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Madden NFL 12 hits store shelves, gets positive reviews

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For anyone who carries a passion for football video games and the knowledge that, if only you were in control of your favorite team, surely it would be a perennial Super Bowl winner, prepare for a blitz coming your way that will invariably result in your real life productivity taking a sack.

Madden ’12 hit store shelves yesterday.

One of the most successful sports game franchises in video gaming history, the Madden game has become a staple for NFL fans since it was introduced back in 1988.  Some sports gamers even go so far as to liken Madden’s release date to Christmas morning, and it’s consistently among the top 10 in video game sales year after year.

But as the old adage doesn’t quite go: “With great popularity comes great responsibility to meet the expectation of the fan,” even if that demand is a nearly perfect resemblance of a video game to a real life NFL experience.  It’s no surprise then that each year’s new rendition is never short of criticisms, and this year is no different.  However, after having been out for a full day, the verdict is in and the general consensus agrees: Madden 12 isn’t too terribly bad.

The biggest knock on the Madden game year after year is that it essentially doesn’t change.  The graphics are at their peak, so fans basically pay $60 a year to have an updated version of NFL rosters.  The fact that this year’s version is lacking any new game modes will do little to quiet those complaints, though it appears that EA Sports, the game’s developer, must have taken this criticism to heart at least a little bit by trying to deepen the modes that were already pre-existing.

This year’s biggest improvements come in the form of off-the-field control, with key upgrades being made to the popular Franchise mode including a new free-agency bidding system, a new scouting and draft system, and the necessity for the user/general manager to make player cuts during the preseason.

Madden 12 also introduces a new feature called Dynamic Player Performance, which tracks how players perform each week and, based on whether the player is on a hot or cold streak, will affect his ratings during the following game.  This feature also includes other traits that a player can get labeled with, such as “Big Hitter” or “Deep Threat,” each of which will also affect a player’s in-game performance.

Of course, on-the-field improvements were not to be forgotten either, most notably to overall defensive play.  Tackling on the part of the user requires more precision but is smoother and more natural looking, and the computer’s defense is also much improved, perhaps to a fault as linebackers and cornerbacks are now much more likely to pick off an errant pass.

Player movements and visual presentation are again at the top of their game, as each player’s little nuances are captured as only Madden does best.  A new “degradation system” has also been added, displaying wear and tear on uniforms as a game progresses.  Combined with improved camera angles, cutaway shots of players and coaches on the sideline, and amped up pregame visuals, it’s these subtle upgrades that give users the feeling of watching a live game on Sunday afternoon while they play.

Unfortunately, the one major caveat to that, and perhaps the biggest critique of the latest Madden rendition in general, is the lack of an upgrade to the commentary of the game.  With phrases that get uttered repeatedly and often times out of sync with what’s happening on the field, the voices of Chris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson can get old quickly.  Luckily for users, one feature that hasn’t gone away is the ability to turn in-game commentary off.

And honestly, if that’s one of the biggest flaws of the game, then it appears Madden is again an unstoppable force making its way toward the end zone of top video games for yet another year.

The list of improvement might not be lengthy, and as long as it’s anything short putting on pads and playing in real game there are sure to be critics, but as Lang Whitaker offered up in his game review for the New York Times, “While it’s not an evolutionary leap from Madden NFL 11 to 12, there is no escaping that Madden 12 is a game that both gamers and NFL fans will want to play.”

If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the collective closing of books and the picking up of Playstation, Xbox and Wii controllers in college dorms across the country.

photos courtesy of Electronic Arts

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