This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to EA's football franchise update Madden NFL 12, which reviewers describe as "a jumbled mess of frustration, unmet expectations, and sloppy play." Madden NFL 12 currently earns a score of 80 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
Richard Grisham at Games Radar scores Madden NFL 12 at 8 out of 10. "Casual fans will love the updated tackling animations, streamlined play-calling, and the visuals showing the wear and tear players receive throughout the game," he notes. "Deeper-searchers will appreciate significant additions to the offline franchise mode and the updated single-player Superstar."
The online portion has also seen a number of updates. "Online-heavy users finally get to manage their own communities within the game itself," Grisham explains, "with walled-off settings, stats, and player management free from the constraints of the otherwise-unchanged online franchise."
The presentation suffers, however. "EA is touting its new presentation heavily, but itís a mixed bag," Grisham warns. "Visually, player models are crisper than ever, and the new camera angles liven up the game a bit. Gone are most of the oft-repeating in-game scenes from last season.
"Even so, there are still the occasional gaffes, such as split-second hiccups before and after the snap and the never-solved problem of players magically melting into referees (and each other). Even worse Ė and less forgivable Ė is the commentary. Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth recycle more material than a Poison-Ratt-Cinderella summer amusement park concert, and make flat-out mistakes on a regular basis too."
"While weíre happy overall with Madden 12, and itís a notch better than last seasonís game, it remains a far-from-perfect experience," Grisham summarizes. "Those of us that plan on spending a hundred hours or more playing online franchise and community games will surely compile an enormous laundry list of issues Ė but in the end, weíll still play all those games. Even so, weíre left wanting much more than weíre getting from EAís venerable football series."
Game Informer's Matthew Kato rates Madden NFL 12 at 7.5 out of 10. "Not since the beginning of this console generation has the series been so out of sync," he begins. "Like a desperate team that has stocked up on high-profile free agents thinking itís on the cusp of a championship, Madden NFL 12 looks good in practice, but where it counts itís a jumbled mess of frustration, unmet expectations, and sloppy play."
"Madden NFL 12 doesnít fully execute on its ideas," Kato notes. "The series neglected the franchise mode last year, and although developer EA Tiburon made big changes, this mode will have to be reworked again in order for it to be fun."
Kato explains: "You canít find out enough info on players even if you scout them multiple times. Worse yet, you donít even have the combine numbers for the players you donít scout. You canít tell me an NFL scouting staff wouldnít know a playerís 40 time or other basics about even obscure players. As a fan I can get that stuff just by watching the NFL Network. Ultimately, on draft day you have to resort to taking shots in the dark or reaching for players; the best-player-available strategy is impossible to implement."
"Itís disappointing that many of the new features fail to bring value to the table, but elements like last yearís excellent motion system are at least in place to make the game exciting from moment to moment," Kato assures. "Other bright spots are the online communities that help weed out the riff-raff from your online multiplayer (thanks to stronger griefing rules), and the accompanying leaderboards also offer a larger structure to the experience. This is especially useful since the online franchise feature is still a bust."
"Past Maddens either delivered new features or fixed old problems, but this year you get neither," Kato claims. "I canít remember a time when the series was this lost. Iíd say that it has nowhere to go but up, but as this year shows, progress can be elusive and nothing can be counted as certain."
Kat Bailey at GamePro gives Madden 123.5 out of 5 stars. "Madden NFL 12 is pretty much the definition of the glass half-full/half-empty game," she writes. "Your feelings about it will depend on whether you want to dwell on the much-improved presentation and franchise mode, or the genuinely awful commentary and often inadequate user-interface. I'm guessing casual fans will take the former view, while veterans will zero in on the latter."
The game still boasts an array of improvements over last year's title, however. "The physics are tighter and the A.I. is quite a bit nastier than in Madden 11," Bailey says. "Suction blocks are a thing of the past now, and the result is a much more robust pass rush. In general, the defense is tougher than it's been since Madden '05, which should be music to the ears of fans who have tired of beating the CPU 95-7 every single match."
Other elements are less impressive. "There's been a notable lack of attention to detail since the franchise's move to the current-generation consoles, which is one reason that we still have cardboard cutout crowds and wildly inaccurate commentary," Bailey notes. "The strategy pad also remains inadequate, particularly in comparison to the easier to understand and much more comprehensive NCAA system. And the user interface for the custom playbooks -- an important new feature -- is an incomprehensible mess of dropdown menus with no preview function."
"Madden NFL has been the equivalent of a dilapidated house for years now -- the roof has been leaky, the furnace has been loud overly loud, and it's in dire need of a new coat of paint," Bailey concludes. "Given the time alotted, the developers opted to fix the roof -- the tackling physics, the defensive A.I. and the overall presentation -- and I believe that was the right decision, even if there's still plenty of work to do.
"After years of claiming that they have to get the 'gameplay right' before moving on to other issues, it seems that Tiburon has, for the most part, done just that. So, the foundation seems to be in place, but as with the Detroit Lions, Madden 12 is probably still a year away (sorry, Lions fans). But take heart: it'll be a good year nonetheless."