Madden NFL 11 Xbox 360 Review

September 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Publisher – EA – Developer – EA Tiburon – Genre – Sports – Players – 1-6 – Age Rating – 3+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3, Wii, PSP

Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints is this year’s cover star, and he introduces the game with a bombastic video talking about what it takes to win in the NFL, this is followed by a choice of “What’s New” videos. The most significant change for this version of Madden though has to be the Online Pass. Buying a new copy of the game gives you a code in the manual for free access. Second-hand users will have to buy a code to play online, assuming the previous owner has used the code.

The Play Now menu has three different modes. Exhibition is the standard one-off game with up to four players. Superbowl XLV lets you play the big end of season game, complete with team-specific voiceovers and a well put together victory sequence. AFL is an interesting addition, with teams from the short-lived rival league that appeared in the 1960s, several of which later joined the main NFL. A filter makes the graphics look as if they are on old film, the presentation shifting to an old-fashioned EA Sports logo and other clever touches.

Out on the field, play calling has undergone an important overhaul. The Gameflow system – which can be turned off – selects a play based on the match situation, backed up the statistics of real NFL play. While there is the odd unusual call and the propensity to start winding down the clock a little early, the AI does a good job of picking a good play. It can be bypassed and a play chosen from the full playbook – broken down by category, player, play type and formation as per last year’s menu system. Plugging in a headset lets each individual player hear the voice of their offensive/defensive co-ordinator giving advice on the forthcoming play.

In-game action from Madden 11

Here you can see the Strategy Pad (top left) and the coach's opinions on the next play

Going online has seen some significant changes. Online Team Play allows up to six players, giving each control of a “squad” or division within the team. The three players can choose a “squad” rather than a single player position, or choose the “Any” squad to give them full control of anyone not being controlled by another player. Ultimate Team has made the jump from FIFA to the NFL, tasking the player with putting together a squad just like a trading card game. The major negative aspect is the need to earn coins from playing games, spoilt by the ability to spend real world cash on buying extra coins for team boosts and buying high-value cards in the regular auctions.

The Game Modes submenu has several choices. Virtual Trainer is a retread of last year’s training option, and Minigames has six different activities – none of which is particularly satisfying in gameplay terms. Franchise Mode is the long-term draw, asking you to take a team through three decades of action from player draft to postseason. Simulating games speeds up the experience, which also includes the Pro Bowl. Madden Moments gives short scenarios from the 2009/10 season for the player to overcome – from making a defensive stand to winning the Superbowl itself. Be A Superstar has the added option of taking on an existing NFL player, a new rookie or a player created in sister game NCAA Football 11 (the college football simulation). Here, simulation lets you concentrate on only the play your player is involved in.

Once again, the hi-def graphics and TV-style presentation make this a great game to look at. It is disappointing to see the same looped animations between plays occasionally, but the weather effects (snow swirling in the breeze, raindrops on the camera lens) and player representations are exceptional. Commentary benefits from the insights of Cris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson, but as with last year the repetition of phrases can start to grate after a few games. A nice selection of EA Trax is backed up by the way short snippets are used in the stadium to add atmosphere.

The biggest problem for Madden is weight. The recent Backbreaker used physics to give us weighty players who really felt they were making tackles, and brutal impacts when they did. In comparison Madden’s players continue to feel light and fast. The removal of the Sprint button (which can be turned back on in the options) and the new locomotion system do not mark a big change on how it feels to control the players. As ever, it remains trickier to play defence and make a big play, even with the A button giving a “defensive assist”. The strategy pad moves, chosen with the D-pad, expand the strategic choices without getting too complex.

It looks as good as ever, it sounds good and it still plays a very good game of American Football. The Gameflow system not only makes it easier for new players, it also speeds up the game significantly. However, more than some other titles, this does feel like a yearly update rather than a radical overhaul. In an ideal world, the playcalling, official license and presentation of Madden would be combined with the physics of Backbreaker (and its Tackle Alley style minigame) to create the ultimate American Football game…

For those who invested in last year’s game, there are enough changes and upgrades to suggest another purchase – if not least for continued online play. For newcomers this would be a good game to pick up and learn, with the caveat of the need for the Online Pass making a second-hand purchase more expensive.