Gamewatch: Madden NFL 11, Victoria 2

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Everyone out of the pool, it's Madden NFL week, and the latest iteration pretty much clears the room, looking at the launch lineup. The only games bold enough to shrug off EA's pro football tsunami are a couple of digital-only releases and another Paradox grand-strategy PC game no one (read: GameStop) seems to be stocking.

So Madden NFL 11, shipping tomorrow in the usual assorted flavors for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, and PSP. It's also reportedly in the offing for Apple iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) and Nintendo's 3DS, the former debuting in tandem with the console and handheld versions, the latter debuting who-knows-when, since the 3DS won't ship stateside until sometime next year.

What's new in Madden NFL 11? Aside from the standard roster update, this year's version adds a feature called GameFlow, which EA says represents their attempt to fix glaring disparities between their play call system and the real deal. According to EA, "coaches don't go into a game with their full playbook like you do in our game."

"When it's 2nd down and 3 yards to go, they don't thumb through a 3-ring binder with 350 plays in it. They find tendencies before the game and build a game plan to exploit the other team's weaknesses. This means they call plays based on the situation."

Thus GameFlow, a process whereby a team coach snap-advises you at each down's outset. You can either approve the recommended play, tweak it, or bring up the full playbook and fiddle until you're happy. It sounds more or less like prior installments' recommended play with a voiceover perk, and with that vocal advice prerecorded and not truly dynamic, EA's really gambling on the feature having legs.

The other aspect of GameFlow is Game Planning, which dictates the plays most likely to be called based on a team's play strategy, in turn assembled from its performance the prior season.

Control freaks may balk at all the implicit automation on parade this year, but the real advantage may be simply that you can finally tinker with the computer AI, going so far as to build out CPU opponents that play like your online pals for practice purposes.

If all that leaves you is yawning, maybe it's because you're into more complex strategy games, say Paradox's nigh labyrinthine Victoria 2 (Windows), a remake of their 2003 game Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun. It's another Europe Universalis spinoff, this time employing a 3D engine, and set per the original during the nineteenth-century.

And that's about it, unless you count Enjoy Your Massage (WiiWare - August 9) in which, I kid not, you rub girls with your Wii Remote, or Monday Night Combat (Xbox Live Arcade - August 11), a class-based third-person shooter with "finishing moves" and "gameshow-like" challenges. Also: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game (PSN - August 10), a handful of DS puzzle games too boring to list, and last but not least, Galactic Taz Ball, which, since I can't find a non-Amazon retailer carrying it, may or may not ship on August 11 for the DS.

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