MADDEN NFL 15
|Digital and Retail
|Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, Xbox 360, PS3
|Singleplayer and Couch/Online Multiplayer
Each year Madden faces a challenge tougher than facing off against Cam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and that stout Seattle Defense; tougher even than the 12th man screaming on the legion of boom on 3rd and 12. What’s that challenge? Meeting and exceeding the expectations of Madden gamers—who want an experience that looks, feels, and plays better every single year. Often times the biggest hurdle for franchises with yearly adaptations are themselves. It’s incredibly daunting to successfully iterate on games every 12 months. This is even more the case with sports games. In a game like Call of Duty, each year the developer can change the setting, the story, the multiplayer format, the progression, the guns, the maps, and more. For a baseball or hockey or football game what can you do? Maybe a new game-mode, but 90% of the time, game-modes come and go and are forgotten. Madden successfully created an innovative game-mode with Ultimate Team, and that game-mode itself has pretty much become the biggest attraction. The expectations for sports games almost can’t be met. Many gamers want something that feels fresh and new and exciting and unlike what they played nonstop for 6 months straight only 6 months ago. The best way to review or enjoy Madden, and other games like this, is to ask this question; what was done right and what was done wrong in last year’s version? And has THIS year’s edition kept the good and fixed the bad?
Madden’s gameplay has been tried and true for a long time. Each year the developer attempts to update the gameplay to be both more realistic as well as more in tune with the NFL, which is ever-changing with new fads and trends. Madden NFL 15’s biggest gameplay focus is the defense. Since the Seattle Seahwaks decimated the NFL’s best ever passing attack in the Super Bowl they wanted to strengthen that side of the ball. In the past it definitely seemed like on the offensive side of the ball you had control while the defensive side was a guessing game. That and the offense has been just more fun. The defensive changes are across multiple levels. On the defensive line is where the game is completely altered for the better. If you take control of a defensive end getting ready to rush the quarterback you’ve got more options than ever. For starters you can get a boost off of the snap by hitting the sprint button the moment the ball is hiked. This is huge and gives players with quick fingers an advantage. However the offense can fake snap it and draw the lineman offside. Once snapped, you can use power or rush moves by hitting the button at the precise timing to obliterate the blocker and hit the QB. There’s also a tackle cone for when you are approaching the ball carrier. There’s a small cone that stretches out from the front of the player you are controlling that you can use to face the ballcarier, line up the defender, and make the tackle. There’s also a new camera angle that flips around and has you facing the offense. Personally I’m not a big fan and I like the classic camera look. All of these changes not only help you attack the offense better, they actually help in confidence as well, you feel like you’ve got a real shot at slowing down these crazy fast paced offenses. On the offensive side there are few changes when it comes to post-snap gameplay. It’s still for the most part smooth and responsive.
One of the best parts about Madden over the past few years is the gameplaning and play-calling. And with Madden 15 the advancements are better than ever. Before I go over this let’s talk about the brilliant additions in the Skills Trainer mode. As Madden vets would know, the Skills Trainer is a feature that trains the player on all aspects of the game—anything from second-to-second gameplay, how to pass, how to tackle, etc. The training sessions that teach the player how to do the absolute basics may be a laugh and may seem mostly pointless to long-time Madden masters, and to be honest it sort of is. In the past, these extremely basic tutoring features were all that Skills Trainer had to offer. But with Madden 15 they added an incredibly helpful and fun array of teachings sessions. There’s a very helpful training course for how to read defenses based on their pre-snap look. Looking for cover 2, man to man, cover 3, and more is one of the best ways to understand where to go with the ball once the ball is snapped. There’s also a training session that teaches how to slide the line to block the oncoming pass-rush. It’s very rewarding to see the defense overloading on the right side, audibleing to a run to the left, sliding the line to the right, and running down the field 15 yards before even being touched. And then there’s the new and brilliant concept training. Concept training teaches the player what different routes mean and how they are properly executed. Instead of just seeing a bunch of routes spread out across the field you are taught to understand how to read the defense and manipulate them. You are taught with each concept which player should be the first, second, and third read. This not only teaches the game of Madden, this teaches the game of football in an impressive way. You can suck up all this knowledge and instantly apply it to your very next game. I personally played some of it just screwing around when I first played the game and didn’t think anything of it. However when I came back to the Skills Trainer and focused on the concept training my game jumped up unbelievably. It’s one thing to understand routes and defensive coverages. It’s another thing to know concepts, your reads, how to watch for which routes the safety covers, and how to bounce through your progression to pass the ball to the wide open receiver flying across the middle of the field.
