I have been playing the Madden NFL 11 demo over and over ever since I installed it. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a serious Madden fanatic, but at the same time that makes me perhaps tougher on it than I am other games because I expect more from it. Our faithful ASK ZKG members have been dropping questions on our forums over the past few days about what they wanted me to make sure I talked about in this piece and they will be happy to know that I managed to get them all in.
The first thing I want to talk about is this year’s graphics, it seems like every time I think to myself there is really no way they can make this game look any better they pull it off. The graphics are absolutely stunning, its very, very hard to tell your not watching a real NFL game. While you can tell that NCAA Football 11 and Madden definitely share some of the same inspiration, both will feel unique from a presentation standpoint. It’s really cool to see Peyton Manning getting of the team bus before the game, there is no other way to say it than it looks just like what you see on Sunday and for us football fans that’s great.
Enough of that though, let’s talk about the demo itself. By now you all know, you can either play as the New York Jets or the Indianapolis Colts and the game takes place at the Meadowlands. Before you get into the game, you will be asked if you want to set up a Gameplan, this allows you to do it just like real coaches do and basically script out your plays to be executed through Gameflow. It also allows you to give weights to each play, this determines how often a certain play is proposed by the Gameflow engine.
While I talking about it, I might as well give you my first thoughts on Gameflow. To be honest, when I read about Gameflow and saw it a bit in the trailers I really wasn’t sure what to make of it and not very excited about it. After playing through several games with both teams, I think Gameflow may be the single biggest innovation in Madden since the Hitstick. As a hardcore Madden fanatic, I thought that this was something that they put in for the casual players, I thought there is no way that it could help an advanced player like me, I was wrong. When you combine, Gameflow with “Gameplans”, its a heck of an offensive weapon and simplifies offensive and defensive execution for any kind of player. When you choose to run your plays through Gameflow, the CPU picks the best play for the situation and then gives you some advice on what to do. What I liked about this was that if you didn’t like what you got and audibled, the coach would give you advice on what best to do with the new play. Gameflow really takes a lot of the thought out of playcalling but that’s a good thing, because you actually spend more time playing. Let’s be real about this anyway, most of us have 3-4 plays per formation that we always go to, so if you have a “Gameplan” with those plays already in it and weighted heavily, then utilizing Gameflow will get you the plays you love anyway, now you just have CPU logic telling you which one is best suited for the specific point in the game. The last thing I will say about this is and I am not sure how all this will be online yet, but those who take the time to put together real gameplans and then use Gameflow will be very formidable opponents indeed. In the demo, there is some incentive to at least set up a basic gameplan as you get the “Master Strategist” trophy that will be unlocked once you play the full game, so give it a shot.
The gameplay itself feels good, both from an offensive and defensive perspective. On offense, the passing game is more responsive than ever, as I found out when I hit Jericho Cotchery with a beautiful over the shoulder lob from Mark Sanchez no less, I mean no disrespect to the Sanchize but he ain’t Peyton Manning. Utilizing a combination of Gameflow and regular playcalling which you can toggle per play, I was able to run a quick and efficient offense while getting solid input from my coach about my playcalls. The running game is back and better than ever and functions a lot like it does in NCAA Football 11, but differently. The thing that jumped out to me almost by accident is the new concept of “dual stick control” while running where one stick controls the upper body and the other controls the lower body. The system can be found in both NCAA 11 and Madden but only in Madden did the light really come on. If you have been playing Madden for years like I have then you will be tempted to ignore the other stick, the one that controls the upper body, that wouldn’t be a good idea at least if you plan on being really good. The use of the left stick is subtle, but it allows you to lean away from defenders and toward the sideline when you are trying to turn the corner, using it effectively can definitely be the difference between getting stopped for 3 yards and turning the corner and getting 10+ so ignore it if you want but trust me your opponents won’t.
