STACK Plays Madden NFL 12

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Madden NFL 12 represents the biggest year-to-year improvement in the history of the franchise, says EA Sports creative director Mike Young [read the rest of our interview here]. For the latest incarnation of their signature game, EA Sports set the bar high; but did they come up short, like a Hail Mary pass that slips through your hands in the end zone? Or did they exceed expectations, like Peyton Hillis' campaign to land on the Madden NFL 12 cover?

We were eager to find out, and the folks at EA Sports graciously sent us an advance copy. The short answer is, Madden NFL 12 exceeds our expectations. We have been glued to the controller since it fell into our hands.

The game opens up in dramatic fashion with booming orchestral music playing behind footage of last year's most impressive NFL feats.  Even before we got to the main menu, the intro had us engrossed in the game immediately. It is a cinematic tour de force.

We decided to try Madden's most popular game mode, Franchise. After selecting our hometown Cleveland Browns, it was off to the pre-season, where we truly felt like both a coach and general manager. You put your team together, make cuts, sign free agents, scout college players and execute blockbuster trades.

Once we were happy with our roster, we moved into week one of the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals, where we were once again struck by the game's high level of realism. There's very little difference between the way Cleveland Browns Stadium looks in Madden and the one down the street from STACK headquarters on the shore of Lake Erie. As Josh Cribbs and Colt McCoy took the field for the virtual coin toss, we could hear denizens of the Dawg Pound barking. It was like we were actually sitting in the east end zone.

After admiring the astonishing level of detail in the graphics, it was time to see if the gameplay matched up with the realism of the graphics. The Bengals kicked off and Cribs ran the ball upfield for a respectable return. The controls felt smooth right off the bat. It's easy to execute a juke or a stiff arm and to protect the ball when a defender threatens. A new option this year is to leave "Auto-Sprint" on, which allows the computer to determine when your player sprints, so you can focus on juking and stiff arming. There are two options for selecting plays: Game Flow and Conventional. We opted for Conventional, but it's like whatever feels most comfortable to you. Both options are easy to navigate.

On our first play from scrimmage, we went with Cleveland's Incredible Hulk (and Madden 12 cover athlete) Peyton Hillis . We wanted to test the new feature in which player-to-player contact reflects the size, speed and power of each player. For example, the 6'2" 250-pound Hillis should be able to run over a slender 5'9" cornerback, and that's exactly what happened. We were able to break a tackle before finally being brought down by two defenders.

After establishing the running game, it was time to put McCoy's arm to work. Browns receivers Mohammed Mossaquoi and Cribbs lined up on opposite sides of the field. On the snap, McCoy faked a handoff and looked downfield. As planned, Cribbs was open down the middle. McCoy hit him with a bullet for a big gain. Again, the controls felt solid. We were able to move around the pocket with ease as the receivers ran their routes, and the amount of pressure placed on the button of the corresponding receiver reflected the pass accurately.

On the defensive side of the ball, we stuck with rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor. The Bengals opted to run the ball,  but after a quick flick on the right analog stick, Taylor performed an impressive swim move to work his way around a blocker and take down the running back.

Overall, we were impressed with the gameplay on both sides of the ball. The controls felt fluid and natural, which is essential when battling for bragging rights against your teammates.

Madden NFL 12 is truly an impressive creation by EA Sports, allowing gamers to feel like they're on the field, alongside some of the most impressive athletes in the world. Let us know your thoughts on the new Madden game by posting on our Facebook page or tweeting us at @STACKMedia.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock