Madden NFL 11 Review

When Madden 10 hit the iPhone last year, it was another reminder of how relevant and big the iDevices have become in a short time. If there was a definition for the term ‘hardcore gamer,’ we’d be certain that a mention of Madden Football would be there somewhere. With this edition of Madden, EA Sports appears to be making a conscious effort to reposition its flagship sports franchise to include a wider assortment of gamers. Madden NFL 11 stands on the shoulders of its predecessor’s debut on the iPhone, and for the most part, it stands tall.

The feature-set in Madden NFL 11 is inclusive of most of the modes sports gamers expect. Fixtures like Exhibition, Season, and Playoff modes has been brought over from last year. Bluetooth-powered multiplayer is available at launch this year, and our tests yielded great performance with minimal lag.

New feature: The targeting system from Virtua Cop

Unfortunately, Franchise Mode, which allows gamers to control their favorite team over multiple seasons, did not make the cut. We understand decisions on scope had to be mode, but most Maddenites would agree that Franchise mode is the heart of the single player experience on the traditional consoles, so hopefully next year it’ll finally get in.

Mirroring the effort across other versions of Madden, GameFlow is the big feature that EA Sports is introducing for the first time. Put simply, GameFlow is intended to speed up the flow of the game by taking away play-calling duties. So instead of dealing with the micromanagement of calling all your plays, Madden’s GameFlow handles it.

In theory, it seems like an awesome new wrinkle to Madden football, but in practice, there’s still some work to be done. For instance, on a 3rd and 15, the computer called a play-action pass out of a Weak-I formation. When linemen are rushing on an obvious passing play, there’s no chance they’d bite on the fake to the running back. Predictably, Tony Romo was sacked, forcing us to punt.

Consult your doctor before taking GameFlowmax.

Compounding some of the quirky AI calls is the fact you can’t edit or modify your team’s GameFlow tendencies. Conventional playcalling is always a tap away, so luckily GameFlow isn’t the only option.

Also new to Madden on the iPhone are a few great core features that didn’t make the cut previously. Most welcome are the inclusion of audibles. To survey the opposing team’s setup and change the play at the line of scrimmage feels awesome. The expansion of the Hot Routes to the defensive side of the ball is a surprising addition as well. Changing the individual assignments for your defensive front couldn’t be easier for us, but casual players would probably get confused by the visual indicators on coverages.

The best thing about all of this is that you can save your customized defenses into a play you can audible into. The last main addition that isn’t even in the console edition is the ability to direct defenders on kick and punt returns. With the drag of your finger, changing the lanes of your gunners can make all the difference between a tackle or a touchdown.

Scenes from the Film Noir bonus levels.

Actual gameplay performs a smidgen better this year. Through smart UI design, passing feels much more enjoyable in Madden NFL 11. The biggest change comes in labeling the passing icons with jersey numbers, so you’re not blindly throwing to unknown receivers. Running the rock is satisfying, and hitting the holes in the line simulate the experience of earning every inch and yard. Each team has different playbooks, addressing another quibble we had from last year. Without question, Madden NFL 11 brings a solid football experience but the gameplay falters from some inconsistencies on the presentation end of things.

The ambition and effort that went into presentation in Madden NFL 11 is readily apparent. Playing on an iPhone 4, the crispness and clarity of the colors and textures are amazing. The character models are more detailed and the TV broadcast inspired overlays provide timely updates on stats and ongoing player progress. So on the surface, things are all good.

When testing several different stadiums, we saw nasty slowdown and clunkiness that found its way into play-calling UI and actual gameplay. When launching with weather effects on, the frame rate goes off the cliff, and there’s no sugarcoating it.

Another annoyance is that some of the animations are unrealistic and occur way too frequently. This point is most exemplified through the overuse of a catch animation that causes receivers to stop momentum while spinning around to catch the ball. Speed differential seems off, too. On several instances, linebackers unrealistically catch up and bring down receivers from behind with crazy Superman tackles. Most plays behave sensibly, but there will be a handful of plays that’ll infuriate you every game.

Madden NFL 11 is a solid football game that represents the legendary brand well. The key additions to flesh out the overall football experience are amazing and can’t be emphasized enough. GameFlow, team-specific playbooks, cleaner passing mechanics, stat overlays, and the thoughtful hot routes implementation are huge reasons why Madden NFL 11 is worth the upgrade. But nothing weighs down a sports game like a chunky frame rate and unnecessary animations. Even with these imperfections, Madden NFL 11 is still worth buying.

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