The other amazing addition to Madden 15 is the features that Smartglass had last year developed straight into the game. For Madden 25 there was a Smartglass app for the game that would show you what play the opponent just used, what plays they often go to in different scenarios, what plays the community suggests on diverse downs and distances, and how effective various plays are that you’ve used so far. This was all nice but daunting and distracting to have to look down at your phone or tablet and jump back up to the game to find what plays you’re looking for and what to do. All of this is now directly in the game easy to see whenever you are ready to pick a play. You can instantly see what play was just used by your competitor and how effective it was. You can also see what selections of plays have worked well and not so well for yourself, and every other feature that Smartglass had last year. This is pivotal for progressing through the match and picking the right plays for each down. From the beginning I used these features and they helped me tremendously. As time went on it also helped me to rely on it less and allowed me to create my own ideas of how to stop different offensive and defensive attacks that I face.
After some time in skills trainer along with just time on the game itself to get a good feel of how things work, it’s entirely possible to develop deep gameplans and impose your will on the opponent. With truly understanding how offenses and defenses work you can create an identity for yourself. One of the great parts about this is that sometimes that gameplan will work from start to finish and you’ll win the match 28-7. Other times the opponent’s style might be a perfect fit to slow you down and you can choose to abandon the gameplan, change things up, or keep grinding until it works. Personally I’ve become in love with a running attack on offense and a bend but don’t break approach for defense. Even if the opponent is slowing down my rushing attack I keep pushing it. If I get stuck on a 3rd and long I have a few go to plays to pick up that yardage. Maybe it’s a halfback screen or a flood concept play that allows for a wide receiver to come screaming through the cover two wide open. The fun part about this is to keep evolving throughout the match while still imposing your will. On defense I like to focus on stopping any big plays first, I don’t like getting beat deep. Try to go deep and it will be intercepted or incomplete. I let some small dink and dunk passes over the middle and I don’t care if the opponent picks up small yards here and there. My plan is to wait for the perfect timing to call blitzes and force errant throws, I like to let the opposing QB think he can finally take a shot deep down the middle and instead I’ve got a safety ready to pick it off. As long as the opponent is the one making big mistakes and not me, I’ve got a great chance of winning. In one match during the fourth quarter of a very tight online game I stopped my foe on fourth and goal on the two yard line as he tried to take the lead in the middle of the fourth quarter. The score at this point was 21-17. When I took over the ball I hit four runs right down the middle for fifteen yards and suddenly the opponent was crowding the line of scrimmage with a linebacker blitz. I still wanted to keep running, to both control the clock and let him know his blitz didn’t affect me. So I called a counter running play and slid the lineman to block the oncoming run stuffers. I’d been running nicely all day but hadn’t yet busted a deep one, until now. The blitz was picked up and I ran 35 yards down the field and was suddenly almost at midfield. On first down I ran again right down the middle for just a few yards, but it was enough to get my rival cursing me out for playing so conservatively. The next play I called a run again, but before the snap I could see he was about to send everyone on a biltz to finally put an end to my running attack that was controlling his entire clock. I audibled to a play-action, changed my line to max protection, and noticed my speedy receiver was going to be in single coverage. So I hot-routed him to do a go route down the field and snapped the ball with a few seconds on my play-clock. Most of the blitz was picked up and the rest took the bait thinking I handed it off to my running back for the 25th time; I took a step forward, heaved the ball to a wide open receiver in the end zone and took an eleven point lead with only three minutes left in the match. Two plays later I intercepted the ball while he was in desperation mode calling the same crossing pattern play he called four times already and I won the match 35-17. Never have I been able to play with such control in Madden before; using more knowledge then skill. Skill is very much needed, but playing smart and learning when to take those chances and how to control the game is exceptionally satisfying.
