Madden NFL 11 Review

By Mike D'Alonzo - Posted Aug 09, 2010

Yes, there are some foibles in the game, but overall, Madden NFL 11 is a triumph. Simplicity has paved the way for more elegant football strategy, co-op finally makes sense and is fun to play, and Online Franchise is a keeper for years to come.

The Pros
  • Simplified game features make Madden more accessible to all players
  • GameFlow allows you to game plan for opponents and play a fast, fluid game
  • Deep online experience still the gold standard for football fans
The Cons
  • Menus bury some of the best features in the game
  • GameFlow still makes some bizarre play calls
  • Perhaps too few changes from Madden NFL 10

August is here, the dead heat of the summer is upon us, and, all over the country, NFL training camps are open. Football is in the air, and, with it, the release of a new Madden game. This time, the folks at EA Tiburon have placed an emphasis on simplicity and making the game quicker, and the result, Madden NFL 11, is as fine a football simulation game as you can find on the market today.

This isn't to say the game is perfect, but it's a deep, rich experience that should find both die-hard football fans and those with only a cursory interest in the game playing long into the fall season.

Go With the Flow

The first thing you're going to notice with Madden NFL 11 is the new GameFlow play-calling system, which simulates the way games are actually called in today's NFL. Your offensive and defensive coordinators call in plays from your situational playbook, saving you valuable time flipping through page after page of plays trying to figure out what you're going to do before you run down the :40 clock and incur a delay of game penalty.

This is much different from the old "Ask Madden" system, which just sort of incorporated John Madden's advice, in case you didn't want to pick a play. With GameFlow, you can game plan for an opponent in advance, and select the plays that will come up in a given situation. This allows you to be more thoughtful about what you're doing ahead of time, and lets you play the game when the time comes.

What it doesn't mean is that these plays are necessarily infallable. You will still get play calls to throw deep when you're on the opponent's two yard line, so, even though it takes down and distance into account, it doesn't always do the same with the game situation, which means you'll have to be smart enough to audible out of plays that are clearly bad calls.

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He's Throwing for the End Zoooooooooooone...

Chris Collinsworth is still the analyst in the booth for Madden NFL 11, but, this time, he's joined by play-by-play man Gus Johnson, one of the best in the business. This makes the presentation, which was already pretty awesome in Madden NFL 10, that much better. Of course, presentation is a big part of Madden, and the graphics are the real deal. The stadiums are rich environments in which to play, and additions of extra touches, like the visitng team getting off the bus and matchup-specific pre-game analysis, only add to that feeling.

Some care, too, has been taken in tweaking the animation, with a greater predominance of excellent sideline catches, and defensive backs that turn to look for the ball as it comes down, both of which add to the realistic presentation. This is not to say that there's not still the occasional hiccup when it comes to animation, but this is much less a problem than it has been in the past.


The More Things Change...

Online, Madden NFL 11 has some new elements. 3-on-3 online co-op, a new feature, allows each player to take charge of a certain element of team play throughout the course of the game. On offense, it's broken into QB, RB, and WR, and on defense, it's DL, LB, and DB controls. This means two things. One, you're going to get to concentrate on a very specific part of the game and really get good at it. Two, you can't be selfish and play Madden in the way most people normally do, throwing long bombs on every play and going for it on 4th and forever, because not only will your mates need to be on the same page, but you're playing against three other people who know how to cover that stuff. In short, you're going to have to play football the way it was meant to be played, and how could that be wrong?

Also new this year is Madden Ultimate Team, which combines elements of fantasy football, card games like Magic the Gathering, and games played to allow you to gather coins (which can also be purchased online) and assemble the ultimate Madden team, at least on paper. The idea is good, but the functionality is a little clumsy. This is one aspect that needs some fine tuning for next year's model. You can also scout your opponent's tendencies online in this year's game, which will allow you to better prepare to play them on the field.

The other online elements from last year's game are mostly intact, including Online Franchise, which was a huge hit from Madden NFL 10, allowing you and 31 other players to simulate teams from the NFL over the course of 10 seasons.

...the More They Stay the Same

Madden NFL 11 welcomes back such elements as "fight for the ball," which has you actively trying to scrum for a loose fumble, and "Madden Moments," featuring key moments from the previous season that you will either have to steer toward their conclusion, or change, thus causing a sort of Butterfly Effect that will change the NFL, retroactively, forever.

Still a problem with the game, however, is the clunky menu layout, which buries "Madden Moments" and other features like the training system in places where they're hard to find. On the one hand, this speaks to the overall depth of the game, but, on the other, it makes it so you will be many hours in before you realize all of the cool stuff that the game has in it. For a franchise that is so grounded in excellent presentation, this is one element that still needs an overhaul.



Ok, Men, Bring It In.

Overall, the folks at EA Tiburon have done a really good job at taking some of the mystery out of Madden for casual football fans and softcore sports gamers, while still retaining the hardcore integrity of die-hards who spend days preparing for that next game. The presentation still gives you chills, animations and player tendencies are more real than ever, and there are even awesome bonus features like the AFL mode, which allows you to play as an old American Football League team, with old-school presentation to match.

Yes, there are some foibles in the game, but overall, Madden NFL 11 is a triumph. Simplicity has paved the way for more elegant football strategy, co-op finally makes sense and is fun to play, and Online Franchise is a keeper for years to come. Football fans will be happy to pay the $60 for the embarassment of riches to be found here.


Want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?