature is easily avoidable if you are all gung ho for choosing that perfect play. The AI of the play call judges the play by down, yardage, ball position and score. This allows for a close-to-perfect play to be chosen.

However there are drawbacks to the system. Just like in real life someone makes a bad decision. Well, gameflow makes some bad decisions as well. For example, gameflow has a tendency to pass, even when your running back is on a tear. The game also selects draws and screens in rapid succession losing the element of surprise and causing for ineffective offensive play. Luckily last year’s audible system is still in effect making it so you can change to the perfect play as you see fit.

Some changes that are not as noticeable as gameflow are the improved AI and physics systems. Linebackers hit their holes, lineman make crucial blocks, receivers run their routes better than ever. The computer plays more realistically and smoothly than ever before. The physics system looks realistic with some of the most crushing blocks and hits, smooth ankle-breaking jukes and spins and life-like tackle sheds.

However these systems still aren’t perfect. Defensive backs forget to come off coverage to defend the run, linemen on passing plays miss blocks allowing defenders to turn even the most resilient quarterbacks into a pile of concussed meat and bones. Quarterbacks get hit too often altering the course of thrown balls into defensive hands.  Most of the time however, it doesn’t even require a hit. Quarterbacks will throw bullets into the back of linemen’s heads, five feet above a running backs reach or five yards in front (or behind) a sprinting receiver.

The kicking system has been changed back to the button-timing mode completely removing the more recent style of right thumbstick motion. In last year’s Madden 10 kickers would be lucky to make a 50 plus yard field goal. In this year’s addition kickers can make 55 plus yard field goals just as easy as a PAT. Kickoffs also travel farther making kick return near impossible to get past the 25 let alone have a return for a touchdown.

The control system has received a few additions as well. Now there is a feature called auto-sprint that allows the computer to decide based on reality when a player would sprint or not. To some users this allows for easy and more realistic running control. This makes it so you don’t outrun your blockers, juke with the flick of a stick and still break away when needed. If you aren’t in the mood for computer sprint control then you can easily turn the feature off.

One of the most overlooked additions is in the commentary. Gus Johnson brings his exhilarating and energetic presence to the madden announcement team. Johnson, possibly today’s best sports commentator, does voiceovers throughout the whole game including the newly added Super Bowl win cut scene that is individualized by team and involves a parade and even a visit to the Obama White House. Even in a game like Madden you can meet the president.

This year’s Madden lives up to the hype but it still isn’t perfect. There are many bugs that need to be updated and the game seems a bit too offensive oriented. It’s nice to score 50 points a game but it kills the drama factor and the sends bad vibes of the difficulty levels. Overall the game is the best of the series. So get your popcorn ready, put on your favorite jersey and get ready for some football on Madden 11.

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