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What’s new in Madden 12?

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The first regular season kickoff won't take place until a few minutes past 8:30 pm on Sept. 8, but for gamers, the NFL season really gets underway on Aug. 30.

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Madden NFL 12 (EA Sports)

That's the day Madden NFL 12 hits store shelves. It's also the day HR departments hate, as a disproportionate number of workers will curiously call in sick after staying up to buy the game at midnight. But as the venerable football series enters its 23rd year, how does publisher Electronic Arts plan to keep it fresh?

Thankfully, the lockout might have actually helped Madden 12. The threat of this year's NFL season not happening spurred the team to ratchet up the innovations this year. Here's what players can expect:

Confidence matters
Put simply, your onscreen players have grown egos in the off-season.

A new feature called "Dynamic Player Performance" ties a player's confidence and skills to their performance on the field. In other words, if your wide receiver misses a few easy passes due to clumsiness on your part, he's going to begin to doubt himself -- and will be less likely to make the catch the next time you aim at him. Of course, if you make a miracle catch amidst heavy defense, that's going to boost confidence and make him more likely to snag throws that would normally go incomplete.

De-fense! De-fense!
The team at developer Tiburon Studios enhanced over 100 defensive moves this year, which will make it harder than ever to make it into the end zone. Defensive players will recognize and react to plays in zone and man-to-man coverage -- even breaking out of assignment when it makes sense.

Tough tackles
The NFL is struggling with determining exactly what constitutes a dangerous tackle, but Madden is going bigger than ever.

Don't look for anything quite so violent as the long-gone NFL Blitz series, but when you get hit in this year's game, it's not going to be gentle. Developers have put together more than 100 new tackle animations -- 40 of which will be gang tackles, something the game hasn't seen in a while. You'll also have control on the point of impact this year (in both tackling and blocking), so watch those helmet-to-helmet hits.

It's in the (card) game
Blend Madden with fantasy football and trading cards and you've got an idea of what Ultimate Team is all about. This year you can trade cards with other players (in addition to auctioning them, like last year). There's also a new "Legendary Pack" filled with some of the NFL's All Stars, like Lawrence Taylor and Deion Sanders, at the top of their game.

Playing with playbooks
EA claims that the ability to customize playbooks was the single most requested feature from fans over the past few years. You'll now be able to select up to 400 offensive or defensive plays from 75 playbooks, giving you a greater degree of personalization (from a coach's perspective) than you've ever had before.

Everybody is a star
EA has rebuilt the progression system in the game's Superstar Mode, allowing your best players to earn skill points not only in games, but in practice sessions as well. You're also able to add player traits during the creation process -- behaviors that make your superstar unique, like fighting for an extra yard or preferring to protect the ball by hugging the sidelines.

And as in last year's edition, you can import players from the NCAA Football franchise or create players from scratch. Starting this year, though, your superstar can be traded.

Online communities
You'll be able to create your own online community of friends and favorite opponents this year -- and even if you're incredibly popular, there's bound to be plenty of room. Communities can contain up to 2,000 people, and each comes with its own leaderboards. So even if you stink, you can still make it onto the leaderboard amongst your friends.

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