Title: Madden 12

Platform: 360 (PS3, Wii, PS3, 3DS, PSP)

ESRB Rating: E

Publisher: EA Sports

Developer: EA Tiburon

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Review by: Bill Jones

In the college vs. pro football discussion, there have always been purists who side with college football because of its focus on young athleticism over the money-hungry pro superstars and the showiness of the NFL. Of course, the NFL has star power, big-time television coverage and endorsements, and a better playoff structure in its corner. But in the world of video game football, it seems Madden’s collegiate counterpart may have finally won the debate.

Over the last two years, I have absolutely fallen in love with the NCAA Football series, from its style of pure football gameplay to its incredibly deep franchise mode and fantastic recruitment process, playing to the strengths of the four-year college rotation, rather than its weaknesses. And NCAA Football 12 gets closer than ever to making the player feel like he is in the coach’s seat. Madden 12, on the other hand, does everything in its power to remind me of why I’m growing tired of professional football.

At its core, the Madden gameplay is still solid, and with great new changes like dynamic collision animations, onside kicks from regular formations, and dynamic player traits that reflect on-field performance, it’s arguably better than ever. But Madden 12 does its best to distract the gamer from these core elements, and that’s where things start to go awry.

From the opening menus, the design of Madden 12 is far from intuitive. It tries to stick to basic menus, but they are poorly organized. Then we skip ahead to the gameplay, and the presentation and commentary, much like the actual NFL, is completely overindulged. On television, it is designed to keep presentation exciting and viewers from enjoying a minute of commentary silence. But in the game there is no place for it.

While a dynamic cam following my quarterback on the field may more accurately replicate the NFL experience, as do some of the crazy camera angles, it only serves to delay the actual gameplay, and in the case of the camera make it impossible to see where a kick is going without switching back to classic view. In short, it’s unnecessary for a video game. Also unnecessary — taking out players for fictional concussions. Again, it may more accurately replicate the NFL, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s what gamers really want from their football. I don’t.

The game also brings back and tweaks things like Ultimate Team, if that’s your cup of tea, Franchise and NFL Star. Franchise, again, simply seems more convoluted than its college counterpart. It tries to get deeper with expanded roster for pre-season cuts and trades for future draft picks, but neither of these things are particularly fun, just more steps in the process. There’s no real sense of reward in finding your worst players and letting them go — it’s just a thing the gamer has to do.

And the NFL Star mode could use a little fixing to make it, you know, fun. The ability to import college players from NCAA Football is still there, and that’s nice, but I opted to create a new halfback and improve him as much as I could with the points available. I got drafted to the Indianapolis Colts, nicely as a first stringer, except Payton Manning does little but pass, even calling audibles on the few plays called that actually start as running plays. If this is what it’s like to be an NFL Star, I don’t want any part of it.

Likewise, the game may be getting closer to what real professional football is like, but the closer the series inches, the less interested I become. At its heart, Madden 12 is still a solid football game, but a similarly awesome football game can be found in NCAA Football 12, just without all the ancillary distracters. In short, Madden 12’s core on-field play may be better than ever, but I’ve never been less excited about playing the game.

For more info, ea.com/madden-nfl

Pads & Panels received a copy of the game courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.