Madden 11 is a game that has sat around in Console Monster towers for a fair amount of time now, with nay a writer wanting to touch the game for review. This isn’t because Madden 11 is poor entertainment, simply that it isn’t as familiar as our beautiful game. I have to be honest and upfront before I continue here. I’ve never followed American Football particularly closely, and I don’t have a huge knowledge of the game. For those expecting a review detailing the accuracies and intricacies of how well Madden emulates the sport, you’re going to be disappointed. Considering the history of the Madden franchise, and the fact that EA make a decent sports game, it’s a given that the latest instalment is a good representation of the game. What I’ll explore in this review is how approachable this genre is to a newbie.

This is not my first experience of a Madden title, or indeed my first experience of an American Football game. In the Spectrum and Commodore 64 days such titles were available, with play move selections taking up the same amount of time, but then it didn’t seem to matter whether there was an understanding of the game. With Madden 06 being one of the first titles on Xbox360, it was more an exercise in Gamerscore points, with several hundred being generously award for doing very little more than continuously pressing a few buttons in a managerial mode.

Madden 11 makes you work that little bit harder for the points, but the manager type mode, Franchise, is a far stretch from the 2006 release. This is something that has been criticised as remaining stagnant for the last few years with little improvement. However, any newcomers will wonder what the fuss is about, with plenty to get stuck into.

A number of features seem to be shared from other EA Sports titles. The Ultimate Team mode will certainly feel familiar to anyone who’s played FIFA since the 2009 release. Similarly to the FIFA card based counterpart, Madden starts the player out with some rather low ranking players with which to game. As fixtures are fought, points are won allowing the purchase of higher ranking sportsmen. Of course, as usual with EA DLC, it’s possible to pay your way to success with real money, allowing access to the “Ultimate Team” if you’re mad enough to splash the cash.

One thing that any gamer needs to be aware of is that Madden follows other EA Sports releases this year and requires a code redemption for online play. This is fine for those purchasing new, but for the bargain hunters you will need to stump up around £10 if you’re purchasing second hand.

If there is one singular aspect of Madden that is particularly annoying, it has nothing do to with how the game is presented or even how it plays. It is simply this: the default option once you’re in the game is the Madden Shop. Straight away with a click you’re placed into a money grab, able to purchase the in game coins currency, gaining 3000 coins for a princely sum of 79 pence. As previously mentioned this can be accumulated in-game, but things do feel structured in such a way as to encourage additional investment and it feels like a cheap shot to force players in to the micro transaction model that far too many games seem to follow. There is at least some choice music to listen to as you navigate through the menus; EA have favoured a rocky flavour featuring AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, Bush, Ozzy Osbourne and Kiss amongst others.

There is no shortage of different modes available to select from, it’s almost a bewildering choice. There are quick play options to get in to an encounter as quickly as possible, but drilling down will uncover the more involved career type modes and online play. There’s definitely enough here to keep anyone with an interest in NFL going for at least as long as the inevitable Madden 12 release.

Once into the action though it’s here that the newbie status really starts to hit home. Madden is somewhat inaccessible to anyone who isn’t familiar with how the game is played. Even with a basic understanding of how American Football works, it can still be a struggle. Unlike the simplicity of UK football that pretty much anyone can understand and pick-up and play (perhaps with the exception of the offside rule), you’ll start to get bogged down in the playbook selections. The “Playflow” aspect tries to remove the complexity of choosing the right positioning and player movement by selecting a playbook move for you, but you still need to a level of comprehension to get where the game is going. It is definitely a step in the right direction.

As I mentioned as I keyed the introduction, this was never going to be a review that could succinctly sum up the accuracies of the sport to game translation. Scoring Madden 11 leaves me in a difficult position. It would be unfair for me to rate it based on my inadequate understanding of the sport, but as a relative newbie entry in to the Madden series is a scary prospect and leaves me a little cold. It’s unlikely for anyone to pick this title up without some interest in the game, but for those with a curiosity about the sport, the introduction of the Playflow system does take out some of the strain, making it possible to get stuck in without worrying about the complexities.

Madden certainly has polish, plenty of game options and graphical flair. I don’t doubt if you’re a fan of NFL that you already have the game in your collection, but then with limited competition the series is mostly in a league of its own. It is a game designed to appeal to the fans, with little hand-holding for anyone else – that said, it’s still a solid sports experience.

Marty Greenwell

Marty has been gaming since the heady years of the ZX-81 and still owns most of the gaming systems purchased since those days, including the Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, SNES, Jaguar, Dreamcast and GameCube. Being a collection junkie (or more accurately, hoarder), he buys more games than he can possibly play, far too many of which are still sealed in their packaging. Marty favours RPGs and Driving games when it comes to genres, and is possibly a little bit too addicted to Disgaea. When not gaming he’s out frightening OAPs on his motorcycle, clad in black leather.

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