The Madden franchise and its exclusive NFL license is one of the most lucrative properties in EA's annual catalogue. With that in mind, the Madden team have tried to make 11 more accessible by adding an automatic play calling option ("Game Flow"), as well as advancing the game's versatility for diehard fans. Based on the hands-on time we had with the game, the jury is still out on how useful some of these features will be.
The biggest difference that players will immediately notice in Madden 11 is the new Game Flow system, which allows players to bypass the play calling stage by having the game automatically select a play. This design is ideal for casual players who may feel overwhelmed by the complicated playbooks and for those who want a quicker more streamlined experience. Fortunately, Madden 11 doesn't force you to decide between Game Flow and traditional play calling for an entire game, as it gives you the choice before each play. This also allows players of varying skill levels to easily play together.
That being said, Game Flow's usefulness ultimately depends on what type of mode you're playing. While playing against friends online, it should work quite well thanks to tips that are relayed to each player over their individual headsets. However, Game Flow doesn't seem to fair as well during split screen play, as the player never gets an opportunity to view their play without revealing it to their opponent.
Alongside Game Flow, Madden 11 has several other small tweaks to the traditional formula such as proper sideline catches, varied referee animations, and a slightly altered kicking mechanic. The addition of sideline catches is an absolute godsend for Madden fans, but also makes you wonder why such a simple feature took so long to be implemented. Regardless, seeing players properly plant their feet inbounds if they are close to the sidelines is a major improvement.
Another nice addition is the inclusion of more than two animations for a 1st down call - I'm looking at you Madden 10. Hopefully, this extends to the overall presentation in Madden 11 because last year's game frequently felt half assed. On the other hand, the slightly altered kicking system seems odd. Madden 11 reverts back to tapping X along a power and accuracy meter to determine your kick, which is strange considering the right analog stick controls were working just fine. It's a bit of a mixed bag in that regard.
While Madden 11's new additions and alterations do show some promise, there wasn't much I saw that really pushed the game forward. The one exception being Game Flow, which will no doubt please many casual players and is a smart move on EA's part. Hopefully the online and career portions of the game that weren't shown have a few more surprises in store for us.