Madden NFL 2012 Has Slick, Flowing Realism - Review

By James Hawkins in Reviews
Friday, August 26, 2011 at 10:00 am
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To truly judge the quality of a football video game, you must look at how naturally the players respond to the frenetic motions of the field at play. The title must offer a variety of realistic game-type options as asides. These facets have always been limited by technology to a degree, so even the finest of sports games, say ESPN NFL 2K5 in the Xbox era, were tethered by the simple lack of capability.

But we've all sort of noticed that there was a point, just near 2009, where the limits of consoles began to accommodate the necessary realism of football quite comfortably. There would be poorly reacting defensive ends and linebackers every so often, and tailback acceleration would falter immediately after quarterback hand-offs, but for the most part the twenty-two independently working parts would be split against each other in neat unison. And now, as the line of Xbox 360 iterations of Madden inch closer to close, we're met with one that totally defines its console, and maximizes the capabilities of the developers that have spent so many years perfecting it.

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We're reaching the end of the Xbox 360's life. It may stay relevant for the next seven or eight years -- like the PlayStation 2 -- but it is going to be replaced by something bolder soon. That's evident in games that release every single year. Madden 2012 doesn't look a whole lot different than Madden 2011 -- it can't, Madden 2011 was beautiful. Madden 2012 is just a little smoother, more fluid and textured. But EA Sports hasn't polished what they had -- they've fleshed it out to incorporate more nuanced football realism.

The sport itself is cagey. No two fumbles are the same. Blocking schemes break down, slippery wide receivers skate through sure wrap-ups, and heavy quarterbacks shake off sketchy tackles from overzealous linebackers. EA's developers have included falls, recoveries, and collisions in almost every way imaginable. Hundreds of new animations will keep each down feeling unique, with responsive players actually following their routes and picking up blocks. You'll see receivers lay out for touchdown grabs and tip-toe the boundaries to gather a few extra yards. Offensive linemen grunt and shuffle and race to greet the onslaught. It really is quite remarkable when witnessed firsthand. It has all been captured.

And in Franchise Mode, the behind-the-scenes actions of the simulated coaching staffs are much more intuitive outside of the games -- when free agents and trade deals come around, new hires will be made according to player potential, and how they match-up within the systems. There's more of a focus on the vibe of professional football as a moneymaking business, as well as a form of competitive entertainment. There's improvement on rosters based on starter consistency and upside.

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There's a gentle marring of the end product, however, and that lies in the presentation. The familiar announcers -- Chris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson -- have varied and observational statements throughout each game, which greatly enhance a singular showdown. But those observations don't change game-to-game. Each league game begins with the same descriptions of the same players on your team and the skills they bring. Every conference game has championship implications. Each key to the game is the home-field advantage.

But that qualm is quickly overshadowed once the players jog out into the coliseum to riotous fans, and you assume control of the skill-positions. The big-game atmosphere is constant, and the tuned mechanics make the games equally cerebral and visceral. It's easy to sweep away recycled vocals.

To call it the swansong of the 7th generation football games would be premature. But it isn't a stretch to say that the franchise has reached the precipice of its potential for now. It simply bangs hard on all pistons, rounding out one of the deepest and most responsive sports titles of all time. It's all about that viscous motion of explosive acceleration and cracking stops that happen in short bursts in Madden NFL 2012. Trade deals, blown coverages, and the game of inches. I hope you're ready for the season.

The Official Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

This review based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game provided by EA Sports

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