So much already and I still haven’t gone over MUT! Madden Ultimate Team has become Madden’s go to gamemode. While franchise mode allows you to play through the career of a player or own a football team and make business decisions, MUT uses collectable cards to build your team just the way you like. Basically it takes the idea of collecting football cards when you were growing up and slaps that into Madden, where you collect your QB, HB, WR, CB, and more. Each player has their own stats, with each card being categorized as a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Elite card. There are also special cards like the Legends series which has great players from the past like Sterling Sharpe or Dave Casper. Or the Rising Stars series that focuses on young up and coming talent that is proving itself in the league. There’s even a series of cards from Football Outsiders, a website and program that digs deep into the stats and performances of NFL talent and evaluates them. These special cards can have even better stats and be worth more. All of these cards can be collected and used in your line-up. They can also be sold in the auction for anyone who needs the card and will trade them for coins, the games currency. Cards can also be added to sets, which have a pre-determined selection of cards that must be added to the set to give you a special reward. There are two main modes of gameplay here, single player and online multiplaer. The single player has various challenges that can give you rewards like packs with players in them or coins to buy more cards in the auction. The multiplayer is like going through a season and with more success you can get more rewards. There were a few big complaints in previous versions of MUT that were fixed perfectly. In previous years you could only have a select amount of cards in your “line-up”, like the roster of the real NFL. All the rest of you cards went to your binder. This is fine; however it used to be extremely annoying to find a card, select it for the roster, or add it to a set. Now it’s much more fluid. You can add players to the set right from the set itself for example. The binder is your roster now, you can do with them how you please and the limit for how many players you could have in your actual playing roster doesn’t exist anymore.
The overall set-up for MUT is brilliant. The execution however falls short in one major way. It’s just so extremely difficult and tedious to get good cards. You can slave away at many of the single player challenges and only end up with very weak cards. For example you can play a whole season in one of the challenges and get a gold player card, which sounds great until you realize that gold cards can be anything from 70 all the way to 90. And getting anything above an 82 is extremely rare. Usually you are rewarded with some 74 overall card that is pretty much an instant throw away. Meanwhile finishing a set can give you often amazing rewards, like a 90 overall captain card for each team. But the cards required to sacrifice into the set to get your reward are worth so much more. For example if you want the captain for the Bears, Matt Forte, you must first give up twenty cards that are from the Chicago Bears team. Some of these cards are pretty cheap in the auction, around just 3,000 coins. And maybe you already have a few of them from opening packs. But many of the cards go for 5,000 to 25,000 coins. One of the things you need to add to the set is an Elite Badge, which you can get from getting very very very lucky in a pack you open. But if you don’t have one, it costs around 55,000 in an auction. And the stupidest part is that one of the cards you need to place into this set is the 87 overall elite Matt Forte, who goes for about 35-40 thousand in the auction house. So I looked at the auction house for all of these cards and found out that they are worth over 170,000 coins! So if you have those cards, just sell them in the auction instead because guess what, the 90 overall captain card of Matt Forte that you will be rewarded from this set is worth only 74,000 coins. So it’s much smarter to just buy one from the auction. For some of the sets this is even worse. For example I got super lucky and received the Elite 88 overall LeSean Mccoy from a pack. He’s worth over 100,000 coins. If I wanted the captain card for the Eagles I would have to give him up, along with another 19 cards worth around 100,000 coins. OR I COULD BUY THE TRENT COLE EAGLES CAPTAIN CARD FOR JUST 90,000 COINS!!! The Mccoy card they want me to give up is worth more than the reward! There are a few of these sets that are actually worth it. For example if you slave away at the “Style Challenges” on solo mode for twenty hours you will be able to complete the set to get a 95 overall Peyton Manning and 95 overall Luke Kuechly. But even that you need to buy a bunch of cards from the auction too. No matter how you slice it, it’s both time consuming and often times not worth it at all to do many of the sets and challenges. Here’s the kicker, you can also spend REAL MONEY to buy packs that have cards in them. Pro tip, DON’T DO IT! The PRO cards have very weak cards in them, and it’s rare to get anything good. You can easily spend hundreds of dollars and just get a few good cards here and there. If you do want to put some money down every so often get the special addition packs. For example right now there is a Breast Cancer Awareness pack for about 5 dollars; these packs have a much better chance of getting some good players. So if you are tempted to spend a few bucks, wait for these special packs to go on sale. Overall the best way is just to grind through single player and multiplayer to get as many coins as you can so you can buy cards from the auction.
