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Video Game of the Week – Madden NFL 12

In many ways, Madden NFL 12 is competing against itself. The long-running and much-acclaimed football franchise so dominates the space that new releases can really only be compared to prior editions. Even here, the developers are caught in a Catch 22: do too much and it will risk turning off the legions of existing Madden fans; do too little and they won’t be able to justify the $60 upgrade.

By these onerous standards, Madden NFL 12 comes off pretty well, adding enough new features to make it fresh and interesting, while sticking religiously to its roots of realistic hard-hitting action.

The most obvious change in Madden NFL 12 is the improved pre-game presentation. Before each game begins, in-your-face camera close-ups give you an intimate look at every aspect of the pre-game ritual, from the frenzied exhortations of Ray Lewis to the less-than-subtle gyrations of the cheerleaders. The jumpy handheld-camera-style coverage even makes the coin toss look exciting!

Although there are no new game modes this year, Madden NFL 12 greatly expands the existing Franchise mode, which gives Madden players a taste of what it’s like to run a team away from the sidelines. Free agency is now a fast-paced, menu-scrolling adventure that is almost as confusing as it is energizing. Deciding who to cut and who to keep while staying under the salary cap gives you a whole new appreciation for the stresses of the front office.

Every year Madden makes small improvements to the overall graphics and this year is no exception. Players gesture frantically to each other while playing zone defense; a new “degradation system” accurately mimics the wear and tear on a player’s uniform during a game; and even small raindrops land on the camera lens during games played in bad weather.

Other improvements include a more realistic tackling system – you are no longer frustrated by being sucked into avoidable tackles – and more precise action on pass plays. Overall, the artificial intelligence of Madden continues to improve.

If there are weaknesses in Madden NFL 12 they are in the add-ons rather than the gameplay itself. The commentary of Gus Johnson and Chris Collingsworth often lags behind the action, and the use of instant replay is still a bit of a mystery.

But these are minor complaints in a game that continues to provide endless hours of thrills and excitement. Although beginners will still find Madden a steep learning curve, it’s well worth the effort, as millions of hardcore fans will be only too happy to testify!

Madden NFL 12 is rated “E” for Everyone by the ESRB. Check out their video game ratings and content descriptors at ESRB.org.

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP

Genre: Sports simulation

RRP: $39.95 - $59.99

Release Date: August 30, 2011

ESRB Rating: “E” for Everyone

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