So last night, I had my sober ride back from the bar stop by Wal-Mart so I could pick up my copy of Madden '11. Drunk as is, I just went to bed without playing. But today I got my fill, playing for a majority of the day. As with every Madden holiday, it was a blast. But I do have some thoughts on the game, some Chiefs related, and some not. I know there have been posts about ratings here (some more than a month or two old), but I'll comment on that anyway. One gamer's opinion is just that, and disagreements are expected. I encourage people to play for themselves and hope I can at least help out or encourage Madden discussion.
NEW COORDINATOR FEATURE FLOPS
This year, Madden unveiled its "gameflow" playcalling sytem, advertised as a way to experience the real game-tempo and flow of playcalling. In this mode, a coordinator calls your plays for you, and explains what to look for, in a liberal sense of the term. The voice of the coordinators on offense and defense change accordingly. In this mode, you can toggle back into the classic playbook style to pick your own play if you'd like, but as you're often hitting x (on ps3) to skip through some action sequences after the play, sometimes you inadvertantly advance to the next play, leaving it to the hypothetical coordinator to call your next play. This is dumb. Half of the fun in playing Madden is calling your own plays. Why they wanted to simulate this I'm not sure. Perhaps they want their gamers to experience more of the playbook, as most players I know tend to focus on 10-15 plays and run them all the time. And in this, they can diversify playcalls and keep the tempo realistic. To me though, as a gamer who tends to use A LOT (20-40 different plays on offense usually) of the playbook anyway, this feature is lame and takes too much of the game out of your hands. I disabled it after my first game and went back to the classic playcalling. Because of the sound of the coordinator voices and how inactive it makes the experience seem, this should go the way of the passing/vision cones of several years ago.
Now run the plays I want! No more of this video-game bulls***, and by the way, pick a position Tim Castille!!!
There have been posts about player rankings on AP before for Madden '11, but I wanted to share a couple thoughts. Jason Campbell and Mark Sanchez are ranked way too high. Matt Cassel is ranked too low. Neither error is egregious, but when comparing the three, it seems obvious. For years, Madden has seemed to favor Raiders players in one way or another (or big name/big city players), and this is to be expected with the game's namesake, and I'm okay with that. But this is the same Jason Campbell who was benched for an awful Redskins team in favor of multiple backups in the last few seasons (former Chief Todd Collins included). He has the tools, and that explained why he was drafted and why the Raiders gave him another chance. But an 83? Wow, that's nuts. Especially in light of Matt Cassel's 78. Cassel struggled last year, and he has a reputation for struggling with the deep ball. But his '08 season, and his career including '08 and '09, still makes Campbell an easy backup when you compare the two. An in depth look at Cassel's ratings reveals an appalling lack of accuracy for him on medium and long passes. Cassel is no all-pro and should not be rated higher than 82 (what I put him at), but his comparison to Campbell is ludicrous.
Not sure which benching or loss this picture was taken after
Another point is Mark Sanchez, who was ranked at an 83. He looked way too much like JaMarcus Russell at times last season to warrant this rating. Yes, the Jets made the AFC Championship game, and yes, he was a rookie and should improve. But this was a Jets team that hid Sanchez from pressure all season, attempting to hold his pass attempts under 15 for most of the season. Do a couple decent (at best) playoff games earn you a major boost from what your performance really was? Not in my opinion. I knocked Sanchez down to 79.
Ah, those clever New Yorkers and their headlines...
As I went through the league-wide ratings, I was most concerned with the players rated above 90. I found one player who I really did not think belonged, and that was Antoine Bethea, safety for the Colts. I have nothing against him or the Colts, but a 95 for him is absurd. The Colts pass defense was pretty good last year, but largely for its pass rush (Mathis and Freeney were appropriately rated). The defensive backs were known most for their injuries, not their ability. Bethea is a good safety, not the third best in the league behind Ed Reed.. I knocked him to 88, which was still good for 7th or 8th best in the league at his position if I remember correctly.
Bethea is telling the much taller Chargers receiver that Bethea's ratings on Madden are accurate, and he hopes the receiver remembers to play with the Colts online.
My reviews are subjective, and I'm not a professional like those that work for Madden and EA Sports, but these were errors I felt needed to be rectified. There really wasn't much to change about the Chiefs, as their harsh ratings have been earned after 6 wins in the last two years. That said, Ryan Succop's 79 rating was a crock though, as he had one of the strongest legs in the league and was one of the more accurate rookie kickers I have ever seen or heard of. I did not alter much of anything else. Another issue was the fact that Minicamp and Training Camp all-star safety Kendrick Lewis was not on the game at all. I had to create him (74 rating, starting over McGraw, which seems fair).
