Game Reviews: EA's MADDEN NFL 11, NCAA FOOTBALL 11

Madden NFL 11

From: EA Sports

Reviewed On: PS3

Reviewed By: Lucas Siegel

EA Sports, having the exclusive NFL license, is in the dangerous position where complacency could become the norm. For the last two years, in order to combat that, they added more and more and more; more awkward live-action videos, more interruptions to your actual game, more unnecessary steps to get to what, ostensibly, a football game should be about: the football game.

This year, anyone who has seen their marketing knows they're going in a very different direction, with simplicity and speed being the focus. The result is the most fun I've had with a football video game since Tecmo Super Bowl.

The graphics have their slight tweak, and the animations are notably better — not nearly as many awkward moments exist in Madden NFL 11 as in past versions; people move the way people should move, react to collisions properly, and even celebrate more naturally. Audio, likewise, has less strange Tourette's-esque shouts from the players, better play-by-play by Gus Johnson (aside from some odd mispronouncing of names) and a much cooler ambience. When I heard the crowd sing "Bear Down," the Bears' fight song, my heart soared … and I sang along. Video, likewise, has a trim back in this, with those terrible halftime commentaries done away with, and subtle replays done after every play, in the background while you're calling your next one.

The play calling itself is the most significant change in this game, and what makes things faster and more fun. With Gameflow, all you do is press X (A on Xbox360), and the game calls your play. With a headset on, your offensive or defensive coordinator will explain the play to you, giving helpful tips on how best to run it. Now, this isn't the old "Ask Madden" rejiggered. The team at EA Sports actually analyzed what plays each team in the NFL calls in different situations like 3rd down and short or 2nd and long, and uses these statistics to choose the play that team would most likely choose. It's an amazing experience that lets your game play out a lot more realistically with your favorite team. It also allows you as a player to focus on the actual playing of the game. With the play/gameclock count off feature turned on, you can also drop an extra 15-25 seconds (depending on how you set it) when you choose your Gameflow play, making games go by much faster.

For the die-hards, don't worry, you can still access the full playbook. In fact, when Gameflow is turned on, you can choose between Gameflow or playbook every down; in playbook you still have your standard "by formation" or "by playtype" sets, as well. If you want to use Gameflow but think you're a better coach, you can customize the fast-paced playcalls yourself. Going through your playbook, you can choose each situation type, and rate plays from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 plays most likely to be called, and 1 least. This way, you're getting the deep coaching experience and the faster games. It all works really well — I only saw repeat plays on offense once in one game out of several, and it was both warranted, and worked well the first time around. On defense, repeat plays are a little more common, but that's true in real life as well.

Online play has been given a significant boost to go along with Gameflow, including 3-on-3 team play. With this, each human player chooses an offensive and defensive squad at the start of the game. Those are the groups of players you control throughout, allowing those high-jumping catch specialists to focus on what they're good at as wide-outs, while those defensive-coordinators-in-training can focus on calling plays as linebackers. It's a fun mode that really pushes communication forward a lot with you and your teammates, and opens up a whole new level of online skill showing- and trash talking.

There's not a lot wrong with this game; the menus are a bit dense, but with so many options, there's not much of a way around that. Little nitpicks, like the play-by-play announcer calling Robbie Gould "Ghoul-ed" instead of "Gold" are there, but that doesn't really take any of the fun of the game out. It's amazing, with added realism, EA also remembered that they're making a video game here. And Madden NFL 11 is a damn fine video game. Back to my franchise!

NCAA Football 11

From: EA Sports

Reviewed on: PS3

Reviewed by: Tim Janson

I’m going to subtitle this review of NCAA Football 2011 as “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” because there is some of all three in this year’s edition of EA Sports’ venerable title. Let’s start with the good because most of the game is very good. NCAA 11 looks better than ever, from the music to the pregame charge by the teams out onto the field. You get the sense you are sitting down in front of your TV on a Saturday afternoon to enjoy the game. The only things missing are a roast beef sandwich and your favorite drink. Helping bring the in-game production together is the team of Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit calling the action and Erin Andrews issuing sideline reports. No Lee Corso this year which is good or bad depending on how you feel about him.

