Review – Madden NFL 11

Madden NFL 11 isn’t just a great football game – it’s one of the best ever made. It’s just that good. But don’t take our word for it right here in the intro. Read on below to find out why you need to pick it up today at your local store.Madden NFL 10 and previous iterations were frequently (and often, rightly so) blasted as being glorified roster updates, but Madden NFL 11 features so many big gameplay changes, presentation improvements, and fun game modes that it can only be defined as a massive leap forward for the franchise and for football gaming in general.

The most noticeable difference between Madden NFL 10 and Madden NFL 11 is the implementation of an all-new run blocking and running system, improved wide receiver awareness of sidelines, and the all-new gameflow feature.

In Madden NFL 11, run blockers now open up paths for halfbacks and fullbacks to move through. Whereas in previous iterations of the series, the running game was rally a crapshoot, today’s game provides players with the opportunity to weave magic between the offensive and defensive lines. The offensive line now appropriately lines up blocks, so, for instance, if your running back is sweeping outside, they will pick up defensive linemen trying to cut the running back off. That doesn’t mean running is easy – but it does mean it’s more realistic, and failure to pick up a few yards is more reflective of a player’s impatience rather than the inability of a player’s teammates to pick up their blocks.

Another aspect aiding the realism of the running game is the speed at which running takes place. There’s no longer a sprint button in Madden NFL 11. So, when a run starts, you pace the player by pushing the analog stick forward or back. As a result, running is a finely-tuned game experience. If you’re, once again, sweeping outside, you don’t want to burst ahead right away. You wait patiently in the backfield, running slowly while your defensive linemen open up a running lane, you then pushed forward and fly.

Further improving the running game for all ball carriers is the intuitive new Dual Stick controls. These allow you to more realistically control your players movements. For instance, juking requires moving the analog stick from one side to another. The more you move the stick over in one direction, the bigger the fake your player will execute. Pulling back on the analog stick will help your player kick out of a tackle, and pushing forward will instruct him to try and jump over a player on the ground. It’s fantastic.

The receiving game gets a huge boost  from improved receiver awareness of the sidelines. For instance, in Madden NFL 10 and previous iterations, receivers would catch the ball near the sideline the same way that they would catch a ball in the middle of the field. They wouldn’t toe drag or even show any recognition of being on the line. This obviously led to lots of frustration. For instance, throwing a ball into the corner of the end zone would lead to a frustrating catch where the receiver wouldn’t even seem to try to stay in bounds. Not anymore.

Receivers realistically drag their toes, walk the line, and try their best to keep their balance as the sideline approaches. This helps make the passing game much more feasible at the end of a tight game. You don’t need to worry that your man running the route to the outside will completely ignore the boundaries. It makes a huge difference.

The third big, new addition to Madden NFL 11 is GameFlow, a new mechanic that essentially allows players to let the game choose a play for them. It’s kind of like the old “Ask Madden” feature, except that players don’t even see a playcall screen. There’s simply an option to either use GameFlow during the huddle or call up the playcall screen to find and choose a play like in every other version of Madden going back in time.

GameFlow works beautifully though because it really accurately replicates team’s actual offensive schemes and frequently chooses strong defensive plays. Each GameFlow play that’s selected results in a coach speaking to you, telling you what the plan is, who your primary target should be, when to find him etc. It’s not handing you eggs in a basket, but it does help add to authenticity by mimicking a coach speaking into your ear like in real games. Think Tom Brady doesn’t have the Patriots offensive coordinator speaking to him during each huddle?

GameFlow works beautifully, too, because it can be modified or skipped altogether. For players who prefer selecting each play individually, it’s easy to do. Simply go to playcalling after each play. There’s also the ability, though, to build a gameplan. For instance, if a player wants to run a fullback dive on 3rd and short situations, it’s possible to go into the menu, create a gameplan, and make sure that in those situations choosing the GameFlow feature will lead to the play that they chose.

Beyond the gameplay, Madden excels in the presentation department. The addition of Gus Johnson to the playcalling booth is a perfect complement to Chris Collinsworth’s methodical plodding through statistics and facts. Gus Johnson’s excitement carries over well and creates a great dynamic with Collinsworth.

There is also a greatly improved Super Bowl celebration that allows players to see their team celebrating, raising the Lombardi Trophy, the MVP gets named, the team takes a ride on a tour bus through the city on a parade, and then they finally meet President Obama at the White House. All of this is complemented by team-based descriptors. Winning with the Browns will bring up talk of how long a wait it’s been for Cleveland fans and what an unexpected occurrence it was while a Patriots win will lead to talk of a dynasty and Tom Brady avenging 2008’s Super Bowl loss to the Giants. It’s great, realistic stuff.

Finally, there are fantastic weather effects, individualized team chants and sounds like the Viking’s “Viking horn” after each first down.

All of this combines with an excellent variety of online and single-player modes. While Dynasty and Be An NFL Superstar haven’t changed much, Madden NFL 11 adds Online Team Play, which allows you and two other players to control a team, working together to cover different positions and play against a team manned by 3 human opponents. It’s fun, exciting, and requires lots of teamwork. Madden NFL 11 has also added Ultimate Team right onto the disc, and Head-to-Head gameplay is fun as always, allowing you to earn coins to use in Ultimate Team and other modes.

Madden NFL 11 truly is great. The gameplay is the best it’s ever been thanks to an improved running and receiving game, and there are game modes galore to keep fans interested for the next year or so at least. Capping it off is an excellent presentation that really brings the NFL to life. This one is a keeper.