Last year, Ultimate Team mode was offered as DLC after Madden NFL 10 was released, but it's included in Madden NFL 11 from the get go. In this mode, you create your own team and then receive a collection of random players to fill out your rosters. These players are doled out as if they were football cards, with their pictures on the front and their statistics on the back. You use this collection of athletes against either the computer or friends to earn coins that allow you to buy more players for your team. It's a neat concept, but it's not very interesting in practice. The initial assortment of players is comprised of second-tier talent that won't be recognized by anyone but dedicated NFL fans. And it takes a lot of time to unlock anyone you would actually care about. The best part of the Madden games has you taking control of your favorite franchise with your favorite players and turning them into Super Bowl champions. Ultimate Team takes away that appeal. Even though you unlock household names by winning some games, it's not worth the effort.
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Madden Moments is a much more enjoyable alternative to Ultimate Team. In this mode, you replay dramatic contests from last season. Sometimes, you try to reenact improbable victories; at other times, you have to change history by coming up strong where the real-life team fell short. For NFL fans that lived through these intense situations last season, it's a real rush playing them all over again. Remember when Peyton Manning threw that embarrassing pick six in the Super Bowl? You have a chance to mount a comeback that the reigning MVP could not pull off. But there are still some issues in this mode. The most glaring problem is that you can't restart in the middle of a contest. If you throw a stupid interception or fail to recover a crucial onsides kick, you either have to go through the motions until the clock mercifully runs out or go all the way back to the main menu and reload. More troubling for big-time NFL fans is that the rosters aren't accurate. Even though these moments all took place last season, you have to use this year's rosters. It's downright laughable trying to mount a Rams comeback as Sam Bradford, when the prodigious QB was still in college last year.
Despite other modes vying for your time, Madden NFL 11 is still at its best when you're taking on a friend in competitive play. The online action is incredibly intense and downright exhilarating at times. The ebb and flow of professional football is captured beautifully here, and there's nothing like pulling out a last second victory against your gridiron equal. There is a bit of lag, which is particularly noticeable during the kicking game, but it's generally smooth and tons of fun. Cooperative action is a cool gimmick, giving you the ability to team up with up to two other friends on the same side. Each person controls a specific group of players, like linebackers or running backs, and you upgrade your abilities by completing objectives. However, it's strange to lose full control over your team. Playing as the quarterback is still much more interesting than any other position on offense, which only makes cooperative play entertaining for a few games before you just want to disband your loyalty and take your buddies on head-to-head.
Obama shows off a jersey he can be proud of.
Commentary is greatly improved in this edition mostly because the monotonous Tom Hammond has been relieved of his play-by-play duties by the effervescent Gus Johnson. The excitable commentator does not quite match the overwhelming joy he exhibits in real games, but he still infuses games with much needed energy. His color man is Cris Collinsworth, and though he does repeat himself a bit too often, he provides heady analysis that gives these digital events the feeling of something much larger. Unfortunately, elements of the presentation are not handled nearly as well. In Franchise mode, you can watch a weekly wrap-up show called The Extra Point that goes over the key games from the previous week and previews the upcoming slate of games. But the details are so vague that it's completely worthless. You get a box-score breakdown of the biggest games, but you won't hear any specific details on how the game played out (such as a big comeback or questionable referee call) or get any highlights.
Despite the gameplay quirks and presentation hiccups, Madden NFL 11 is still a great football game. The improved AI and enhanced physics system makes the on-field action even better than before, and the realistic commentary makes your quest for victory carry that much more weight. The changes are generally subtle, so casual football fans may not notice all the tweaks to the core gameplay. But for those who live for football and get pumped for granular changes, Madden NFL 11 once again hoists the Lombardi Trophy.