I went into our Madden NFL 11 play session expecting nothing really new, except for the announced online co-op multiplayer and Game Flow features. While the latter is something I'll definitely touch on later, the former was sadly out of our reach -- the E3 space for the game was limited, so EA couldn't network six stations to let any attendees get at it. Still, my session wasn't entirely a letdown.

The feel of the game was very familiar. The controller layout was largely the same and nothing much has changed from a presentation standpoint, save for some minor control updates -- like the new locomotion system.
There's no more turbo and instead the game places more responsibility on the right analog stick, which not only handles trucking when running with the ball, but also is now the new way to make players spin. It's more intuitive, as you must now mimic the spin action by rolling the analog stick in the appropriate direction.

Offensive and defensive shifts also have a new control input: the d-pad. When doing coverage audibles and moving your defensive line around pre-snap, you initiate these last-minute changes by hitting the corresponding direction on the d-pad, streamlining the whole process. While that's all well and good, for somebody who's been playing Madden since, like, forever, it took a bit getting used to. Suffice to say, I couldn't set up my defense with the proficiency I could in previous games. It's just something new I'm going to have to get used to and hardly a deal breaker.

Regardless of which side of the line you're on, the new Game Flow system also offers a new dynamic to the game. By taking into account a player's behavior, it'll select plays based on your play style and a set of parameters you provide. EA promised that players would be able to calibrate it once the final game launches, but in my time with the game it was little more than a random play selector. After passing it several times in a row, I then went to Game Flow only to have the game select a play-action pass for me. That's not something most coaches would do, you know?

EA also promised quicker games this time around and I definitely felt that in the demo. In around ten-to-fifteen minutes, I almost sped through two quarters of play. For online enthusiasts who don't want to spend the 40 minutes it took to get through a game before, this will surely be an improvement.

People like to harp on Madden as the ultimate iterative series -- marginal (at best) improvements year over year with nothing of real value coming to the table. In my time with Madden NFL 11, I didn't get that feeling. While the changes definitely put me out of my comfort zone, I felt that they were intended to improve the experience overall and not just change it for the sake of changing it. I guess we'll all find out if EA achieved that goal come August 10, when Madden NFL 11 launches.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.