MADDEN NFL 15
|Digital and Retail|
|Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, Xbox 360, PS3|
|Singleplayer and Couch/Online Multiplayer|
When September rolls around, football fans rejoice for the new NFL season. Months and months of draft talk, training camp nonsense, and pseudo-football preseason boredom builds up and accumulates to a frenzy of football maniacs just begging for the season to begin. And just before the beginning of each NFL season, August brings us a new Madden, which goes hand in hand with the NFL as everyone just wants their football fix. The Madden franchise is a blessing and a curse. On one hand every iteration sells like popsicles in a desert because football fans need football. On the other hand it’s a series that has been running for so long; and it’s a yearly franchise that can and has at different times struggled with repetitiveness. Fans often wonder, what’s so special about THIS year’s Madden, do I need to buy the new one every single year? Other than a roster update, what kind of drastic changes are there going to be? For me I always ask this very important question about Madden, and I’ll answer it in my review as well. What was done right and what was done wrong in last year’s Madden? And has THIS year’s version kept the good, fixed the bad, and added more good?
Reviewing Madden can be tough, there’s SO much to talk about. So before we talk about features, game modes, presentation and more let’s just talk about the second to second gameplay. This isn’t hyperbole; the gameplay in Madden 16 is probably the best the series has ever had. It’s still not perfect; there are still some things that can frustrate. But as a whole it’s smooth, responsive, and the player really does have great control. On a play calling level the game feels very good. Just like in pervious Madden games you can select your play through many different means. From a personal standpoint (I-formation for example), from a play-type stand point (IE Screen Pass), recent plays, and coach suggestion. Every play also has a statistics on the side to glance at to help with your selection. Some plays are suggested by Madden players themselves, as a good option against a cover two defense for example. Or maybe based on the type of offense the opponent is using, a draw running play is a good choice. The plays also show how many times you have selected them and how successful they are by showing what the average yards per play are. As a recommendation for EA and future Madden games, I think this is brilliant but they should add more. Perhaps show how many touchdowns, sacks, turnovers etc have been attained with this play selection. I think that addition would be amazing.
The gameplay feels just like it did last year, so I won’t go over all the details. Let’s instead just talk about the new features in the gameplay and how they’ve dramatically improved the overall game. As a quarterback, you now have more control over the ball than ever. Bullet passes by holding down the receiver icon and long bombs by gently tapping it has been a part of Madden forever. But new to the series is touch passes and low passes. To throw a touch pass you must double tap the receiver icon. Touch passes are perfect for lobbing the ball over a defenders head and dropping it right into your receiver’s arms. Throwing a touch pass to a running back running a wheel route or a wide receiver running an out route to the sideline works wonderfully and is very satisfying. A touch pass can also be very dangerous however, because if you toss the ball high in the air into coverage where your receiver has a defender in front of him as well, it can easily be picked off. So this addition is very fair. Low passes using ‘LT’ while pressing the receiver icon are helpful for safe and secure passes where you just want to make a completion low to the ground where a defender can’t attack it.
To go along with the new throwing mechanics, the receivers have new catching options and these are really fun and an awesome addition. In the old Madden games you pressed ‘Y’ to catch the ball on offense and defense. Now that’s completely changed. There are three ways to catch the ball. Aggressive(Y), Possession(A), and RAC(X). As soon as the ball is in the air you can press and hold one of these buttons. Tapping isn’t an option, you must hold the button. You also don’t’ need to change to the receiver by pressing B, as soon as the ball is in the air you can hold the button and you will be controlling the receiver. If the ball is thrown high in the air and there’s a defender sticking you like glue, using an aggressive catch with ‘Y’ is your best option. With aggressive catches the player leaps in the air, attacks the ball, and attempts to pluck it out the sky. With aggressive catches the player is usually not going to gain any extra yards, as he is often going all out for the ball and will fall down when he catches it, although sometimes this isn’t the case. These catches are usually spectacular, and in fact the “Spectacular Catch” rating for a receiver is used for these plays. The better they are at snagging the ball one handed, leaping in the air over players, etc the better chance they will have at coming down with the ball. So Odell Beckham Jr. and Calvin Johnson will both come down with these grabs pretty often. The possession catch, using ‘A’ is completely different. If the receiver is running a drag route across the field and is about to get levels by a defensive back, the possession catch is the best choice to secure the ball. Even if he gets hit really hard, there’s a good chance he will hold onto the ball with the possession catch. This also uses the “Catch in Traffic” rating for receivers. Another reason to use the possession catch option is when you absolutely must get a catch in key pivotal places, for example on third down or a pass into the end zone. When you use the possession catch the receiver often catches the ball and drops to the ground to ensure the catch. So on third and 14 into tight coverage, the receiver can just snag the ball and drop right down to make sure you move the chains. A third and exciting reason to use the possession catch is at the sidelines. One of my MAJOR pet peeves in Madden is how stupid receivers tend to be with not getting two feet in bounds. So many times in the past a receiver will have five or more yards to work with and they run in stride full speed and ignore the need to get two feet in bounds. Now however, if you use the possession catch button near the sidelines the receiver will ALWAYS attempt to get his feet inbounds. They don’t always do it successfully, and that’s fine and totally acceptable. But as long as you use a possession catch near the sidelines the receiver will always do his best to catch the ball in bounds. The last option is a RAC catch using ‘X’. RAC is the easiest to explain, it stands for run after catch. If you use the RAC catch the receiver will instantly try to run up field and gain more yards as soon as he catches the ball. This is the best option when a receiver is wide open and has tons of space to work with. The new throwing mechanics are great, but the new catching mechanics are even better. It changes the way the ball is played while in the air and it’s really special.
