What We Already Know:
EA has had a lockdown on the NFL with John Madden-licensed football games since 2005, and that contract now extends through 2012. Which basically means that EA could slap together anything with “NFL” emblazoned on the cover and sell a million copies. John Madden NFL Turducken Football would probably be a huge hit. Thankfully, they haven't done that, and each year EA Tiburon adds more innovations while striving to improve the experience from a player's standpoint. With Madden NFL 11, they're promising us a game that is “Simpler. Quicker. Deeper.” So far, it looks like they're poised to deliver.
What We’re Seeing Now:
If you've ever wanted to jump into a “quick” game of Madden, you know that halfway through the game, you're wishing you were already done. Unless it's a down to the last second knucklebiter. Madden NFL 11 is speeding things up in a big way by offering Gameflow to players. It's a new system that analyzes the current situation and offers you the best play for that scenario. It's like an automatic, smarter “Ask Coach,” and keeps you from burning your play clock while searching for a play and dramatically decreases game time. You can also have the offensive and defensive coaches suggest plays to you through your headset only and not the speakers. It's a nice, immersive touch that puts you inside the game.
Hardcore players fear not, because you'll still be able to drill down deep into the playbook on your own with over 350 plays with every outing, or you can even set up your own routes and formations however you want. You can even stack up different types of plays for certain situations and decide what you want to go with. Returning players will also notice that they've taken the ability to sprint out to make it more realistic, and everything is now controlled with the right stick: juking, diving, spinning, and so on. They also spent a lot of time on the new cameras, which were an occasional annoyance in previous games.
Multiplayer is also getting a huge boost as well via Madden NFL 11 Online, which can host up to six players in three-on-three matchups online (naturally). Each player controls a different squad: offense has the QB, running back and wide receivers as choices, while defense gets the defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs. You can select any player in those squads to control, and you can level up each squad as well. It's in these games that you'll quickly learn how important communication is as you plan blitzes and passing routes. We played a two-on-two match and found that talking to each other is the niftiest play not found in the playbook.
In the games we played, there's a marked gameplay improvement across the board, and the Gameflow is the most noticeable immediate change. Sure, I love hunting for specific plays as much as the next gamer, but after awhile you just want to hammer one button to advance so you can keep pushing the other team back or hit the endzone. I'm sure the online matches will be equally as enjoyable, unless you're matched up with a random d-bag who just wants to incur penalties the entire game.
The game still feels like Madden (for better or worse), and while we wish it had the rough and tumble feel that Backbreaker gives you, it's still a much deeper game. Plus, it's the only one that will let you take Tony Romo back to the playoffs in an effort to erase the Cowboy-choking of 2010.