Long-running series always ultimately become victims of their own successes, and the divisive rifts they carve between different factions of hardcore fans who form wildly different opinions about the series’ essence. Look no further than The Simpsons every Sunday night—while older household members scoff that the show has lost its touch, the younger ones are still laughing. The same contention holds true of the new installment of the Madden football game every August. Madden 11 makes huge concessions with new key features that strive to simplify and condense play sessions, but the move is sure to appease some players and frustrate the rest.
Players who loved last year’s push toward realism will be in the latter camp over GameFlow. When enabled, it handles the play-calling by automatically taking into account your current situation, how many downs you have, and what your team would actually do. It’s optional, but it adds a dash of realism: real coaches don’t thumb through their bulky playbooks while the clock’s ticking. Just hit a button, and you’re freed up to read the defense, snap the ball, and run the field. That, coupled with the shorter matches—you can play an entire game in 20 to 30 minutes—are this year’s biggest back-of-the-box bullet points. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound like much, because these aren’t really drastic shifts. Everything else is largely as Madden fans remember it, like the formidable AI making courageous lapses in judgment, such as running out the clock when they’re down by 30.
Every year, Madden smacks somewhat of familiarity, though 2010 feels a little light on the innovations: EA itself even admitted earlier this summer that it takes “well over a year” to overhaul and finesse core modes like SuperStar and Franchise, and then implored fans to write in with their ideas on how to “revolutionize” 12. And EA is right: Madden 11 is no revolution. It’s a little lazy, which should be unforgivable, since the company has the exclusive NFL license. With more than two decades under its belt, though, Madden can’t risk a revolution for fear of alienating its devotees. Madden 11 at least offers a refreshing change of pace, making it a fine point of entry for newcomers and allowing stat-obsessed veterans a chance to peel away some of the layers added over the last few years.