Of course all of that sounds very overpowered for the offense, what can the defense do? Well they can do a lot actually. It’s very rock paper scissor when it comes to playing the ball in the air. The defense has new options as well. When the ball is in the air you can press ‘Y’ to attack the football and go for an interception of pass deflection. Or you can press ‘A’ to attack the receiver and insure a tackle or knock the ball lose. Of the three options for catching the football, each of them can be countered by the defense. If the offense goes for an aggressive catch and leaps in the air, well the defense can try to do that too in an attempt to pick off the ball. But the defender can also go straight for the body of the receiver. Aggressive catches are susceptible to drops, because a hit from the defender can often knock the ball out. In the case of possession catches, the defense has fewer options. There’s a good chance the player won’t drop the ball from a hard hit, and intercepting the ball is a bit harder since the ONLY goal of the receiver is to snatch the ball and get down. But the receiver won’t pick up any more yards after the catch and it can still be intercepted if timed perfectly. Lastly RAC catches are similar to aggressive catches for the defense. If the offensive receiver tries to catch the ball and instantly run up field, his eyes and focus aren’t’ on securing the ball as much, so knocking the ball out with a brutal hit is entirely possible. Interceptions are also easier if the receiver uses the RAC catch because he’s already positioning himself to run. So he’s not attacking the ball as much as waiting for it to come to him, meaning you can jump the route and snag the ball.
All of these new passing and defending mechanics work amazingly. In the past new gameplay features can tend to be a bit buggy since it’s a brand new addition. But in this case it feels very intuitive and it all works really well.
A less advertised but equally exciting update to gameplay is the adjustments made in the running game. Another one of my biggest pet peeves in previous Madden games, especially since they added physics in Madden 13, is how easily the running back get’s “stuck” while running through the hole. I love running the football and being physical. But in the old Madden titles, my running back would always stick to the offensive linemen’s backside when trying to squeeze through a blocking hole. Basically, as soon as the runner would contact the blocker he would magnetize to him. It seemed like every single time he would either fall down on his face or just run in place for 5 seconds until someone came to tackle him. I would try to “dis-attach” from the blocker but instead I’d be stuck no matter what I’d try. This year however, that’s almost entirely gone away. It still happens from time to time, but it’s very rare. Now the game has implemented a smart system where the running back will automatically do realistic movements to follow the blocker and pull away perfectly. Now I can ride the back of a blocker and hit the hole to perfection. The running back will use his arms to push off and away from the blocker, never get stuck, and sometimes even pull off a quick spin to break off. It works perfectly and makes running realistic and satisfying.