The action on the field is smooth and crisp. The running system has been vastly improved with the new “locomotion” system. By using the right stick your player can juke and twist defenders out of their jocks or lower his soldier to get the last few tough yards. Blockers actually block, even 20 yards downfield and you can move to take advantage of their blocks. Receivers now hug the sideline to make great catches as they fall out of bounds. The Defenses seem to react better and often gang-tackle opposing ball carriers rather than just stand around. You have so much control over your team, especially with defensive adjustments that it can be daunting. Your secondary can press or play off, double-team, adjust to one side or another, blitz or spy … same goes for your linebackers. There’s so much you can do you’ll find yourself still trying to make adjustments while the offense is snapping the ball! On offense you have the usual selection of audibles, hot routes, players going in motion, etc.

Dynasty mode is back, and while the basic Dynasty is pretty much the same, you can now play your Dynasty online against a group of other players who you will compete against not only on the field but off the field as you recruit high school players. You can access your online dynasty from your PC as well. Dynasty modes give you the ability to create newspaper stories and highlights for your team. Cosmetic stuff, but it adds a nice sense of authenticity.

Speaking of recruiting, if you are a recruiting geek like me you’ll have almost as much fun with that aspect as you will with game action. Each week you’ll go through your list of prospects and select if you want to call them or not and choose how much time you with to spend on the phone with them, from 10 to 60 minutes. You can than choose which subjects you want to discuss with him such as early playing time, pro potential, conference or coach prestige, academic prestige, athletic facilities, and many more. You can compare your program to another program he is considering and if your program is ranked higher in that subject, you will raise his interest in your program and decrease it in the rival’s program. Very cool. You can also schedule recruiting visits to your campus and set the activities like visiting the press box, attending a pep rally, talking to professors, all designed to hopefully raise your prospect’s interest and get the all-important commitment. Honestly, the recruiting system is one of the most attractive features of this year’s game.

Now we get to the bad … Nessler and Herbstreit are only ordinary and repeat the same lines over and over. It’s annoying to hear Herbstreit say he expected a “closer game” when a powerhouse has just destroyed a team they are supposed to destroy. As usual, penalties are problematic … leaving penalties on their default settings will result in few if any penalties during a game. But then I raised holding penalties from 50 to 60 and I ended up with a barrage of penalties. There seems to be no middle ground. There are far too many injuries. Many of these are minor bumps which give you the option of playing or resting the injured player but don’t expect to get through the season without a few major injuries.

Road to Glory mode is back which allows you to create a high school player and have him grow and progress into the collegiate ranks. However it uses the exact same Erin Andrews video segments from last year’s NCAA Football 10 which is very disappointing. I realize Ms. Andrews may have been a “bit busy” this past year but its cheap on EA’s part. The Road to Glory is frankly boring and should be dumped in next year’s edition.

On to the ugly part: There are some definite glitches in the game which EA has yet to address. First, players are getting a “download failure” message at the start and end of games, evidently meaning that stats are not being saved to your record online. I placed a call to EA tech support who was aware and working on the problem but as of two weeks now, no patch has been forthcoming. Even worse is that there are major issues with player and recruit progress over many seasons. By the time you are into your 5th or 6th season of Dynasty mode the best recruits are only getting overall ratings in the high 60s or low 70’s. They are not progressing much over their college careers either resulting in nearly every team getting low C’s or D ratings for their teams. This is a major issue with the game and needs to be addressed by EA promptly.

One other gripe is that EA offers a package of recruiting reports, recruiting advisor and progression helpers that you can buy for $30 but seriously … you’ve already spent $60 on the game and the additional $30 seems a bit steep.

Overall this is an outstanding game. The in-game action is the best yet with fluid movements and realistic animations. The presentation is top-notch and the recruiting system is a blast. But a few nagging technical issues keep this from earning a top grade.

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