Grills are on. It's warm. Browns fans are hopeful. The NFL pre-season is beginning, and a new version of "Madden" is releasing soon.
"Madden 11" isn't a dramatic departure from last year's game. Like every other "Madden," this year's title builds on the foundation of its predecessor, making use of the series' gentle slide to a more authentic, more visceral NFL-like experience.
The two biggest additions to "Madden 11" are GameFlow and Game Planning. Both features speed up the game noticeably and cater to novices in interesting ways. The former is an automated system that picks plays based on situations (Nickels on 3rd and 10 and that kind of obvious stuff). The latter lets you tweak those plays pre-game, stripping the automation.
That's not all that has been added, or stripped in one special case. The sprint button is no more, Gus Johnson is in the booth, a noticeable number of juke, rumble, and tackle animations have been added in addition to some much-needed presentation tweaks.
Now With Better Running
You'll no longer need to press "Sprint," but even if the option were included by default, it would be rendered pointless. The focus is now firmly on what is developing around the carrier; you need to hit the right holes, set up the right blocks, and react according to your player's abilities. Bolstering this fantastic design direction are the life-like physics engine tweaks and host of refreshingly good animations that add a lot of realism and fun to the game.
No matter where you run, be it downhill towards an A-Gap or the sidelines in a well-executed Stretch, the offensive line will respond and block appropriately. And you'll not notice much "sucking" -- players don't just collapse into each other on the line like they used to. In fact, you can actually wrestle out of grips now.
It Almost Feels Like Sunday Night
"Madden 11" is closer than ever to a broadcast presentation. More in-game and out-of-game fan models have been added, stadiums have been tweaked and polished, and there's a decent bit of interesting on-the-field and pre-game commentary included in the package. From eye black to, to Dallas' insane HDTV spread, to Brett Favre's old man beard, Tiburon is starting to pull it all together.
All The Rest
A lot of what "Madden 11" is, is thanks to good additions to previous games. The franchise mode is still as expansive as ever, the player rankings are still as smart, stadiums still look beautiful, online modes still function well, and the UI is still as sharp and generally out of the way.
Gus Johnson Is A Happy Man
New announcer Gus Johnson has a knack for overreacting, and you'll hear plenty of his over-excited wails in "Madden 11." Johnson does a good job in making a TD feel like its own mini-victory, but he also overplays a lot of his VO. In short, he can come off as annoying or, in the case of the San Diego Chargers chant, completely silly and out of place.
The ads are particularly aggressive in this year's game. Every time you get into the red zone, anytime you get an in-game stat feed, or enter half-time, hit a big play, or even get an achievement, you'll see or hear something from a sponsor. Johnson manages to make this assault worse by overacting.
GameFlow succeeds in making the game quicker, eliminating the need to pick one of the three "Ask Madden" plays pre-snap. But it fails in delivering information -- you never know what formation you're getting into, and the coordinator's explanations of plays are often vague or wrong.
If you want a football simulation game, this is it. "Madden" has always been it. But the tweaks to the running game and O-line this year are solid improvements that not only make the game feel more authentic, they make it more fun and complex. If you can stomach the ad assault and Gus Johnson's vocals, you'll be able to dig into this "Madden" as much as you have any "Madden" before.