Madden NFL 11 is all about streamlining. As is the case with the sport that it depicts, EA’s Madden series has always been both an unflappably serious recreation, and one that revelled in the (undoubtedly rewarding) nature of its intricate and acutely refined complexities. It wasn’t that its doors were closed to newcomers as such; more that the primary focus of each recent Madden game has been on pleasing the devout hardcore fans who’ve made the franchise such a gargantuan success. Madden 11’s most admirable trait is how it not only pleases that devotee contingent, but also opens itself up to novice players who may have previously been too intimidated to partake in it.

On booting the disc up you’re treated – as is now standard – to a stirring introductory movie that’s all dramatic poses, sweeping music and snippets from heated, inspirational on-pitch speeches. It’s basically Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday packed into 180 seconds, and its job is to get you as pumped up as possible. It works. The very first menu option that you encounter after that is the ‘What’s New’ tier, and it goes to great lengths to ensure that everything that has been added in this year’s game is explained in painstaking detail. ‘Virtual Trainer’ is also present once again, and its still an unorthodox although thoroughly successful tutorial tool.

For fans, the first casualty that’ll be noticed when you begin a game is the sprint button – which has always seemed somewhat arbitrary and out-of-place anyway. Instead of holding down this button for the majority of each play, each player in possession will now gain momentum naturally, and his vigour will visibly escalate as he gets ever closer to the goal line. It’s a surprisingly neat and fluid little system that maintains the aura of realism that the series has always been known for, but don’t be surprised if takes you a short while to stop hammering the button that you’d previously used to pick up your pace in previous Madden games.

For all of this year’s minor adjustments – some other commendable changes include minor animation corrections that keep the game flowing even more realistically than before, especially during tackles – Madden 11′s real trump card is undoubtedly its revolutionary ‘Gameflow’ dynamic, which essentially unburdens players from having to call plays during each game. Aside from speeding the whole process up, it also enables you to focus more of your time on the action going on in the field, as all major decisions will be made by the AI-controlled coach, and his co-ordinator will converse with you via a headset if you have one; for yet more added authenticity.

Since last year’s iteration, EA had apparently observed that many Madden players only tended to use the same handful of plays each time, so this isn’t just a technique that has been implemented purely to welcome in the newbies. Needless to say Gameflow can be completely switched off if you so wish, but you can also modify the degree of the control that it offers you. If you choose to, you can set up a game-plan before (or during) each game, which allows your coach to recognise exactly how you plan (or want) the game to play out tactically.

It’s a very bold system, but one that appears to work almost perfectly, and the fact that the majority of games that took place in previous Madden titles could often run for the best part of an hour, the fact that Gameflow is capable of almost halving that lengthy duration makes it doubly impressive. Matches are now much more immediate, and the fact that it can now be played much more like an arcade game means that even long-term fanatics for whom tactics and strategy are everything, can now spend a bit of comparatively stress-free time getting their hands dirty whenever the mood takes them.

Last year’s Ultimate Team DLC update makes its fully-fledged return here, and it’s a completists dream, as well as being a valuable tool for new fans who want to know more about the stars of the NFL. Co-op play now stretches to allow for online 3v3 matches, and the popular Superstar mode is back and as effortlessly compelling as ever. It’s a pretty comprehensive package, and anyone who’s ever harboured a bit of curiosity but has never felt inspired to take the plunge, Madden NFL 11 represents absolutely the best opportunity to do so.

Watch the Madden 11 trailer here…

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