Monday, August 2, 2010

Early Madden Impressions

Before we get started I need to throw out a few important items of note.

  1. This is not a review. I realize that there are going to be people who read this, run off to their forum of choice, and tell people, "This guy has a Madden 11 review posted on his blog!" I do not have a review posted on a blog. These are impressions after playing the 'retail' game over the past 3-4 days. The embargo for game impressions lifted today so I am simply sharing with you my early observations. Basically I am trying to get across to you that this is a not a review.

  2. When in the main menu screen a bit of text scrolls across the bottom saying something to the effect of, "Welcome to the Madden 11 Beta. In game content is not final." What does this mean, exactly? Well, could mean a lot of things. Could mean we get a day 1 patch much the same way NCAA 11 did. Could mean nothing at all. But I think it important to state this up front -- what I am seeing in this current build may or may not be what you see on August 11.

  3. I have not been able to play any online. The new team play, etc. is as of yet still untested.
OK, so, Madden 11. Rather than just write long winded paragraphs of info (AKA: What Todd does) I figured I'd break this down into the stuff I like and the stuff I don't. Since this is not a review I can get away with some amateur formatting.

The Stuff I like about Madden 11:

  • The run game.

    In fact I like the run game more in Madden than I do NCAA 11. It's easier to see holes develop and the shedding of tackles feels a bit tighter and less random. I've had to make a few slight slider adjustments but I am getting very good rushing results with Cleveland. By "very good" I don't mean tons of yards, but Harrison can run behind Joe Thomas with pretty good success, which is fine by me as Harrison remains the most under rated HB in football IMO. EA rated him correctly.

  • Pass rush.

    I see a lot of unpredictability here which is very important. Some blitzes work, others don't. I have yet to find a 'money blitz' which is automatic. Again, ratings in Madden matter quite a bit, especially in the blocking game. The same can be said for the game in the trenches in general. I can tell a huge difference when controlling Shaun Rogers compared to, well, basically every other lineman the Browns have.

  • CPU Offense.

    The Browns defense has "issues" and this is reflected in how the CPU picks apart my schemes. I simply have a hell of a time stopping anyone. Hines Ward caught 12 passes for 110 yards in my last game. This also shows you that the AI will try to find its reliable players. Play against Arizona and Fitzgerald will get a lot more opportunities than Breaston. The CPU run game is also very solid on default All Pro settings. Again, my last game was against Pitt and they ran for 110 yards collectively. Love that.

  • Play by Play

    For the most part, I like Gus Johnson as an addition to the team. He brings the added excitement that EA was looking for, no doubt. This is the first year with Gus so you should expect a few gaffes here and there. They need to tone down the Old Spice pimpage, for example. I don't mind ad plugs at all, but 4 times a game? Gus really loves that stuff. Also, they need to edit out the lines where Collinsworth calls him "Tom" (referencing Tom Hammond from season's past.) Still, Gus gets excited on big plays, and I like that quite a bit.

  • Franchise Stats

    Very little chrome has been added to franchise mode. First off, I don't care what anyone tells you, the Extra Point stuff is in the game. It's pretty much just like last year but it's there. Most of the work on franchise mode has been under the hood in the form of stat tweaks, new hand made rookies, contract values, salary demands, and free agent factors. I have not fully tested this (the stats do look better in the 1 season I simmed). But if you are looking for a massive franchise mode update, this is not it.

  • Locomotion

    If you have played NCAA 11 you'll know what this means. I personally love this. This makes tackling and running feel very realistic.

  • Bad passes

    I love it when a QB simply misses a receiver. For me, this is like walks in a baseball game. Few games really do it but when they do I get all happy inside.
OK, so what's not to love?

  • In some ways, Madden 11 feels like a Focus Test game, whereas Madden 10, even with its blemishes, felt like a game designed by a team that went in the direction they wanted to go in. Let's take Gameflow. This feature is actually pretty neat. It's basically a more realistic way to "Ask Madden" so instead of calling base plays Gameflow looks at play style, and the new Game Planning to determine which plays to call. A defacto Offensive/Defensive Coordinator. Cool idea. But it's clearly there because apparently so many people use the Ask Madden feature over calling plays themselves. (Which I find utterly shocking.)

    Again I have no issue at all with the idea of Gameflow as a feature. It's a cool idea but it's one of Madden 11's MAJOR bullet point features -- arguably the #1 new feature in the entire game. That sort of flies in the face of the design ideas we saw popping up last year. This, to me at least and you are certainly free to disagree, feels like it should be a 2nd tier feature rather than the game seller. A feature that is a "hey by the way...this is pretty neat" instead of the "you need Madden 11 because of this." Because, frankly, you don't.

