What a tumultuous summer it has been for NFL fans. For months, we’ve watched a contentious lockout that seriously threatened to take away the sport we’re fanatical about. With literally billions of dollars in yearly revenue on the line, we knew there would be a resolution, but we came perilously close to missing games. Thankfully, Madden football is a constant that we don’t have to wonder about. Lockout or not, the game hits at the end of August every year. Coming off of two years of consistent growth on the iOS platform, the big question is whether everything can come together to offer the best mobile version of Madden ever.
Features in Madden 12 have not taken as big a leap as expected. In fact, the game takes a few steps backwards. The usual modes like Exhibition, Season, and Playoffs are in, but multiplayer and the interesting Vintage Voltage mode from Madden NFL 11 didn’t make the cut. These discoveries definitely took away some of our enthusiasm, but Madden 11 did receive great post-launch support, so it’s feasible Madden 12 can beef up over time.
Pass like a champ.
EA’s Origin service functions as a hub for the social interaction side, and the only way you can open up achievements and leaderboards is to register. On one hand, we get why a company would want to create their own hub for multiplayer and community support. But as consumers, we have a hard time keeping up with all our profiles on Game Center, OpenFeint, Plus + and the like. Sparse features notwithstanding, it’s the on-field action that matter most. Sadly, EA Sports fumbles here as well.
If you’re a Madden vet, your first introduction to Madden 12 will likely be a cumbersome one because of the design decision to default to the basic playbooks, rather than the traditional advanced playbooks. There’s no doubt the iOS demographic varies from the console crowd, but Madden is the definition of a core franchise. Design wise, Madden 12’s playbook design is vastly inferior to the one from last year, too. Madden 11’s smooth virtual playbook with page flipping on the iPad really made you feel like you’re holding a playbook. It seems like a small touch, but we really miss it in Madden 12. However, team-specific playbooks have been expanded upon, and it’s satisfying seeing a team’s real base plays represented faithfully.
In playing many games of Madden 12, it’s hard to recognize any meaningful advances in the actual gameplay. Many legacy staples return, including audibles, hot routes, and the active control system slowing down the game Matrix-style to make impact plays on both sides of the ball. To be clear, the fundamentals of NFL football are solid from offense, defense, and special teams here. The lack of polish is Madden 12’s major problem.
Last year, some of the clunk factor in animations could be forgiven, but a year later these same issues really stick out. When you’re seeing the football hit the back of a jersey yet magically end up in a receiver’s hands, it kills the immersion factor. While there’s a greater separation of speed between players, there are still scenarios where the linebackers can magically catch speedy receivers in open field. Player models clipping on running plays are still present, making it a crap-shoot on how successful a run will be. The AI still makes boneheaded play calls by running the ball on 3rd and 15. You get the point.
What’s really highlighting the aforementioned issues is a highly inconsistent frame rate. Put simply, Madden 12 is not optimized at all. Every single play has slow down and hiccups. When factoring in the fact that there wasn’t a significant graphical overhaul, these issues are unacceptable, and EA Sports should be ashamed of themselves for releasing the game in this state. The hiccups aren’t something you get used to, either. Along with first person shooter titles, great sports games need to have stable frame rates based on the split second inputs.
We can’t stress how disappointed we are with Madden 12’s state here at launch. From the lack of modes to the need for much refinement on the field, the game feels rushed and incomplete. Obviously, we’ll keep an eye on updates to the title that might add value and stability, but as of now, the best football game on iOS is still Madden 11 which, incidentally, has been removed from the App Store. Watch this space to see if EA Sports does anything about to make Madden 12 a winner.