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Xbox 360 Review: Madden 11

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(editor’s note: a review of the Nintendo Wii version is available here)

Madden 11 is on the right track. During a game, turning on your headset lets you hear from the offensive and defensive coordinators right in your ear, spouting off the possibilities for the upcoming play. It’s that perfect little touch that seems to enhance the feeling that you’re on the field, even if it makes no sense when in combination with a TV style presentation and commentary.

As with any Madden feature, it leaves room for improvement. What else will they sell people next year? Repetition is killer, and the provided tips are not exactly the deepest strategy available for NFL football.

It all ties into GameFlow, a new play calling system that on the surface looks to be the same as the Ask Madden or NFL Superstar mode (also back this year), albeit during a full game. The coach calls the play, and you execute it. You have the option to audible prior to the snap. What is happening is actually deeper and far more complex, with entire gameplans set up and able to be edited for a variety of situations. Plays called on second and five will be different than those chosen on second and 15. Frequencies of each formation and individual plays are adjustable.

It is different and certainly a speedier, more intense game of football. Those who recall having to wait for an entire formation change to run onto the field in the early days of this franchise will be amazed how smooth the new experience can be, stopping for almost nothing. Veterans who want to choose their own gameplans, certainly still necessary in any legitimate competitive play, can of course turn GameFlow off. Even in casual play, swapping methods is only a matter of swapping X and A prior to the play call. It works far better in practice than the last real attempt to reinvent the wheel: Precision Passing. Luckily, we’ve moved on from that.

Physics play a larger role too this year, eliminating the turbo boost for a natural acceleration once there is room. NCAA Football did the same, and it’s doubtful casual players will even notice a difference. It’s a subtle adjustment, one that takes a slight edge away from the controls, say, on a wide sweep where you may want to slow it down until you find open field. Here you’re likely at full burst because of the room the play provides.

Along with GameFlow, It’s a move to make Madden more casual (even if they don’t want to admit that with GameFlow, pushing it as more of in-depth feature). A dirty word for Madden players, casual here only means easier — lower difficulties, a generic kick meter, and logical right analog stick controls. It’s a bit of a weird twist, removing analog stick kicking controls for a button, and removing special moves from the buttons and putting them on a stick. Still, both work well, even if kicking seems even easier then it ever was. Holding down on the stick to protect the ball, on the other hand, makes sense.

A new lighting engine creates some fantastic reflections on the helmets, beneficial to those limited number of sideline shots that love to repeat multiple times per game. Surely that same group of six fans love being on camera repeatedly too. Madden loves repetition, mostly because it allows all of those corporate sponsors to end up on camera as many times as possible.

What else would fans have while tailgating besides Doritos? Fritos wouldn’t pay for the opportunity, even if the fans would. Every red zone opportunity is greeted by Old Spice, complete with the whistle chime, and Gus Johnson reads the advertising script more enthusiastically than he calls out last second touchdowns during the Super Bowl. He really wants you to smell like a man apparently, whatever that means.

The in-game advertising reaches new lows with the addition of an actual player statistic bought out by a sponsor.  If that wasn’t bold and game breaking enough, what they’ve done with the addition of the AFL may be.  The move at first seems respectful, they even went through the trouble of adding a visual filter, tinting the game a sepia tone and adding scratches to the virtual “film.”   Somehow though they still found room for Verizon ads, which makes so much sense in 1968. Getting into the absurd array of downloadable boosts and the supposed necessity of the online pass, paid for with real money, is too much to bear at this point.

This all begs the question of how a product like this is worth $60, especially if EA is paid for using that little Old Spice whistle when in the Red Zone. It’s not fair to the developer, who put on a great display in 11. The absurdities of corporate politics should in no way take away from their work, but for the record, the developer receives no credit on the box or in the manual. That space must have been bought out by Verizon.

Madden 11 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: PS2, PS3, PSP, Nintendo Wii, and Mobile Phone.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.