Another one of the new enhancements to the game is the concept of “Locomotion”, which basically means that a players speed and weight have a real affect on the actual physics of the game, the angles that they can take and their ability to shift their momentum once they get going. Locomotion is another one of these concepts that I think EA introduced to bring more simulation back to the game to actually counter things like the “Hit Stick”, a creation of their own doing which they couldn’t remove without major gripes from players. Locomotion forces you to really consider how often you use the hit stick, because just as we saw in NCAA if you time it wrong then your opponent is going the other way for six. This is where I think that at least on the higher difficultly levels it will change how gamers play and for the better. On previous games, I was a hit stick machine but after I whiffed on Joseph Addai and gave up a 40 yard run and missed even worse trying to tackle Pierre Garcon as he made his way to the endzone, I drastically cut back my use of the Hitstick in order to play a more realistic style of defense. Because of Locomotion, matchups will matter more than ever before, you seriously have to consider do you really want to try to hit stick Chris Johnson in the open field with a backup LB or CB, I think not. There is no way they have the agility to convert that play successfully enough of the time, take it from me and make the smart play if you want to win, especially when you play online.
If there was one thing that stood out to me that I didn’t like I would have to say it was the changes they have made to the way you make pregame adjustments with what is now called the “Strategy Pad”.
At this point, I’ll answer some questions from our forum members:
How does Gus Johnson sound compared to Tom Hammond and also does each team have their own pre game chantsor does every team do the Drew Brees pregame chant?
I gotta admit that Gus Johnson does an excellent Job alongside Chris Collingsworth, he was a great choice. As far as the pregame rituals, from what can be seen in the demo its not like NCAA where every team has that same pregame, so I will say no to that one. In Madden NFL 11 there appear to be at least a few different pregames led by both offensive and defensive players.
How does the lighting look compared to NCAA 11? How is locomotion, is it smooth?
The lighting looks great this year and if you are playing this on an HDTV it will just jump off the screen. I talked about locomotion at length but it is done well and this year its more important than ever that you factor in a player’s agility as well as other characteristics, nobody likes a corner with stiff hips.
Does it show the soundtrack list on the demo, if so what songs are in the game? Are there any team chants or songs in the game that you have heard so far? Does the game look like 10 or a completely new game?
Unfortunately, there is no info about what the soundtrack will be like, in fact there is very little music that you haven’t already heard in the demo. There are team chants, if you’re the Jets then you will hear that J-E-T-S chant a lot, at least if you are winning. The game doesn’t look like last year at all, it looks much better, as I said before the team at EA continues to impress me.
How does the game compare to your expectations?
That’s a tough question for me, I have been playing Madden for over 15 years and so my expectations are always high, but I will say that I am not disappointed. For what you can get out of the demo, EA seems to be trying to bring the game back to its sim roots, while not eliminating some of the arcade features like the hitstick, but rather changing the gameplay to make their use less appealing. The demo appears to be fairly close to the final build of the game, if not the final code, if it plays like the demo it will be another hit.
How is Gameflow? Do you think most hardcore gamers will actually use it?
You already heard what I think of Gameflow so its great and yep I think even hardcore madden fans will not only use it, they will love it.
Is it weird without turbo? Is acceleration more noticeable?
Ya know, to tell you the truth its hard for me to tell, I still press the button like I am getting turbo anyway. Acceleration is noticeable to me, especially when it comes to the first step on running backs, you will see a difference between Shonn Greene and LT for example.
Do receivers actually stay in bound as they say they will?
Yes, the receivers in the right situation will do their best to stay in bounds, either to make the catch count or to keep the clock running.
How is the new kicking system?
This won’t be an issue for most players and should be more accurate than the old system. You can still hit 50 yard field goals and it actually makes it easier by having one side of the bar relate to power and the other side is tied to accuracy.
How is the AI, specifically in the secondary?
The A.I. is much improved this year and while just as on NCAA Football 11 you will be able to beat down the computer on the lower difficulty settings, once you move that difficulty level up prepare to play hard every game and that’s good because it keeps you engaged more of the time. When watching the secondary players on instant replay they seem to be playing their receiver reacting to his movements.
Well that’s all folks, gotta save something for the actual game review, but you can keep dropping questions on the forum up until you get a chance to play the demo yourself and I will keep trying to answer them. Thanks.