When it comes to the Madden NFL, it’s about Franchise mode. Madden’s in-depth Franchise mode is the one thing that always keeps me coming back to Madden year after year. Other sports titles have made progress over the years in their franchise modes. But none have been able to surpass Madden’s depth and realism. This year, for Madden NFL 12, EA SPORTS has made several upgrades to the Franchise mode to make it an even more enjoyable experience.
The first thing you’ll notice when you start your franchise in Madden NFL 12 is the expanded rosters for the preseason. Whether you actually play the preseason games or not, you’ll be required to cut players after each week – four players after Week 1, four players after Week 2, eight players after Week 3 and four players after the final week. The rookies on your roster will not have set ratings, and some of the attributes will say zero. There’s a question mark next to the rookies’ ratings and potential. As you play through the preseason, the rookies’ rating will go up or down based on performance and potential. For example, you might have a third-round draft pick start off with a 91 overall rating (with the question mark next to it) in Week 1. But his rating could drop to a more realistic 68 after Week 2. The ratings will unlock slowly, week by week, until you make your decision on whom to cut. You’ll obviously know your first-round pick will be fine, but the guys drafted lower, and the undrafted free agents filling out your roster, will be more of a difficult decision.
Once you get to the regular season, you’ll have to scout the class for next year’s draft. The players you choose to scout will have a rough estimate of their rating and potential. Players you don’t scout will have a zero rating with a question mark. If you don’t scout rookies, your draft will be a crapshoot – especially if you’re using the auto-generated rookies.
When you play your first game, players will be affected by “Dynamic Player Performance.” DPP will cause a change in player ratings from week to week. If Jay Cutler is on a hot streak, he could be rated 90 one week. If Cutler has a couple bad weeks, he could be rated 75 for a game. A player’s hot streak can only last for three games before he returns to his original rating. More established stars, like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, will be more consistent in their week-to-week rating.
Once you finish your season, you’ll have to re-sign coaches and players. When you get to free agency - then you’ll notice a big difference. This year, Madden NFL 12 has implemented a new bidding system for free agency. As you start free agency, the clock (typically 90 seconds) will start to count down. During that time you will bid on free agents with the other teams in the league. To bid on a player, all you have to do is highlight him and press A (X on PS3). Pressing A will make you submit a slightly bigger offer than the previous team. It’s similar to bidding for an item on Ebay. If you have the top bid when the clock runs out, you’ll win the free-agent prize. When you officially sign your free agent, you’ll have the option of offering him a front-loaded, evenly-distributed or back-loaded contract. This new system requires you to be aware of your cap situation heading into free agency, since you’ll need cap room to sign rookies. You should also have a plan going into the free-agency period because of the speed at which it goes.
I’m not a big fan of this new free-agency system. You’re not allowed to change the years of the contract on the offer made to free agents. In the past, that was something you could use to trump another team. If I’m going after a veteran running back and I’m willing to give him a third year, while my competition is only willing to go two years on a deal, that would give me an advantage. Another advantage you lose is the distribution of the money, now that it is decided after the deal is agreed upon. Offering a player a front-loaded deal, as opposed to a back-loaded one, would be something that could sway his decision.
The free agency is too hectic for me. While it’s true the top free agents sign quickly, 90 seconds is not enough time to go through the amount of free agents and make a decision. That’s why I said you will need a plan going into it. Now the entire free agency class isn’t on the 90-second clock all at once. It seems to go in shifts, where the top players’ clocks start first (players rated over 80), then the next tier starts up (players between 65-79), etc.
After free agency, you’ll start work on that year’s NFL Draft. The rookies you scouted during the regular season will be available for the NFL Combine, Pro Days and individual workouts. Each stage will unlock attributes for the rookies. The NFL Combine (which is actually before the free agency bidding) will unlock skills like speed, strength and agility. Pro Days will allow you to unlock certain intangibles and individual workouts will unlock everything.
When you finally get to the NFL Draft, you will be able to trade future draft picks for the first time. You have the option of trading picks from the current year or the next season. If you want to pull a Mike Ditka and trade your entire draft, and picks for the next season, to move up and get that running back you desire, you can do that. But I wouldn’t recommend it.
The main gameplay enhancements made to Madden NFL 12 are the same ones we’ve seen for NCAA Football 12 this year: collision tackling and improved defensive AI.
Collision tackling means that the tackle will not happen until the defender actually makes contact with the ball carrier. Gone are the days of the canned tackle, or suction tackle, animations. The improved defensive AI is more noticeable in the passing game. The AI defense plays the zone well and reacts immediately to any pass that is thrown. I’ve also found it tougher to run on Madden NFL 12 than NCAA Football 12. And like NCAA Football 12, Madden NFL 12 now allows custom playbooks.
As far as online goes, Madden NFL 12 is introducing “Online Communities.” This is a feature that will allow you to create your own group online (anywhere from two to 2000 players) and set your own rules. Your community will have its own name, logo and community leaderboard. This is a nice way to play friends in ranked matches, while avoiding online cheesers.
One feature that will remain untouched for a second straight year is Online Franchise mode. As someone who has played Online Franchise mode for the last two years, I’m obviously not pleased with the decision. The Madden NFL team seems to have a feast-or-famine approach to Online Franchise. It’s either revamp the entire mode and change everything, or change nothing and leave it the same for the third straight season - and they chose the latter. I would be happy if they would just add a feature or two to freshen it up a bit, but they are clearly not willing to do that. As a result, I don’t see myself playing Online Franchise this year. It’s the exact same mode I’ve played the last two years and I really don’t want to do that again.
Interview with Madden 12's Anthony Stevenson
Madden NFL 12’s presentation and graphics are outstanding. This year’s title features 32 unique team entrances with mascots, cheerleaders and new broadcast graphics. It’s a small thing, but I love the way the helmets look when they show cut scenes of the huddle. With the lighting and the stickers, it just looks really nice.
Fans should be pleased with Madden NFL 12 this year. They’ve given fans what they want in terms of Franchise mode improvements and things like custom playbooks. If they can just work on that Online Franchise mode, I’ll be a bit more satisfied. But overall, Madden NFL 12 is solid game.
8.5 out of 10
Madden NFL gameplay video: Bears vs. Packers (1st Qtr.)
Madden NFL gameplay video: Bears vs. Packers (2nd Qtr.)
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