Coming up with new game modes in Madden is not an easy thing to do. Football is football, what can you change? But every so often Madden gives it a try, and as of late it’s worked out great. Of course the four main stays in the game are quick play (local), head-to-head online, franchise, and MUT (the card based fantasy-like game). I’ll talk about all of those in a bit; some of them have substantial updates. But first let’s talk about the new game mode, Draft Champions. Draft Champions is very simple, short, and fun. Basically in Draft Champions you get to select a team “draft” style and play either against the computer or online against other Draft Champions players. There are sixteen rounds, including the selection of your coach and the players you select are based on their “card style” players from Madden Ultimate Team (MUT). As soon as you begin the game gives you a set of random players with an overall rating of 70. Every round you can select between three random players at various positions and skill levels. It’s up to you to decide which players you like best, what positions you need more, what style you want to play, etc. Because they are completely random, there’s a chance you won’t get a second shot at a given position. So if you have to select between that great corner back or great running back and you pick the corner back, maybe you’ll never get another chance for a runner. The idea is very simple but it turns out to be extremely fun. Once you select a player of a specific position, it’s probably best not to select another one of that position even if it’s a better player. You want to upgrade the entire team on every level. However that might not be the case quite as much at positions like corner back and wide receiver, since you can have multiple players of those positions on the field at once. Each round is different; sometimes all three options/cards are on the lower end, like 77 overall to 80 overall. Other times all three players are elite cards and in the 85 overall to 90 overall category. Both of those scenarios are risk reward and challenging. Do I want to have a lower overall safety perhaps? With those elite options, do I want to get an elite wide receiver and add depth at the position even though I already drafted one? Or do I want to get that awesome middle linebacker and upgrade my defense? Some rounds are completely random and have three different selections of totally different skill levels. But then what do you do, select the lower player you NEED or the better player you only want? The quarterback position often brings up the most excitement when drafting. You never know what you’re going to get. If you pass on a QB you might not get a second chance and be stuck with someone like Mark Sanchez. Picking up the 83 overall Joe Flacco doesn’t sound too thrilling. But if you select a different player instead maybe you won’t get another QB. On the other hand, if you DO select Joe Flacco and a few rounds later the 91 overall Aaron Rodgers could be one of the options and then you feel like you just HAVE to pick the better QB and you’ll have a wasted backup in Flacco. In the final round you get to select a legend for your team. These players are all time greats and have 90 overall scores or higher and can be anyone from Rod Woodson to Terrell Davis. My ONLY complaint in Draft Champions is that every so often there are whole drafts that pass by without a single option for a specific position. If a free safety or a right outside linebacker never shows, it’s not a HUGE deal. But if I never get an option for a running back or worse yet a quarter back, it kind of seems unfair. I think they should have programmed the game to always have at least one option from every position, even if it’s a low level card, especially the skill positions like QB. Once you draft a team, you can take that squad into a playoff type tournament either against the computer or online. As well as just being a fun game mode, you also get rewards that you can bring back to MUT. These vary from bronze, silver, gold, and even elite players as well as collectibles to add to sets in MUT depending on how well you perform. Overall Draft Champions is a lot of fun and a wonderful addition to Madden. It’s short and sweet replayable style, along with the ability to get rewards and bring them to MUT, is what drives home its success.
Since we just mentioned MUT a few times, let’s discuss Madden Ultimate Team. MUT has been the most successful game mode for Madden and has helped revitalize the franchise. This year’s addition has few major changes but quite a few small helpful ones. The base game is the same. Play solo challenges and online to get packs, coins, and collectibles all to try to gain better players for your team. You can also use real cash to purchase packs that guarantee various things like gold players, elite players, and more. My biggest complaint of last year’s version was that it was just too time consuming and grinding to get good players. Although it’s still a bit of a grind, it seems better than it used to be. There are more solo game modes that guarantee high level players than ever before. I’ve put maybe 15 hours into the game and I have more elite players now than I had at all in Madden 15. If you want to put real cash into the game, it’s also worth it when compared to last year. I wouldn’t recommend it overall; I’m not a fan of dropping all that extra cash when it’s still a RANDOM pack. But now there are different pack options that become available for a few days at a time at different points for different prices that guarantee better things than last year. For example there was a pack buyable just last week that promised a random elite card, this week there’s another one that secures you a legendary card. So if you do want to drop a bit of cash you can get a great card. But remember, it’s still random. So if you get an elite full back and you were really hoping for a running back or wide receiver, you’re screwed. I also feel like it’s easier to get coins now, which makes buying cards in the auction house better. Overall MUT is still a grind, but that’s by design, many people love draining hours and hours into this game mode.
Franchise mode returns with a lot of new updates and features and it’s better than ever. Like always in franchise mode you can play as a player, owner, or coach. You can pick from real people already in the league or create your own custom rookie. I recommend being a coach. The biggest in game additions to franchise mode are the new goals and confidence. In previous versions, there have always been game, season, and career goals. Completing those goals can give XP (to upgrade the player’s skills) and legacy points (used as a meter for the player’s legacy). But now there are also in-match goals during any given drive. The goal might be to sack the quarterback or run for a touchdown. If these goals are completed the player or possibly entire team will gain confidence and XP. These in game/series goals keep franchise mode more interesting. It’s a lot of fun to have these extra targets to shoot for. So what is confidence? Confidence can help or hinder a player’s overall score. If you complete goals, win games, and play well then the confidence will boost the player’s stats and help him be a better player. Confidence is a small thing that ends up going a long way. It’s great if your offense is the strong point and it helps you win games, which gives the whole defense confidence as well and helps them play at a higher level. As a coach it’s tons of fun to draft, re-sign great players; pick up free agents, make trades and more. But just on a playing level; managing player’s goals, helping them build legacy as well as your own, building confidence and winning football games is rewarding and just plain fun. There is also a massive UI overhaul in the main menu of franchise that is clean, quick, deep, yet simple.
