In all honesty, I haven’t bought a Madden title since Madden NFL 2004 . That doesn’t mean there haven’t been better installments since then – of course, that isn’t really true – but it means I’ve sort of lost interest in the franchise over the years. In truth, I used to play more sports games until the industry really began to kick it into high gear and deliver unbelievable film-like experiences. And even though I normally don’t buy any sports games, after playing the demo for Madden NFL 11 , I might just have to consider a purchase…if only because it’s the first time I’ve really had fun with this series in years. Granted, it’s only a demo, but there are a few significant changes I really appreciate, and I found the gameplay to be both physically accurate and accessible. This time, we’re not slogging through a horde of plays; we can set the playbook ahead of time, attach each play to a certain situation, and have it called in from the sidelines during the game.
No, really, that’s pretty freakin’ cool. See, it’s called GameFlow and it’s easily the biggest addition to this year’s entry. It goes beyond simply setting up a playbook, which you’ve been able to do for a while; it almost completely eliminates the need for cumbersome menus during the on-field action. If you have a headset, it’s even more authentic: the offensive and defense coordinator will relay the necessary play down to the field, and you simply go and execute it. You’ll hear the order in your headset and when on the offensive side of the ball, it must be exactly like receiving your orders and simply giving the play to the rest of the team. This speeds things up but if you like, you can still operate via the conventional method, and you’ll still experience the “Simpler, Quicker, Deeper” philosophy EA has implemented for Madden NFL 11 . Games don’t take 60 minutes; they take 30; there are no complicated button assignments; the right analog handles the upper body and the left analog controls the bottom half.
It all works very well. Normally, I can spot balancing problems between the passing and running aspects of a football game, and eventually, I’ll notice the computer has the edge in a certain area of the game. But during several play-throughs of the demo, everything seemed nicely even and balanced. In one game, I was able to rush for 112 yards and throw for a couple TDs without getting intercepted, and I won the game 21-7. As the Jets, it was clear Sanchez wasn’t quite the QB dynamo Manning was, and the latter could even take advantage of New York’s stellar secondary. Greene ran really well, but only because I hit my spots and utilized the right analog effectively: by having direct control over your upper body, you can perform simple jukes but perhaps even more importantly, you can drive forward, shrug off tacklers and in general, deal realistically with oncoming defenders. I missed the boost but then again, that’s not exactly authentic, now is it?
The demo does have a smattering of minor technical issues, as it came close to freezing on me several times, and there were some herky-jerky animations and movements between plays. The good news is that the animations during a play were excellent and quite realistic, and I really felt as if I had full control over the situation at all times. I didn’t need every button on the controller, I didn’t have to sift through a ton of options and menus, and I didn’t see any silly occurrences; i.e., wide open players dropping balls (and double-covered receivers catching balls), running backs with the balance of a two-year-old who fall over if an arm touches them, QBs who take a thousand years to get off a pass, etc, etc, etc. No, I have to say that this new effort really looks, feels, and plays great. True sim fans might think there’s less intricacy and depth, but I’m not seeing it that way. It looks to me as if the final product should be well worth playing; Madden NFL 11 launches on August 10.