History shows us that virtual football belongs to Madden. There have been many alternatives to EA’s supremacy over the years, but they’ve all fallen short over time. On the iPhone, Gameloft is devoting some serious resources to bring a premier football experience to the platform. NFL 2011 iterates on last year’s debut, and while Gameloft has a better showing this year, there are enough mishaps to drop yellow flags all over the place.
NFL 2011′s biggest strength is its on-field gameplay. Mechanically, all three phases of the game are represented well. The game employs the red-yellow-green visual indicators so effectively used in Madden, so seeing who’s open or covered is cake.
The issues with passing are twofold, though. First, landing the deep ball is absurdly easy. Once you get a speedy receiver going deep, you can essentially count on getting a big completion.
The other nagging issue is that some taps don’t register to throw the ball. When the game doesn’t register attempted throws, tapping again opens up situations where you’re either throwing into coverage or taking an unnecessary sack.
The stadium, as seen on any given Sunday.
The ground game feels great, though it’s a bit simplistic. Hitting the hole up the middle or executing sweeps around the tackles flow well, with solid blocking up front. While running, you can spin or attempt to run over defenders, but you can’t juke. To our chagrin, it’s the supporting elements and options that really show the lack of coherence and substance.
Sports games usually strive for authenticity, and NFL 2011 does a decent job of trying to capture that aspect, but it comes up short time after time. In contrast to Madden’s full depth charts, NFL 2011 doesn’t offer similar options.
What this means is that you’ll be seeing your first string players playing special teams, ‘lowlighted’ by your star receivers returning kickoffs and punts. Authentic stadiums aren’t in the game either, so get used to playing in ‘Gameloft Coliseum,’ a generic ho-hum stadium that looks like it belongs in Arena League Football.
Without question, the biggest area that needs drastic improvement is the A.I. Each game we played revealed some obvious glitch or oversight. In other words, the computer is incredibly stupid and easy to exploit. There are many examples, and we’ll touch on a few.
Just like on the television box.
The computer was driving on us– with all three timeouts– and got into our red zone with under 45 seconds to play. On three straight plays, they decided to run the ball. Shockingly, the computer never called timeout and allowed the clock run out.
In another instance, the computer showed off its lack of awareness of situational playcalling. With a 12-12 tie on our 23 yard line, the computer decided to go for a 4th and 8. The right call would be to attempt a field goal, but apparently NFL 2011 doesn’t believe in winning football strategy.
Besides the moronic A.I. tendencies, there are other bugs that downgrade the experience. In Season Mode, the stat tracking is randomly buggy. Our starting quarterback had a rating of 0 after lighting up the Panthers. We couldn’t find options to substitute our kick returners anywhere. Immediate timeouts aren’t available due to elongated cut-scenes, and we couldn’t call timeout after selecting an extra point attempt. We’re sure we could find more glaring bugs and omissions, but you get the point.
Our critique of NFL 2011 may seem harsh, but it is an improvement on last year’s game, for sure. Visually, nearly everything looks great and core gameplay is sound. For Gameloft to bring its football franchise to the next level, shoring up the issues with the A.I. has to be the biggest priority. Secondary priorities should include adding fundamental options that a legitimate football simulation should have.
The foundation for a great football videogame is here, and if they play their cards right, Gameloft’s NFL 2012 could give Madden a serious run for the crown.