Madden NFL 11

The “everything you see on a Sunday” blurb on the back of the box does not relate to the Eastenders Omnibus or a nice roast dinner with Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire puddings that most of the British population are accustomed to seeing on a Sunday, but rather the formations and tackles gridiron fans see on their teleboxes once a week. This ties in with NFL 11’s new ‘Gameflow’ feature – no longer do you have to spend time choosing formations and strategies as with this new feature selected the coach will automatically choose for you, with each formation based on examples used in real life. If you have an Xbox 360 headset spare then dust it off and plug it in – the virtual coach will talk you through what plays are recommended. It’s a nice, if slightly pointless, touch.

It’s not just this new gameflow feature that helps the Madden series finally come into the realms of being classed as assessable – if you’re doing something wrong, like not passing correctly, then a tip box will pop up and point out how to play properly. The difficulty level can be changed at any time too, even during a game, and you can play games lasting anything from 1 minute a quarter to 15 minutes. I’d still say though that due to the stop-and-start nature of the game it won’t be everybody’s cup of Gatorade – menus still appear before punting the ball asking if you want to use plays from the playbook, so it’s not quite a free flowing game just yet.

The Saints are a big deal in the US at the moment so images of the squad feature all over the option screens. It seems odd that EA have done this – can you imagine if FIFA 11 featured Manchester United images all over the front end? Not everybody adores the same teams, after all. The rest of the presentation is impressive though – player animation is smooth (some of the touchdown celebrations raise a smile) and there are plenty of nice graphical touches such as the way the stadium lights reflect off the player’s helmets and how lush the grass looks. There’s a new commentator this year too – Gus Johnson joins Cris Collinsworth to provide some responsive summaries. Like all sports games the commentary does get repetitive after a while, especially when they’re shamelessly plugging NFL’s sponsored products like Old Spice, but it’s not all bad – when attempting to score one of the commentators occasionally starts singing the old Batman TV show theme tune.

Best bits? Running like a mad man with the ball to the touchdown zone, juking and spinning out of harm’s way. It takes a little bit of practice to get good at this, but once you nail it it’s really satisfying bringing the ball home untouched. You can also fake punt – pretend to kick the ball, but instead grab it and throw it to whoever’s free. Then there’s the button bashing scrimmages – players bundle on top of each other and whoever has possession by the time the ref turns up will get control of the ball. It’s funny how some simple button bashing helps add a little variety into the mix. It would have perhaps been a good idea though to make the power bar for the kick meter a little more challenging to use – it’s far too easy for the game’s own good to pull off a perfect punt.

With Madden NFL 11, EA pretty much has all their bases covered – it’s not too frustrating or complex for non-fans, and for the dedicated there’s wealth of modes including 3-on-3 cooperative online play and the chance to make your own superstar and guide their entire career. You can even to skip straight to Super Bowl XLV and jump straight into the big game if it’s instant gratification you’re after. Just don’t expect to see any photo-realistic picture of lamb chops or recaps of what’s being going on at the Queen Vic.

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