    Gameflow/planning also has some issues, especially on defense. This is not at all Madden specific but to really call plays effectively a coach needs to adjust on the fly. Sure you can have your scripted plays, your plays designed based on down and distance, but every game of football is its own self contained drama and coaches always adjust to what is happening on the field. If a team's WR is killing me -- I am going to adjust to try and take him out of the game. If a HB is getting 5, 6, 7 yards a pop I'm going to move more guys in the box. Gameflow doesn't account for this -- especially when playing the CPU. Again no game has effectively done this, but a big part of game planning and play calling is trying to take away a team's #1 strength and adjusting your plan based on the flow of a particular game. Madden's AI (in truth every football game's) needs to do this for Gameflow/Game Planning to be a really great feature which will please both hardcore Madden fans and the guys who simply Ask Madden what to do on 3rd and 12.

  • Returning kicks is futile. Using the Browns, thus Josh Cribbs, who is arguably the best return man in the history of the NFL -- I have yet to return a kickoff past the 30. The reason? My guys won't block their guys. Cribbs is the man but rarely can he avoid six players ganging up on him. Punts aren't much better. In fairness NCAA 11 has issues with this too.

  • Defensive AI behavior needs work. I have discovered that to beat the AI all you need to do is throw screens and passes in the flat to your HB. The AI just doesn't cover them well. Sometimes they do, but it's just because they got lucky and called the right defensive play (usually a flat zone.) Need proof this is a problem?

    The Browns played Oakland (default All Pro) and my HB (Harrison) caught 38 passes for 287 yards and 4 TDs. Now, at what point should the AI decide "Hey wait he's calling the same two plays every down. Perhaps we should counter that?" It never did. This is such a frustrating issue because in order to play vs the AI I have to hamstring myself and not call screens or passes in the flat -- or if I do I have to limit the number of times I call those plays, and it's not easy to ignore that option when it's 3rd and 5 and you desperately need a first down. This will affect online play less than offline, but for solo players this is a biggie.

  • Along these same lines, you will need to play with CPU Defensive back Awareness at 100. Otherwise you are going to absolutely torch the AI defense. Again, I am using the Browns. I'm not using the 1981 Chargers here and I should not score 59 points on...anyone. (This was when playing on default All Pro, FWIW).

  • As a result I have already lowered QB Accuracy to 25, WR catching to 40, and raised CPU DB AWR to 100 in order to make the game more challenging when passing because unless the pass rush gets to me, I'm going to complete the pass on default settings. have yet to play a lot of games with these new settings -- results coming soon.

  • There are way, way, way too many instances when the pass rusher hits the QB and he throws a wounded duck in the dirt for an incompletion. How often do you see that in a real game? A few times, maybe? In Madden you'll see this several times a game. In fact I'd say a fair number of CPU incomplete passes are due to this. The QB should either try and avoid the rush or just see the guy coming and throw it away or maybe even force a pass. This is really a mild complaint but I still think it needs looked at.

  • The idea that you will play a game of Madden in 30 minutes is true...if playing on default settings. If you are reading this blog you most likely do not do that. You most likely, like me, play with 13 to 15 minute quarters with the Fast Clock option turned on so that you get a realistic number of plays. If you do that expect anywhere from 60-70 minutes per game. This is with Gameflow turned on, btw.
  • The Strategy Pad. I'm getting used to it but I don't understand the need for it. Was the old system that confusing? For example: before if I wanted to put my DBs in tight coverage I simply pressed "Y" then pressed down on the Dpad. Essentially two button presses. Now I have to press the pad, select 'Coverage', then select 'Pressure'. Three button presses. Before idf I wanted to slide my Dline, it was a bumper press and a Dpad press. Now its Dpad, DLine, and Pinch/Spread. How exactly is this more efficient?

  • Big Plays. There are simply too many. In my last game vs the Steelers I had plays of 53, 59, 67, and 79. (3 passes and 1 run). Will sliders alter this? Perhaps. But this is a pretty common thread I am seeing each game I play. Big plays are exciting but right now the idea of playing a game of Madden with 110-120 plays a game and the score being 17-10 unlikely.

    I'll be testing some online and head to head games as soon as I get the chance as well as the new slider adjustments and I'll post the results later. I'm also going to sim a few seasons to see what the CPU roster management looks like.