Although many of the changes and additions to Madden 15 are some of the best the series has seen in years, there are still a few things that need to be addressed. The play-by-play commentary is absolutely awful. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz just don’t work well for Madden. Now this could be partly my own personal opinion, but I’ve never liked the commentary of Phil Simms anyway. His insight is often pointless and even arrogant. In any sports game you quickly start hearing the same phrases over and over and it can get annoying. But along with the repetition, much of the commentary is either completely worthless is just plain wrong. One of my favorite examples is a phrase that I hear once every few games. On third and long if you fail to pick up the first down you often here this: “This situation is tough, on third and long it’s tough to make a first down in these types of situations” Wow…. What brilliant commentary. A massive chunk of what you hear is just uninteresting mumbo jumbo. The best and most interesting information is usually just at the start of the match, when the QB comes running out onto the field and they have a few thoughts, or when a star like Le’Veon Bell makes a play so they talk about some of his special characteristics. But that type of commentary is few and far between. Sims also loves to talk about his own repeated thoughts, often saying, “It’s like I always say” or “Like I always say”. He even contradicts himself. One minute he’ll tell you that the QB needs to trust his arm and throw the ball down the field on 3rd down to pick up the first down. And then a few moments later he will say how it’s a good idea to throw the ball short on 3rd down and he hates when people say otherwise. The most obnoxious comments are the ones that are just false. He talks about a wide receiver just giving his everything to catch that ball but he just missed it. But in reality the ball was knocked down at the line and the receiver never even attempted to catch the ball because it wasn’t even close. Or if it’s cover 2 he will badger the QB for not throwing it deep down the middle, EVEN IF THAT’S EXACTLY WHERE THE BALL WAS JUST THROWN! Or he will talk about cover 2 when the play was just actually cover 3! On top of that Sims is just always right in his mind. In one game I was down by twelve points with two minutes left in the game. Before the snap he said that the decision to go for it on fourth down was the wrong one. And after I failed he said; I would have never gone for it, just kick a field goal and live to play another down. What are you talking about? Then I’d be down by nine points with less than two minutes to go! Why would that help me? There were plenty of times that Sims was on a tirade about something and the game is continuing with a big play down the field that they completely miss and act like didn’t exist. Also within the first match I played I already heard a dozen things I heard from last year’s Madden. Oh the list is endless; I can’t even begin to explain how repetitive, unbearable, and just plain erroneous the play by play calling is. Here’s the quick fix, get rid of Sims. Here’s the best choice, bring back Cris Collinsworth. I recently saw someone playing Madden 11 with Gus Johnson and Cris Collisworth. The duo is perfect for Madden. Collinsworth especially is a thousand times more insightful, polite, and non-arrogant. On top of that, although it would be time consuming, spend more time creating more phrases and dialog. And lastly develop the game to be more accurate with those comments. There’s nothing more annoying than to hear one guy say, “The quarterback is hoping to avoid being sacked for a THIRD TIME!” followed the very next statement being, “The quarterback has had all day to throw the football”.
