Madden NFL 11 Review

It is time for some more football, or Gridiron if you live pretty much anywhere but the USA. Yes, that complicated mixture of padding, aggression and the longest set of play sheets in sports makes a triumphant return. As it did at the same time last year, you may recall. The issue of whether an annual update represents value for money is always thrust into the limelight when the latest EA sports titles come around, so to get this out of the way early: this is a fun game to play, and one that is simple to pick up and easy to learn. Out with the obvious; so now we can take a look under the hood and see if a beastly engine is hidden beneath that glitzy, dazzling new paint job.

Ready to make that game winning play?

In what has become the norm with EA sports games recently there is actually a menu bar highlighting what is new about the title – almost as if they feel obliged to shout out, “Look we really have put something new in here”. The changes are split between entirely new game modes and ideas to streamline the gameplay itself, in a bid to make things run a little bit more smoothly and ease rookies into the tactical side of things. You can also expect a nice new commentary team, although they still fall foul of the regular sports issues of repetition and bizarrely out of context comments.

First and foremost, Madden offers a very solid game of football. The new Gameflow system tries to speed up proceedings by having the game choose a suitable play for you. My only gripe with this is that some of the choices seem bizarrely inappropriate at times, and can lead to a real offensive or defensive mismatch. So more often than not I found myself going back to the tried and tested playbook and choosing my own options. Still, the rapid fire option is helpful at times, plus the streamlined audible plays and handy strategy pad mean you can always have a backup plan for every play. Aside from the faster tactical side of things though, this is very much the same game as last time out, so veterans will be able to jump into proceedings and still feel very much in charge.

The players seem very fluid this time around too, especially when using rushing plays. The right stick allows you to use a variety of moves to evade your foes, and it was beautiful to see a back in full flow as he jinked between defenders. However, there are a few issues graphically, as the game would lock up between plays, especially in two player games. There were issues around the rewind button too, which lets you retry a play if you so desire. Try using it on kicking plays and the camera would sometimes stick to the kicker meaning you had no way of controlling - or even seeing - your returning player. To say it is rather annoying is an understatement.

Caution: Large men may be closer than they appear.

Outside of regular matches you can expect a wealth of options both new and old. First of all you can look forward to some Madden Moments, which are bite-sized in-game scenarios based on real life games, and they offer a range of interesting gameplay opportunities. There is also the addition of the Ultimate Team mode, cribbed wholesale from FIFA, that sees you opening (or buying) packs of cards with players, contracts, stadiums, coaches and the like on them. You then play games to accrue coins in order to buy more packs and so on, so think of it as franchise mode, but governed more by random chance. You can also enjoy the original AFL teams, or head straight to a Super Bowl match should you so desire. So there is never a lack of things to do, though some of the long-standing modes do feel like they are long overdue a facelift.

The much maligned online access code is back in full force, but at least you can expect a wealth of game modes and some fairly lag free entertainment. You can take part in a 32 man franchise mode, enjoy the new three-on-three online team play and even do a bit of online scouting for prospective opponents, which lets you spy on their favoured teams and plays. The team play is an especially fun option, as each of the three players takes over a different aspect of the team rather than specific players. It means that co-ordination is integral to the whole thing – although the down side is that if one player quits, it can drag the rest of you down as well, meaning you would be advised to choose friends over random players. The online modes are home to plenty of series regulars though, so expect to get dominated if you are a relative newcomer.

Did you just fart?

Achievements wise, the game is a disappointment. The majority of the points on offer just require you to meet certain criteria within a game – so snagging a number of interceptions, or causing fumbles, hitting a number of sacks etc. The fact that you could milk them all in a relatively short space of time in two player matches just conspires to make them a bit of a joke. The only real challenge is the one achievement tied to the Madden Moments which can take a bit of time to soldier through, depending on how good you are at the game or how much team tinkering you are prepared to do. It is hard to decide whether the lack of online achievements is a good or a bad thing either, namely because Ultimate Team always has stuff linked to it when it crops up on FIFA. So hopefully we will not see some dubious DLC rearing its head in the near future.

Simply put, this is the best game of football (American style) on the Xbox 360 – but then with EA having total dominance over the NHL licence you would expect it to be. While the annual tweaks and updates are welcome, they still do not do enough to justify a whole new game. For those fans that immerse themselves in Franchise mode, this is just the same game with different rosters and a slightly easier tactical front end, so they would be better off just carrying on with last year's title. Considering you can buy packs of players for the Ultimate Team mode, isn’t it about time players we were given annual roster updates as an option on the marketplace? It will never happen though, so it comes down to whether you think this year's minor changes represent value for money. Probably not.

Some insightful commentary and generic rock tracks, but suffers from the bane of all sports games – with repetition and out of place comments happening rather too often from the commentary box.

The players and animations are super smooth, although you'll find the occasional hiccup - especially in two player - when the game will freeze up or the camera will get stuck on one player during plays.

As solid as ever, but this is the same game you will have been playing for the last few years. Some of the tweaks are welcome, but not really groundbreaking enough to make this any better or any worse than recent iterations.

EA comes up trumps in terms of presentation as ever, with a lovely selection of options and modes to choose from. In fact, this is probably the most user friendly sports game out there, especially for newcomers.

A pretty weak list and one that could have been easily spiced up. Still, at least there are no hideous online tasks to carry out – I guess we will have to wait for the cash-in DLC for that.

As ever the latest Madden offers the best NFL experiences available on consoles... but it did the same last year, and the year before that. So the actual progression seems minimal to be honest and the new features are probably not enough to lure in any new converts, or satisfy the old guard that played last year's title. It is good fun, but not really a must own.

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