This review was originally published 09/14/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

Madden NFL 11

Madden NFL 11 cover

More than just a roster-update, but Gameflow is worthless and not worth the full price if you already own Madden 10.

It’s that time of year again. It’s time for the annual release of EA’s powerhouse licensed NFL game, Madden. This year’s release promises to completely redefine the way people play football games by bringing the playbooks of hundreds of plays down to one pre-selected play based on a Gameplan. It’s the way NFL coaches really do it, and once you stop and think about it, the idea really is brilliant. But a good game needs more than just good ideas. The ideas need to work. And Gameplanning just simply doesn’t.

I’ve always played the Madden games for the strategy and coaching elements. So when I first heard that the game would now be picking my plays for me, I was skeptical and afraid. But after hearing the arguments, and thinking about it a little bit, the change actually did make sense and even had me excited.

The Madden developers were claiming that gamers would be able to Gameplan for their upcoming opponent by setting up which plays to run in any given situation -- exactly how real NFL coaches do it. The system also had the potential to make full-length, 15-minute-quarter games more playable and practical, since the combination of the Accelerated Clock and GameFlow means that all the time spent between plays is now simulated. A default-length game of 7-minute quarters takes half an hour. And a full-length 15-minute-quarter game can be completed in less than an hour. An in-game save would have also helped make full-length games more practical for those of us who still may not have a full hour to devote for one continuous game. But too bad, we didn’t get that.

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This review was originally published 06/21/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished (and updated) here for archival purposes.

Backbreaker

Backbreaker cover art

Less like a game of pro football, and more like a pick-up game with 100 people who don’t know what they’re doing.

I’ve been waiting for Backbreaker for years, following every dev diary, watching every trailer, drooling over every new tidbit of information, all the while, fully expecting that it is going to unseat Madden by revolutionizing the football video game world and force EA to relinquish its NFL-exclusivity deal. And while Backbreaker delivers in terms of its revolutionary new game engine, it fumbles the game of football.

Back-broken gameplay

The Euphoria Engine is the driving force being this game, calculating and rendering every action and every collision on the field using its simulation of physics and human motion. Momentum is well-respected, and the game is full of "you’ll never see that again!" moments that will make your jaw drop. The action is in your face and intense, and when things get exciting, you might find yourself bouncing up and down at the edge of your seat like you did last year when Drew Brees was engineering the Saints’ come-from-behind victory in the Super Bowl. You may even jump up and cheer after breaking a long touchdown run or blindsiding a QB for an 8 yard sack. And you’ll be loving the game.

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Madden NFL 13

I was really impressed with the demo for Madden NFL 13. So impressed that I went ahead and bought the game new. I am now suffering from severe buyer's remorse. The demo looked and felt really good. The AI seemed surprisingly competitive (even at the default, Veteran, difficulty). Heck, even the commentary was good!

Then I bought the actual game and had access to Instant Replays and all the teams, and I realized that this year’s Madden was just the same game as last years', but with a few extra coats of paint and polish.

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Mars Rover Landing

I came across this article on National Geographic's website about a new XBox Live Kinect game being released by NASA called Mars Rover Landing. The game allows players to control the descent of a digital version of the real-life Curiosity Rover that is planned to land on Mars on August 5th at 10:30 pm Pacific Daylight Time.

The game itself is pretty short and pretty simple. It's a free, educational app intended for kids, so it's kind of hard for me to judge. I actually found myself more interested in the brief documentary materials that were included in the game. There's a few descriptions of the mission, the rover itself, and a video overviewing the mission as a whole. It's not anything too terribly detailed or technical, but again, it's intended for kids. So if you're a mechanical engineer and want to know about the inner workings of the rover, then you're going to have to look somewhere else.

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Madden NFL 12 box art

Once again, this review is exceptionally late. The football season is almost over, and Madden has already sold its bazillion copies for this year. So anything I say here is kind of moot when it comes to helping people decide whether or not to buy this year’s game. But maybe – just maybe – my critiques will help the developers provide us with a better game in the 7 or so months that they have left to make Madden 13.

After being thoroughly disappointed with last year’s Madden game, and not being won over by either the new demo or the gameplay in NCAA 12, I didn’t rush out to buy Madden 12 on day one. I waited till September and bought the game used. This also contributed significantly to the tardiness of this review.

Overall, Madden still just seems uninspired, even when compared to EA’s NCAA Football game. All the same gameplay enhancements go into both games each year now, but NCAA has at least taken some efforts to better represent its sport. Setting up “linked” plays is simplistic but was a start towards a better representation of football strategy. Integration of the No-Huddle offense into the game is a bit clumsy, but is a major component of modern college football, and is thusly represented in that game. Requiring the QB to “read” the defense on option plays doesn’t work as well as last year, but it’s actually an important part of the option strategy. The collegiate look and atmosphere really looks and sounds like Saturday afternoons, and the ESPN integration is actually pretty slick at times.

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

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