Sadly even though true game planning and realistic execution has been nearly perfected in Madden 15, there are still changes that need to be made. In one game I played, my online opponent on MUT had a stacked team, much better than mine, but I knew I still had a chance with solid gameplay and just being smart. On offense I was golden; I scored on every drive, all touchdowns and one field goal. However EVERY time he went back to pass he sprinted Peyton Manning directly in the wrong direction and while facing the wrong way he would launch the ball down the field 40 yards into triple coverage and make the catch. Literally no matter what I did it would work because he would just run towards my endzone and launch the ball while not even looking to a receiver and the ball would be perfect. It makes no sense. On top of that 5 or 6 balls were miss thrown and my defenders just dropped it. Yes it happens, defenders drop the ball, but some of these were such ducks that my 8 year old nephew could catch it. And on top of that he would scramble with Manning and I’d come screaming in with a safety or linebacker and hit Peyton Manning so hard that Archie and Eli should be able to feel it. I know Peyton is tough, but if on one single drive down the field I hit him four times so hard it looks like an eighteen wheeler hit a Prius and life goes on like nothing’s happened there’s a big problem. Madden prides itself on making sure the game is as realistic as possible, yet super strange ways to play the game like this sometimes work. My biggest complaint is the same it’s been for many years, and that’s controlling the player. There are different occasions while playing madden where you have absolutely no control over the runner with the football. For example you can throw a pass to a receiver who’s running an out-route, if you throw it just a yard or 2 before the out of bounds marker he will toe-tap his feet inbounds very realistically. If you throw the ball let’s say 10 yards from the line you can take control and cut up field as soon as the ball is caught. However almost every single time if you throw the ball with the receiver having about 5 yards to go before running out of bounds you have no control over the player and he will run out of bounds. Plenty of times on 3rd and short I’ll hit the wide open receiver on the flat who should just cut up field 3 yards for the 1st down but instead darts directly out of bounds as if the Gatorade table magically transformed into an all you can eat steak buffet. This is incredible frustrating. A similar problem occurs when running the ball. Each run play has a designed hole that is supposed to open so the running back can go bursting through. Sometimes that spot is not open and you’d like to cut back to a different lane. Sometimes it works just fine, other times for some odd reason you can feel the game not letting you move your player. The more you play the game the more you can feel this type of thing. In the open field you cannot really control a player as much as you’d like. Maybe I’ll throw a screen pass to Antonio Brown and I’ll see exactly what I want to do, I can see the players about to be blocked and the hole I need to squeeze through. But in game it just doesn’t let me fluidly move the way I know Brown can do with ease in the real world. These athletes can stop on a dime, react to a blocker, cut back inside, and explode down the field. In Madden they sacrificed total control for realistic movements. They want the game to look so real, but this has resulted in less control. My last gameplay related complaint is inconsistent blocking. As a player who loves to run the ball I see problems much more often than I’d like to. Sometimes I read the blockers and I’ll see my lead blocker about to demolish the linebacker trying to seal the cutback lane and I know I’m set for a huge gainer. But instead my full back just runs right through him like he’s Casper the friendly ghost wanting a loving hug and I get crushed for a three yard loss.
So let’s go back to my initial question. Did they keep the good from last year and fix the bad? For the most part, they absolutely did. The changes to MUT in handling the cards and fixing the overall presentation were much needed, sadly it’s still difficult to just get good cards without feeling pressured to waste real cash or grinding for hours and hours. The changes to skills trainer are amazing, if you want to advance your game exponentially then I definitely recommend. Not only does to educate on many aspects of the game, it also highlights how advanced and detailed the game has become. The best part about Madden has become the cerebral side of it, which is something I truly love. It’s one thing to be excited when you beast-mode over some poor cornerback with Marshawn Lynch for a long touchdown. It’s something entirely more gratifying to have a gameplan, execute the gameplan, adjust the play at the line of scrimmage fro when the defense adjusts, and consistently outwit the opponent. Madden 15 is as beautiful as any sports game ever. The lighting, effect, presentation are all top notch. And the facial animation is truly impressive. Although some players look hideous, most of the coaches and players look eerily similar to their real life gridiron selves. There are still issues with commentary, MUT can be overwhelming, and some gameplay changes still need to be improved on. But Madden 15 successfully revitalized the defensive side of the football, made proper adjustments to the presnap analytical aspect of the sport, and has created the best all around football game in the last decade.
1) Graphically stunning
2) Skills Trainer
3) Defensive adjustments
4) Cerebral football at it’s best
1) Good MUT cards WAY too hard to achieve
2) Sacrificed total control for realistic look