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Video Game Review In Brief: Madden '11

Madden '11, the latest installment in the popular football video game franchise, is in stores today. I got my hands on a copy at midnight and test drove it for a few hours this morning. Immediately, a few things stood out to me about this year's edition, both good and bad. Have a look after the jump.

Good: Gus Johnson has given Madden its balls back. Tom Hammond, the play-by-play voice for the past few seasons, was just too nice. And, really, football isn't his thing. He calls ice skating tournaments for NBC. Triple axels and toe loops and all that. You can't have this man call a football game. He's too laid back, too quiet - he turned Madden into a golf outing. At least Verne Lundquist can shift gears when he calls SEC games for CBS.

That's why adding Gus makes so much sense. With Hammond, if I went deep to a receiver, ho-hum, "He goes deep. And... he hauls it in at the 35." Gus? It's the friggin' end of the world. "Manning look--HE'S GOT A MAN DEEP... AND HE MAKES THE CAAATCH!" For more on Gus, click here. You won't be disappointed.

Bad: Pairing Gus Johnson with Cris Collinsworth. It just doesn't work - they play off each other horribly. It's a terrible spinoff of a good cop/bad cop routine in the broadcast booth. One guy lays the lumber with authority, the other calmly drops some obvious, boring knowledge. Picture Rick Ross releasing a doozy of a song, only with an awkward verse from some white wannabe like Asher Roth thrown into the mix. It just doesn't work.

Good: The game play is the best it has been for a while. All of the little things in a football game -- a running back maintaining his balance after a hit, a linebacker shedding blocks while going for the tackle: they're all here. It's down to every last detail. Oh, and by the way...

This year's move: The spin. Each year, Madden manages to bring back one offensive move -- spin, stiff arm, juke, truck, etc. -- into prominence. I remember back in 2004 when the juke became money. Then they slowed it down to an awkward sidestep and rendered it quite useless. This year, the spin move, having been dormant for the past few releases, is back at work. Care to make three defenders look silly? Spin away, my friend.

Bad: Graphics. For all you NBA Live fans out there, remember back when Live '04 came out? It took graphics to their worst extreme: clay people. These players did not look like athletes, but rather giant, molded, clay versions of themselves. It was actually sort of fun but wasn't realistic. This year's Madden takes a similar giant step backwards in graphics. NCAA '11 makes Madden look like its back in 2005. It's that bad. But you live with it after a while, long as you don't go back to NCAA.

Good/Bad: Game flow, the latest innovation in Madden technology. Game flow is basically a computer playcalling system that lightens the knowledge load on newcomers and rooks. It depends on what kind of player you are, really. If you know your stuff -- i.e. if you'd call a half back draw on third and five -- then this isn't the feature for you. It calls some bad plays at times and generally lowers the creativity of the game. It's up to you whether or not you'd like to use it, but I'll be taking a pass for now.

Also, Matt Schaub's rating, an 89, as well as Kevin Walter's, a 77,  is just criminal.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.