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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
hen you’ve reviewed a franchise like “Madden” for as long as I have, you eventually run out of things to say. After all, Electronic Arts has been pretty consistent over the last few years when it comes to their flagship sports title, and although the “Madden” games continue to get an annual facelift, there’s not a whole lot that really needs improving. That was probably one of the biggest issues with last year’s installment – while features like Pro-Tak, The Extra Point and Online Franchise were welcome additions, they didn’t exactly change the way the game played – so it’s nice to see that “Madden NFL 11” actually builds upon the success of previous editions with a handful of smart and necessary enhancements.
There are several new additions to this year’s installment, but the one that will surely have people talking is GameFlow, which is going to change the way that most gamers experience “Madden” for years to come. That’s because it speeds up the pace of the game by automatically picking your plays based on your favorite team’s real-life tendencies in a variety of situations. As a result, you won’t have to waste time scouring through your playbook or sitting through lengthy cutscenes that have been tacked on to make it feel more realistic. You can also open up your playbook or call an audible at any time, while loyalists will still be able to play the old-fashioned way by selecting Conventional from the main menus. It’s win-win.
And to go along with the faster pace, players can now create their own Game Plan to be used in conjunction with the GameFlow feature. Using an existing team’s playbook, you can add, remove and rate plays based on particular situations (like 3rd and long, 2nd and short, etc.) on both sides of the ball. The higher you rate a play, the more likely it will be called in the game, while plays that have been ranked lower won’t be included in the rotation quite as often. So even though you may not be the one calling the plays, you still have control over which ones are available. It does take a bit away from the on-the-field strategizing that comes with a sport like football, but the AI does such an incredible job of picking plays based on the situation, that once you try it, you’ll never want to go back.
To further simplify things (or complicate them, depending on how you look at it), running controls have been revamped to the point that there’s no longer a sprint button – your players just naturally sprint based on their individual attributes. This allows you to focus on the new Dual Stick system, where the left stick controls your movement and the right stick handles evasive moves like juking, 360 spins, trucking, and high stepping tackles from behind. It’s a little weird to get used to at first (my index finger was glued to the RT button regardless), but it definitely makes running a lot more fluid. And just like with GameFlow, you can turn the Auto-Sprint feature on and off depending on preference.
You’ll probably want to test out all of these features on your own first, but with the addition of two new online modes, there’s a good chance you’ll find your way onto Xbox LIVE sooner or later. Online Team Play, a 3-on-3 multiplayer match where each player is assigned a specific position to control, is more fun in short spurts, but Madden Ultimate Team is the more immersive of the pair. It’s essentially a card-collecting game where you’ll not only buy packs of cards to construct the ultimate team, but will then face off against other players in a real game that isn’t just about the luck of the draw, but your skill on the field as well. Obviously, the better your team, the better chance you have a winning, but MUT is only for those who are in it for the long haul, because you’ll need to invest a lot of time (or money) in order to buy the league's best players. Still, it’s a fun twist on the game for those who want a little more depth than Franchise Mode offers.
The addition of Gus Johnson in the commentary booth is also an improvement over Tom Hammond, although Chris Collinsworth continues to steal the show with such sponsor-paid messages like “Old Spice. Wham, bam, thank you for smelling great, man.” Some people may find it annoying to see so many ads permeating the game (there’s the Old Spice Red Zone Swagger and the Doritos Crunch Play of the Game, to name a few), but don’t the networks that broadcast the NFL do the same thing? And hasn’t EA always tried to make the “Madden” series as realistic as possible? Then there shouldn’t be a problem, because this is the most realistic installment yet. And with some of the user-friendly features that have been added, it might also be the best.