Madden NFL 11 Review: Roster Update or Worthwhile Purchase?

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Madden NFL 11
EA Sports
Developer: Tiburon
PS3, Xbox 360
ESRB rating: E for Everyone
System reviewed on: Xbox 360

EA Sports’ Madden franchise has locked down an exclusive agreement with the National Football League to be the only console-based video game to feature real teams and players. As such, the series has virtually no competition year after year, leaving critics and fans alike to wonder aloud whether the newest version of the game is worth the $60 asking price. If you’ve got no competition, there’s no need to put too much work into your game, right?

For the record, I liked Madden NFL 10 quite a bit. But I’d be lying if I said I’d be able to immediately discern whether a roomful of people were playing Madden NFL 10 or Madden NFL 11, especially with the commentary turned off and the new GameFlow feature disabled. The game itself plays and looks very much like last year’s version.

There are subtle differences, and all these subtle differences put together will ultimately help you decide whether or not to part with your hard-earned cash or keep playing Madden NFL 10 another year. One of the better ideas I’ve heard put forth by longtime Madden players is to overhaul the game every two years, with a downloadable for-pay (maybe $20 or so) roster update made available during the off years. But if you were EA and you had the most profitable sports video game franchise, you’d push out a new $60 version every year too.

So What’s New?

The big addition this year is the GameFlow feature, which promises to cut game times in half. How do you cut game times in half? Get rid of the most time consuming activity: playcalling.

Yes, with GameFlow you can leave the playcalling up to your virtual coaching staff, who will intelligently pick plays for you based on the down, field position, and game situation. It greatly simplifies the game for new players, makes a decent option for seasoned veterans, and is cursed by many die-hard players who contend that it dumbs down the experience. I’d consider myself in the “seasoned veterans” camp; I’ve been playing the game since it first came out on the Apple II and tend to purchase it outright every year, but I don’t put more than 3-5 hours per week into it until I’ve gotten my fill.

So for me, GameFlow is a welcome addition if only for the no-brainer type situations. Defense, especially. I don’t really care what play is called on defense and the virtual coaching staff analyzes the opposing team’s formation and calls a play based on what’s going on.

Offense is a different story. I find myself needing to audible out of a GameFlow play call about 25% of the time. A deep post when it’s first and goal on the one yard line? No thanks, I think I’ll try a run up the gut since, you know, I’m on the one yard line. A run up the gut on third and ten? Let’s try a pass instead. During one game, the coaching staff had me kneeling down to run the clock out in the final two minutes only to find out that, mathematically, I wouldn’t be able to run out the clock unless I got a first down. And with my franchise-mode Green Bay Packers, you’d think the coaches had something against Ryan Grant because they call a pass play about 90% of the time. Let’s mix it up a bit, fellas.

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