Every year at this time, fans across the country are abuzz at the prospect of their chosen team's seemingly unlimited potential. Any team could hoist the fabled Lombardi Trophy, and that unbridled optimism drenches even the most levelheaded spectators in waves of hope. It's only after the weeks creep by that fans start to realize their team hasn't improved much in the months since it last took to the field. That cycle of dizzying expectations crushed by cruel reality is mirrored all too well in Madden NFL 12. The core action has seen slight improvements, making it incrementally better than last year's offering, and presentation tweaks do a better job of mimicking Sunday's biggest games. But those minor additions offer little incentive to plunk down your hard-earned cash if you already own a recent entry in the franchise. Madden 12 still offers the strategic excitement the series is known for, but the overall package is a familiar rendition of America's favorite sport.
6331115Virtual hero, real-life 4th stringer.None
The most noticeable change from Madden NFL 11 is the improved pregame presentation. Before each game begins, shaky camera close-ups give you an intimate look at your favorite players as they parade onto the field, and robotic cheerleaders who look as though they're sporting spray-on clothing dance to the delight of the frenzied crowd. The same exaggerated hoopla that an ordinary NFL contest uses to spike interest is used to ratchet up the excitement of this virtual offering, but it's ultimately a lot of frills without much payoff. The appeal fades away once you sit through the routine a handful of times, and the rest of the presentation still comes across as flat. Commentary does little to engender much enthusiasm. The duo of Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth returns, and they dole out the same tired cliches so often that they quickly overstay their welcome. Calls are frequently made so late that Johnson continues to hoot and holler long after a tackle occurs, which tears down the wall of believability the various pregame tricks tried to develop.
One other area of the presentation is noticeably lacking: instant replays. During the course of a game, replays are automatically cued up after big plays, just like in real life. Or, at least, that's how things should work. In reality, the plays you get to experience again appear to be randomly chosen with little regard for their overall impact. A key turnover or touchdown may be completely ignored, leaving you to wonder why this aspect of the presentation wasn't implemented in a more thoughtful manner. Even when a crucial play does automatically roll, the game fails to highlight the deciding moment. Replays are shown from a camera angle that gives the same weight to every element of the play, so a mundane handoff is just as important as a flashy spin move, and the commentators don't even chime in during such replays. Granted, you can always go to the menu and call up an instant replay yourself, but it would be nice if the game emulated real-life broadcasts more accurately. And if you're playing an online match, just give up any hope of rewatching the most exciting plays. You can't manually trigger a replay until the match concludes, and by that point, it hardly matters.
Instead of removing the excitement from kickoffs, maybe the rules committee should have forced every one to be an onside kick instead.
Sketchy replays have been a sore spot in Madden games for years, but that's not the only problem area that has been left untouched. For instance, ball physics too often clash with reality. Balls ricochet off of players at strange angles, and it's all too common to see a batted ball get magically sucked into the hands of a sprinting receiver. Physics and collision-detection problems are especially noticeable when you cue up replays. You may wonder why your perfectly positioned cornerback failed to pick off an errant pass, only to see on close examination that the ball passed clean through his hands. Other surreal aspects don't ultimately affect the gameplay, but they certainly feel out of place in this supposedly realistic simulation. During practices, quarterbacks can be lit up by aggressive defenders, something that is a serious no-no in real life. When you throw in persistent issues that have yet to be addressed, such as painfully sluggish menus, you're left rolling your eyes. Considering Madden 12 doesn't have any new modes, this would have been a good year to clean up these miscues, but sadly, this opportunity wasn't seized.