Madden NFL 12 is pretty much the definition of the glass half-full/half-empty game. Your feelings about this latest in EA's annually-updated American Football sim will depend on whether you want to dwell on the much-improved presentation and franchise mode, or the genuinely awful commentary and often inadequate user-interface. I'm guessing casual fans will take the former view, while veterans will zero in on the latter.

But as flawed as Madden NFL 12 is in some ways, there's no denying that it's a big improvement over its predecessor. The physics are tighter and the A.I. is quite a bit nastier than in Madden 11. Suction blocks are a thing of the past now, and the result is a much more robust pass rush. In general, the defence is tougher than it's been since Madden '05, which should be music to the ears of fans who have tired of beating the CPU 95-7 every single match.

If anything, it's made me realize that I've developed some bad habits in playing Madden 11. I constantly underestimate the new and improved zone defence, which was more or less useless in last year's edition (with a few notable exceptions, of course), and the result has been a ton of picks. I'm not complaining though, because it's forcing me to be smarter and play "real" American football -- as opposed to the arcade game that was Madden 11.

These were just the sort of changes that Madden needed, and that's on top of the fact that the presentation is now much closer to a genuine football broadcast. Every game starts with a lovely exterior shot of the stadium -- it's finally possible to tell that it's a night game in a dome -- then pans down to the field. I promise that the effect is dazzling the first time you see it.

Sadly, the seams begin to show a bit after the effect wears off. Madden NFL has long been like the dress that looks dazzling from afar, but upon closer inspection, is threadbare in spots and maybe unwashed as well. Madden 12 is no exception.

Madden NFL 12

As it turns out, those lovely new broadcast angles are a bit of a double-edge sword, since the crowd looks worse than ever. Rather than hide the fact that they're little more cardboard cutouts though, the camera will often swoop across the stands, revealing them for the pixelated cardboard cutouts that they are. Compared to almost any other sports franchise on the market today, the effect is laughable.

Also dragging down the presentation is the fact that the commentary is notably awful this year. I mean, it's never great, but the lockout has apparently thrown off their timetable to the extent that the lines are generic, repetitive, and more often than not, inaccurate. Throw a two-yard touchdown pass, and you'll get Chris Collinsworth going on about the corner getting burned for a huge gain after trying for a pick. It's just not very good.

Next page: the devil's in the details