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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ne of the biggest challenges that Electronic Arts has faced over the last few years is making each new installment of their popular “Madden” franchise unique enough that it doesn’t feel like you’ve just spent $60 for a roster update. But while they’ve always been good about cramming as many new features and upgrades into each edition as possible, “Madden NFL 12” plays suspiciously a lot like last year’s installment. That’s not to say that EA hasn’t improved the gameplay at all – because they have in a number of areas – but when you’ve perfected something as well as they have with “Madden,” those improvements hardly seem necessary, if even noticeable at all.
Perhaps the biggest addition to “Madden NFL 12” is Dynamic Player Performance, a new AI system that affects how a player performs based on two attributes: consistency and confidence. Both traits complement the other, so if a player is consistent, he’ll also be confident. Every player starts out with a confidence level of 3 out of a possible 5, therefore performing exactly as their ratings would suggest. Each week, rosters are updated to reflect the latest confidence levels, so if one of your players is coming off a really bad game, his ratings will drop until he can reverse his cold streak. Conversely, if a player performs above expectations, he’ll go on a hot steak and receive a ratings boost. Streaks only last a maximum of three weeks before they’re reset, but as long as you continue to perform well, a player could stay "hot" for most of the season.
Though you probably won’t notice these ratings adjustments as often as EA would like you to believe, it’s still a really cool feature in theory, because it makes the experience that much more realistic. After all, if cover athlete Peyton Hillis grinds out 200+ yards for the Browns in a real game, you better believe that it’s going to act as a confidence booster for the following week. Unfortunately, the Dynamic Player Performance system tends to work against itself at times. Not only is it incredibly difficult to reverse a cold streak (if your player isn’t very good to being with, he’s only going to play worse with lower ratings), but EA has decided to brand 36 players with a special Clutch ability that allows them to step up their play when the game is on the line. These types of players (like Peyton Manning and Troy Polamalu) may exist in real life, but it doesn’t seem very fair to those who choose to play with teams without someone like that on their roster.
Many of the game's other improvements also focus on making the experience more realistic, no matter how trivial they may seem. Quarterbacks can now pump fake to specific receivers, players display unique running and ball carrying styles depending on their physicality, and everything from the grass on the field to player proportions are more authentic than ever. There’s even a brand new collision system that factors in variables like size, weight, speed and direction when determining the momentum of tackles. But even with all of this fine tuning, there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about any of the new features that makes “Madden NFL 12” stand out like in years past. It still gets the job done extremely well, but EA is going to have to pull something really special out of their hat next year if they hope to keep their fans coming back for more.