GUS JOHNSON SUCKS, COLLINSWORTH GOOD
There are few announcers in sports more polarizing than Gus Johnson. Dick Vitale and John Madden fit into this category. Johnson is perhaps most famous for his calls during CBS coverage of the NCAA Tournament, where he can take a beatdown between a 1 seed and a 16 seed and make it sound like the 5'8 white guy layups for Centenary are earth-shattering dunks. He is lively, excitable, but beyond anything, needlessly loud. I have never liked Gus Johnson, but I understand why other people do. But now he's on my video game. Madden was fine as a football expert, and, after all, it is HIS game (I personally love John Madden as an announcer, despite his man-crush for Brett Favre and anything fat guys do). Gus Johnson (who was also on EA Sports NCAA March Madness video game for 2009-1010) just is a tough sell to me for a video game more than anything else. With his loud yells, odd voice inflections, and weird pronunciations, it is hard to piece together much to call a game on a video game. His calls on the game are choppy and odd-sounding more than entertaining.
If you look closely over his right shoulder, you can see the faces and names of the players, including instructions on how to shout them and make them sound exciting on one yard runs and incomplete passes.
Cris Collinsworth is still good on the game, even though a lot of the stock recordings from the last two games are still used. For example, during the Chiefs-Eagles preseason game, the pregame featured Collinsworth explaining the QB matchup between Cassel and Donovan McNabb, who now quarterbacks for the Redskins. Kevin Kolb was pictured warming up, but not discussed. As I play more, these kinds of errors will surely become more commonplace, but for one day, that kind of error was just weird considering the high-profile nature of McNabb's move away from Philly.
Overall, not much has changed between last year's game and this year's game in terms of gameplay and animations, but this has become expected with the Madden franchise. I have no problem with that. One thing that is cool is how difficulty settings are handled. In years past, there have been training tests for your profile that recommends custom settings or a difficulty level. As I was refreshing myself during my first game, annoyed with the playcalling thing, I went to difficulty settings to make it more challenging and discovered a "My Settings" or "My skill" option. This rated my game with a suggested difficulty level in-game, sans stupid workout tests. It rated me right even for all-pro in run offense, pass offense, and pass defense, but between pro and all-pro in run defense (perhaps a product of playing with the Chiefs?). This option was cool and made for a more competitive game. I will keep checking this as I play more to see if/how these things change, and this is awesome because I don't have to do anything but just check this little thing that must be scouting me during the game.
The kicking interface has changed, and I really don't care about it, though I see where some might care more. I kinda liked the old use of the joystick (R3 on ps3 controller) kicking as something new. But this time they've gone to an early 90s golf-meter thing, where you tap x to start the meter, click it again at the end of the horizontal meter for power, and again where you started for accuracy. No preference or anything for this, but it is a change.
THE NEW ARROWHEAD
The game's presentation of the New Arrowhead is awesome. The screens on the two scoreboards look great, and the people at EA surely had some trouble adjusting images to fit the shape of the football-shaped scoreboards. The makers of MLB the Show should take note and actually use the shape of the ginormous scoreboard at Kauffman Stadium, instead of form-fitting a rectangular video display on the part that fits. The horizon level looks nice and realistic, from the pictures I've seen of Arrowhead during construction and from the view from the parking lot. The only thing I know for a fact that is wrong is the color of the walls on the field level. As I understand, those will no longer be the odd light green, but will be red. The game still features the green wall with little arrowheads lining it.
Another cool thing is the music that plays in-game. Most of the classic stadium anthems are on the game this year, and they appear to be stadium-specific. For example, touchdowns for the Chiefs in Arrowhead culminate with a playing of "Rock and Roll Part 2", or the "Hey" song by Gary Glitter, complete with the fan chant "We're gonna beat the heck (the game changed hell to heck for the E rating) out of you, you, you, you you you." This was cool. In addition, "Crazy Train" by Ozzy is the kickoff song at Arrowhead, as it has often been used there. Other songs included are "I want to bang on the drum all day" (if that is the song title), which has been used in Green Bay for decades now after their touchdowns, "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns' n' Roses, and other classic stadium songs ("Song #2" by Blur, "We Ready" by rapper Archie, and more). The stadium atmosphere feels much more realistic, at every stadium, with these songs than with the usual EA Trax by newer artists. No offense to Good Charlotte or rapper Red Cafe.
There is an online team-play feature that allows three players to play together on one side of the ball, where the skill positions are split up. On offense, there is the QB (Calls plays and passes the ball), RB, and WR/TE. I'm personally shocked that Madden didn't insist on putting a gamer in charge of linemen. On defense, there is DL, LB (Calls plays), and DB. I haven't used this feature but went through a tutorial on it, and it seems cool. I can't say how it affects game play and game speed, but I imagine there is some effect. Those who prefer online gaming should love this. I tend to stick to Franchise Mode though and play as much as possible.
I love this game just like I love all Madden games. If you are a longtime purchaser, you should feel the same. Just don't let the coordinator thing bother you.
Dick Vermeil would be sad, crying that I had to fire the coordinator feature, because, dog-gone-it the people at EA Sports worked hard on it.