One of the first things players will notice is a general improvement in all things related to presentation. Madden 12 mimics real NFL broadcasts this year with better-positioned camera angles and perfectly placed broadcast graphics that show game and season stats. The concept of "just like you're watching it on TV" shines through in the smallest of details, from the stickers and scuffs on helmets to the grass stains players earn on their jerseys. Laying out Jay Cutler and constantly seeing a reminder in the dirt on his shoulder was a badge of honor for me (and for my middle linebacker, while we're at it).
The main complaint I have with Madden 12's presentation, aside from the cardboard crowds, is the commentary, which is at near-disaster levels. Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth return this year, with recycled lines from Madden 11 in hand, calling each game fairly inaccurately, blandly, and with as much vagueness as possible. Besides hearing the same lines about safeties being on islands all the time, I'd heard one touchdown pass considered a "big gain" that kept the drive going. If you plan on playing Madden 12, plan on having something else to listen to.
Gameflow received a small upgrade, with a box that offers an option for players to scroll through plays based on aggressive, conservative, and gameplan-based play calling. What once was a single button option is actually worse in some ways, as gameflow doesn't provide you with any play art or even the formation for the plays you select. A cover 3 in a 3-4 set isn't the same as a cover 3 in a nickel 2-4-5 formation, which makes gameflow a sort of blind-leading-the-blind option for play calling. This is the worst for the amateur players that the system is meant for, as the opportunity is lost for players to learn how formations and plays work, and why they work in certain circumstances.
Past games had players warp and slide into place for blocks, tackles, catches, and nearly any player animation within the game. Unfortunately, this meant being near an incoming defender was just as good as being wrapped up by them. Instead, I've seen no instances in Madden 12 of players warping awkwardly into an animation, whether it's my fullback opening a running lane for me, or a receiver making an amazing catch. This player fluidity doesn't just make the game look better, but it makes the game play much better than Madden 11.
While some will be disappointed to see no changes to the online franchise mode, the offline franchise mode received the most work this year. Franchise mode's more noteworthy additions add excitement to the offseason general manager process, such as a new rookie scouting system and free agent bidding. Scouting a handful of players out of the upcoming draft class unlocks a few stats at a time, leading up to a more tense, exciting drafting period. Players have the option to allow the game to simulate any part of franchise mode but, as I've learned, some decisions are best left to the player. In my case, skipping the contract signing process for all the rookies I'd drafted my first time through led the game to actually not sign all but one of them to my team. It was a nightmare finding my future star quarterback's glowing ratings fully unlocked on another team's roster, with no plausible trade to bring them to my team.
Likewise, the "be an NFL superstar" mode has been turned into a micro RPG. Superstar mode in Madden 12 is exactly as it should be: creating a player and participating in games and practices nets you skill points, which you use to boost your player's individual ratings. I started out by upgrading my strong safety, who was drafted by the Oakland Raiders, at his speed and acceleration ratings before working on his coverage ratings, as superstar mode limits you to controlling only your created player. Games go fast in superstar mode, and a few hours of diligence takes you through an entire season. Sadly, the disbursement of skill points is terribly imbalanced, and my strong safety went from his starting 66 overall rating to a 99 overall before the start of the second season. After that, there was far less incentive to continue his career, so I chose to force an early retirement for him.
Madden 12 is a good game despite itself. Amidst its major shortcomings is the price tag on much of the add-on content. In an era where NBA 2K11 provides an excellent example of how to offer players a new, arguably appropriate way to play with legendary players, Madden 12 charges players (albeit optionally) for the opportunity to play with football legends in Madden ultimate team. With all the fun to be had in superstar mode or Madden moments live, I'm disappointed that I can't create and share my own Madden moments with others online. As good as the game is, it is victimized by its own business model.
Madden 12 does not respond to every fans' frustrations. Every year, the series brings a balance of improvement and ongoing flaws. Considering this year's game as a whole, improvements like the new presentation style and lack of player suction heavily outweigh the more minuscule issues that remain. It's a good kind of frustration for players, the kind where this year's game is definitely better than last year's, which may actually be enough incentive to give it a shot.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Madden NFL 12 provided by EA Sports.