The end of summer is always bittersweet. On the one hand, it means we no longer have an excuse to take three-day weekends, there will be 75 percent less cookouts in our lives, and if you're still in school, it means you have to go back to school. Or, if you're recently out of college (like me), not going back to school just makes you feel old and bitter.
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...On the other hand! The end of summer means the return of football, which always softens the blow that comes with the return of real life. And before football comes back, we always have a few weeks to whet our appetites by spending hours and hours playing football video games.
This year, we got NCAA Football '12 in mid-July, and starting this week, we'll have Madden back in our lives. AWESOME. To help celebrate the return of football, we'll be doing various features every day this week, but there's no better place to start than with Madden '12.
The game's release was delayed until August 30th this year, but I got an early copy and spent the better of part of Hurricane Irene holed up in my living room and messing around with Madden.
Here are a few notes on the game itself, and at the end, we'll talk about actual teams.
The graphics are scary good. But you knew that already. While the graphics in a game like NCAA '12 have stayed pretty much the same over the past few years, the graphics in Madden get a little bit better with each new edition, and 2012 is no different. Between plays is when the graphics really shine. Look at that sleazy facial hair!
- The announcing? Not so much. Ordinarily, there's never a bad time to have Gus Johnson involved in things, but when his exclamation points come on a three second delay, the schtick sorta falls flat here. At first, this is kinda funny. After a few games, it becomes mildly infuriating, mostly because it makes you hate hearing Gus Johnson's voice, and that's all the developers' fault. (Definitely not Gus). Anyway, I'm also the guy that wishes we could have Pat Summerall's voice grandfathered in to every Madden game, so maybe I'm alone on this one.
The lockout ruined the rosters. Thankfully, it's 2011, so this criticism shouldn't matter much to most gamers. But yeah, the downside of that whole, two-weeks-of-anarchy NFL free agency orgy after the NFL lockout? None of that made it into Madden. (Seeing Roy Williams on the Cowboys roster was pretty traumatic before I realized the rosters hadn't been updated. "HE... JUST... WON'T... DIE.") Anyway, this is why God invented the internet; a quick roster update from Madden's online database should bring you up to speed.
- NEEDS MORE MAN BOOBS.
- The entire soundtrack is fantastic. Includes Lil Wayne, A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, Yelawolf, Common and Nas, the Beastie Boys... All around, about as good as you could hope for. Best of all, they utilize the Inception music for the intro video, which will never not give me goosebumps.
They nail the NFL experience. If you were explaining NFL football to an alien, you could explain the rules, the best teams, the best players, but eventually you'd have to throw up your hands and say, "It's just different than any other sport in the world." What sets the NFL apart is the grandiosity of the whole thing. Every game feels completely over-the-top and awesome, with fighter jets flying overhead before kickoff, smoke and fireworks during intros, and players coming off as a cross between superheros and gladiators.
...This is a totally intangible aspect of what makes the NFL different, which makes it all the more impressive that EA Sports nails it. Every game begins with an overhead view of the stadium, sweeping views of the crowd, full player intros, smoke, fireworks, cheerleaders--everything. It's the sort of thing that not only sets the NFL apart, but Madden, too. You can watch a sample intro here.
Franchise mode is completely overwhelming. And that's a compliment. The more complicated and overwhelming franchise mode feels, the more we can convince ourselves that we're really running a football team, and the easier it becomes to second-guess our favorite teams.
Specifically, free agency is more intense than ever. The bidding process was fun, and it'll inevitably lead to you vastly overpaying for guys you want. Just like in real life!
Superstar mode is better than ever, or something. I'm sure they made some improvements, but I don't know. This mode always seems kinda lame to me. If anything, it's too real. If I create a player named Tyrannosaurus Carter that's 6'8, 240, with 4.3 speed, I'm not looking for an authentic rags-to-riches NFL expierence.
Consistency and confidence. The game has a new wrinkle that puts a premium on star players' performance, and adjusts their ratings accordingly. My favorite part of this particular detail was the demo video, where they run video of
getting his ass kicked while an announcer tells us, "With someone who is less consistent, you never know what you're going to get." Three cheers for hidden Tebow bashing!
More than anything else though, Madden '12 is the best way possible to immerse yourself in football. With all due respects to the NFL Network, you learn more about just how inconsistent Cam Newton is by experiencing it yourself when he stupidly overthrows Brandon Lafell. (Likewise, you learn that the' second and third receivers are and Brandon Lafell, which... Damn. Good luck, Cam.)
Or, if you're looking to see what kind of offseason thehad, the rosters tell the story. Before I made the roster update online, Philadelphia's team rating was an 86. Afterward? A 93, which vaulted them ahead of even the (92).
Which reminds me... Throw in the built-in absurdity of's athleticism, and it's patently unfair for anyone to play with the Eagles in one of these games. Remember this; you shouldn't let any of your friends choose Philly. Especially since there's no way for a video game to account for Andy Reid Ruining Everything, the Eagles are easily the most unstoppable Madden team we've seen in a long time. Not since , , and Robert Smith on the Vikings have we seen a video game squad with this much talent.
Beyond the Eagles, though, the most surprising team was the. Again, there's no better way to appreciate just how fun Jamaal Charles is than by playing with him in Madden.
He's the second-fastest running back in the game (behind 'Chris Johnson and a contract to be signed in Week 8'), and he's small enough to squeeze and spin his way through holes that don't exist. Throw in Dwyane Bowe as a deep threat,terrorizing people in the slot, as a surprisingly capable QB (in the game, at least), as a punt returner... The Chiefs are sort of a video game juggernaut, right?
On the other side of things, there's a two-way tie for the most depressing team in the game. First, the just look at the ratings. Would you want to play with that team? And where playing with Jamal Charles reminds you how much fun he is, playing with reminds you... Yep, he's still Peyton Hillis. It's too bad they can't clone Josh Cribbs and make him play every position.--
Then there's the. They should be fun with , but as always, the idea of Donovan McNabb is a lot more fun than reality. Instead of the athletic quarterback that puts the Vikings over the top, he's too slow (74 speed) to really make a difference as a runner, and he's bad enough as a passer to keep you from feeling comfortable airing it out. Throw in the lack of receivers beyond and , and playing with the Video Vikings really puts their preseason hype in perspective. Basically, if Adrian Peterson doesn't do something incredible on almost every drive, you're fighting an uphill battle with the Vikings.
More snap judgments:
Most fun player overall? Chris Johnson
- Most frustrating player to play against?
- Most insane video game talent? , Mike Vick (tie)
- Deepest team in the league? The . Basically everyone is an 80 or above
- Best defensive ass kicker? (90 speed, 98 tackle)
Most steroid-enhanced rating?
- Most underrated? , who is an 89, and should be at least a 95.
- Most depressing matchup? -Browns. Andy Dalton! ! Ohio!
- Most intriguing matchup? Cowboys-Eagles, with spying Vick and Asomugha covering Dez.
Honorable mention? Chiefs-
, just for Jamal Charles and Chris Johnson.
...Anyway, the game's not perfect, but you couldn't ask for a whole lot more. The player ratings are deathly accurate, the attention to detail borders on creepy (in the best of ways), and if you want to play theover and over until you give a season-ending injury, Madden '12 will let you do that. But most important?
Summer may be over, but things are lookin' up. Madden's finally here, and for more than 20 years, that's been our sign that real, meaningful football games are right around the corner.