Short of roster updates and a few upgrades, there was never a whole lot for me that really pushed Madden NFL games to new heights; it seemed to reach a plateau. So a few years ago, I began my own lockout of the franchise.
But when the NFL's lockout came to an end, I decided to end my personal boycott of Madden. After all, my expectations of the newest incarnation with its new features were high.
The result? It's still Madden. But Madden 12 is definitely a better product than it was two years ago.
The presentation is solid. There are NFL films, lots of different angles and pretty cool intros. The graphics are breathtaking. You immediately notice the lighting on the stadiums, which are all very detailed. Cleveland Browns Stadium, for example, is spot on.
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Here's the other thing that stood out to me: The game has plenty of offerings, some of which I'd seen before my Madden lockout. There's a Superstar mode, Madden Moments and Ultimate Team. The latest Superstar mode, in which you create a player, is better than earlier incarnations, but it's still lacking. Compared to games like NBA 2K11, Madden's Superstar is lacking, as it's really hard to see your progress and it doesn't provide you with any specific goals.
But Madden 12's controls are as they have always been. It's a Madden game. There's little to prohibit you from immediately picking up the control and taking on — or teaming up with — a friend. The in-game commentary also is good.
The bulk of developer EA Tiburon's work was spent making improvements to Madden's franchise mode. There's a new scouting system, which is great for multiple seasons. It requires you to set priorities and makes you think like a scout or GM who won't have time to learn everything he can about a particular player. But that's also a problem: you don't know anything about a player's combine numbers if you didn't scout them. Not cool.
Overall, Madden NFL 12 is a much better game than the game I knew before. But it's also very much like the game I knew before. Last year, I said NBA 2K11 was the best sports game of the year. I don't think I'll be going out on a limb in saying NBA 2K12 will take the crown this year.