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Madden NFL 12 Review

Game Rant’s Anthony Taormina reviews Madden NFL 12

With the NFL lockout behind us, it’s time to get to the good stuff: furious player trades, fantasy drafts, and best of all Madden NFL 12. Madden has been a longstanding staple — arguably the flagship — of the EA Sports lexicon for quite some time now and, as such, has struggled with providing enough new features and content to warrant a purchase by non-die-hard fans year to year.

If you’ve never played a football game or want to get back into Madden, then you definitely should check out this year’s iteration – you’d be foolish not to. But when posed with the choice of sticking with what you’ve come to appreciate or upgrading to the new hotness, that’s another issue entirely.When it comes to sports franchises like Madden the obvious question, year to year, is whether this iteration riffs enough on the sport to make it worth a purchase. While definitely a loaded question, when posed towards Madden 12 it becomes extremely difficult to determine.

New changes to AI — as embodied by the game’s dynamic player performance feature — bring a new sense of realism to the game, keeping players like Tom Brady calm and collected, while forcing rookies like Cam Newton to fold in the pocket. You might not notice many of the features Madden 12 has working under the hood, but they’re there, and they definitely work to make a truer football experience.

Madden 12 Review - Dynamic Performance

What doesn’t, on the other hand, make for a truer football experience is the AI. Though Madden 12’s AI is much smarter than what is on display in NCAA 12, it’s still a long way from escaping those embarrassing football-meet-helmet moments. For example, interceptions are much more prevalent in the game, making forced passes much riskier, but there are typically moments that still feel manufactured — working overly hard to keep the game fun.

Blocking has been improved this time around — players won’t get “sucked” into a block unless a direct collision is made (which also shows off the game’s improved physics) — but it still is touch-and-go. Essentially, all the pieces are there to make a great football game, they just sometimes go on autopilot to facilitate a more engaging and less realistic experience.

Included with that engaging experience is a new set of dynamic camera angles, some shot by NFL Films cinematographers, that create the sense you are watching an authentic broadcast of the game you’re playing. Some distract from the play, making even positioning the defensive line difficult – but overall it’s a cool new way to experience a game from beginning to end.

Franchise mode returns for Madden 12, complete with a new practice feature, making a run through your favorite team’s season a cinch. You can dictate how little or how much customization you’d like — whether you want to make every cut in pre-season or simply want to take Aaron Rodgers to the Super Bowl — it’s all about the gamer in this regard.

Madden 12 Review - Franchise Mode

The other marquee mode, NFL Superstar, takes that individualized experience a bit further, allowing the gamer to control a rookie or a veteran as they complete a season — boosting their stats along the way. This is, obviously, a much less engaging experience, due to the inherent nature of missing out on certain plays, but it’s well executed and oftentimes feels like a sports-style RPG.

Aside from Franchise, NFL Superstar, and your basic exhibition match, there isn’t much more to be mined from Madden 12. You’ve got “alternative” modes like Madden Ultimate Team, a card-based experience that features players from past and present, but most gamers will overlook it. It’s clever, for sure, but it’s somewhat out of place – given the more robust options the title offers.

Then, of course, there is online play, where players must move beyond the simple pass-run-tackle formula and really read a defense, adjust their line on the fly, and go through their progression. It’s where Madden, the franchise, shines the most, and Madden 12 is no exception. Will Madden 12’s online matches give you a different experience than Madden 11? Probably not, but with all of the stat and roster changes it will give you the most up-to-date matches possible.

So yes, Madden 12 isn’t that far removed from Madden 11, with the most notable changes being made to the AI. Smaller adjustments like the introduction of a practice mode in Franchise play show EA Sports is listening, but that alone doesn’t justify a purchase.

Madden 12 Review - Madden Ultimate Team

Realistically, if you’re a Madden fan you fall into one of two categories: the die-hard fan who has already pre-ordered this game and is only looking to this review for info on new features – or the more casual player who picks up the marquee iterations because they introduce new and revolutionary concepts. For the former, this is not that Madden. It’s a solid football experience, one that you won’t regret playing, but it’s not the quintessential version nor is it a vast improvement over previous iterations.

It’s definitely not back to the drawing board for Madden, but clearly taking things like player stats to the fans shows just how lost the developers are for drastic improvement ideas. Yes the paint job and a few engine parts are new, but it’s the same reliable car — after awhile things are going to feel especially familiar.

Are you looking forward to playing Madden 12? Are you the type of sports gamer who picks up each iteration no matter what, or do you like to see what the new features are included before making up your mind?

Madden NFL 12 releases August 30, 2011 for the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, and PS2.

Follow me on Twitter @ANTaormina

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