Before I start this year's review, I'd like to point out that I'm not your typical Madden player. My favorite thing to do in the game is simulate the majority of my franchise mode games and simply play General Manager for the rest of the season. Strangely enough, Madden '12 seems to have been designed with this particular type of football nerd in mind. Before I get into more details on that topic, though, let's take a look at my initial reactions to the game.
The opening credits are as exciting and blood-pumping as ever, with a Batman-esque soundtrack and copious appearances by Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson (including a clip of the Miracle at the New Meadowlands).
The initial Eagles roster is woefully out of date, as expected. After a quick download of the latest roster updates, the Eagles are sitting pretty on top of the NFC East with a 93 overall rating. The Giants (84), Cowboys (82) and Redskins (74) round out the rest of the division.
With a quick glance at Philly's roster, it's apparent that there have been several changes made to the game that allow you to carry far more players (more on that later). As a result, Jon Dorenbos has made his triumphant return to the Madden franchise - although as a 49 rated LOLB. Also making an appearance is undrafted rookie Derrick Locke, along with practice squad members Rod Harper, Fenuki Tupou and Dallas Reynolds. A surprising absence was Jason Kelce, who was the only member of the 2011 rookie class to not appear in the game. This will likely be corrected with the next roster update.
The lowest rated starters are the kicking team of Alex Henery (66) and Chas Henry (45), who got a bit shafted in the ratings department. On the plus side, they quickly progress in franchise mode and will likely see their ratings raised with a good performance early on this season.
The Redskins' quarterback situation appears to have already been decided in the world of Madden, with John Beck (73) edging out the higher-rated Rex Grossman (74) for the starting job. Could this be a sign of things to come?
More after the jump...
The pre-game introductions are team-specific, which is entertaining, although the camera framing is awkward. When the announcer introduces the two featured players, it always misses one of them running out onto the field. The whole production feels like a cheap imitation of the amazing Madden '08 player introductions.
For the sake of the game franchise, I hope that whoever designed the in-game camera angles is assigned to a different project next year. The goal was to try to immerse the gamer in the action by giving dynamic views instead of the standard shots from previous installments, but it failed in a major way. The result is that the process of angling a kickoff or making a long field goal is now nearly impossible, since the camera is no longer centered directly behind the kicker.
As for the in-game announcers, they are surprisingly silent and it felt awkward when they randomly showed up. Maybe it was just my game, but the only time I heard the color commentator after the start of the game was when a player made a sideline catch. To make matters worse, the play-by-play guy has apparently forgotten all of the starters' names, calling Michael Vick "Number 7." It's a good thing I usually play this game muted with music or TV playing in the background, because the audio aspect of the game seemed particularly sloppy.
That being said, the game day experience of Madden '12 isn't all terrible. The new tackling animations are smooth, varied and do a good job of capturing the intensity of the game. Plus, they're a lot of fun if you enjoy seeing the Eagles' defensive line slam Brandon Jacobs' head into the ground repeatedly.
Franchise mode is where Madden decided to focus their major improvements this year, and rightfully so. Pre-season is now actually fun to get involved in, with a starting roster of 74 players. Players can now play the part of the front office, tracking rookies' progress throughout the four weeks and performing cuts until you narrow the roster down to regular-season form. Injured reserve has also finally been corrected, so that players placed there will not count towards the team's roster total. This allows for a whole lot more flexibility when building your team.
The offseason has undergone a big facelift as well. Free agency signings are now a lot more exciting with real-time bids against the computer (or your fellow gamers if you play an online franchise). There are also options on whether to give a player a front-loaded, back-loaded or evenly distributed contract. The business side of the game is starting to come out.
The Madden '12 draft segment has evolved as well, becoming so much more than a simple "click to scout player" operation. Gamers can now attend pro days, analyze the NFL Combine, host private workouts, etc. to get a better idea of a given prospect's overall rating before the draft. When draft day comes, gamers can do their best Andy Reid impressions, wheeling and dealing with not only their current draft picks, but those from the next year as well. This allows you to stock up a pile of high-round picks if you know what you're doing.
Finally, the only negative that I could find with the franchise mode was its player menus. Instead of having the title bar with the player's picture and basic stats stuck to the top of the menu (as in previous installments), the whole damn thing follows the cursor as it scrolls down the list. This makes any list very difficult to read.
Overall, if you're a GM-minded football nerd like me, you'll love the improvements that EA Sports has made to Madden '12. The gameplay and menu design can be frustrating at times (okay, all the time) but despite all of its minor faults, this is definitely a game that's worth plunking down $59.99 of your hard-earned cash. Then again, even if it wasn't, would you really play anything else?