The experience is very different as a player however; I honestly recommend NEVER being a player in franchise even though it should be a lot of fun. If you are a player, be on offense, never defense. Why? If you are a player only, you get locked into that person and can’t play any snaps that aren’t yours. Meaning if you are a quarterback, you throw the ball and watch the receivers run. And when the defense rolls out there, the game is “Super-Sim’ed” and you just wait until it’s your turn again. This should be awesome and it was back when this was introduced years ago. Super-sim is designed to simulate plays in the game and can be used in many game modes. But specifically for franchise super-sim is used to simulate any play that you the player are not involved in. Bu it is utterly TERRIBLE!!!! I created a strong safety for the Steelers. My defense is pretty weak, but I was hoping my created safety can make some impact plays and help the defense out. Meanwhile the Steelers have one of the best offenses in the league with Ben Roethlisberger at QB, Antonio Brown at WR, and Le’Veon Bell at RB. But super-sim is absolutely broken. My offense would almost NEVER pick up a first down, let alone score. Without fail they would gain 2 yards, 3 yards, and then get sacked, time to punt. Throw a 6 yard pass, run for 2 yards, and then throw the ball away, punt again. Every single time they had the ball they would retain the football for less than 30 seconds and punt it away. With 12 minute quarters I was able to hold the opponents to 14 points or less in 4 straight games but my offense never scored a single point. I would even take the ball away and give my team the ball in field goal range and they still would find a way to fail. In one match I shut out my opponent until overtime, the game was 0-0, and I finally failed in OT. Each game my team would throw the ball for 50 yards or less, run the ball for 50 yards or less, throw 3 or more picks, and I would just have to deal with it. This is unacceptable and absolutely ridiculous. Did they test anything at all? In one scenario there was 45 seconds left in the first half. On a safety blitz I busted through the offensive line and crushed the running back behind the line of scrimmage. In doing so I caused the running back to fumble and my defensive end, Cameron Heyward, picked up the ball at the 5 yard line!!! Sweet!!! I gave my offense the ball with 40 seconds left in the half and still have two timeouts left. My offense should definitely score a touchdown, and if not then at least a field goal, right? RIGHT?!?! WRONG!!! They ran the ball and gained 2 yards. They then ran again and gained 2 more. And then…… end of the half. WHAT?! So they didn’t use the time outs? They didn’t score? They didn’t even stop the clock and try a field goal?! That was when I quit playing. I regularly simulated for ten seasons just to see what would happen. Simulating whole games or seasons works perfectly fine. It’s the in game super-sim that has major issues. When I simulated my team won two Super Bowls and went to a third. My safety had 40 interceptions, over a thousand tackles, and a great career. Yet his legacy score was 2. For winning Super Bowls and putting up awesome numbers I should have a legacy score in the thousands, maybe even hall of fame worthy. But… nope. Why? I don’t know. I just quit and played as a coach instead, where I had loads of fun.
Theonly major problem I had was a very strange glitch that did occur in franchise while in coach mode. And it happened twice. Each time you complete one of the in game challenges you can see in real time the confidence, XP, and OVR score updated above each of the players’ heads who were involved. But for me, on two separate occasions, Le’Veon Bell’s overall dropped by 32! Both times I was having good matches, so I didn’t understand. I went into my roster and sure enough, Bell’s Elusiveness and Ball Carrier Vision dropped all the way down to 3. Normally they are both in the 90’s. So I had to quit the match both times, I was afraid the glitch would save and there would be no way I could bring those two ratings back up to where they are supposed to be.
I mentioned in last year’s Madden review just how smart the game play has become. From the play calling options, to the audibles and changes at the line, to the skills trainer it all worked amazingly in Madden 15. This year is no different. Skills Trainer is a tidy and helpful tutorial on everything from mechanics to reading the defenses. Just like last year it is brilliant. I highly recommend every Madden player to take on Skills Trainer; it substantially improved my own game on Madden 15. Madden 16 has everything last year’s version had as well as all of the new mechanics.
Madden has become a cerebral game, and I LOVE that. Football is a cerebral game. Picking smart play calls, playing your style, adjusting your strategy, changing the play at the line, it all is needed for success and feels just like the real game. My favorite part about Madden has become the intellectual aspect and the enjoyment it brings.
Madden 16 is a beautiful game. The field, the weather, everything looks great. There have also been adjustments to the fans themselves; who now wear official gear from the NFL shop and they feel livelier than ever. On the field, players’ animations, how they react, it all looks great. However one complaint I have is that many players don’t act like there real life counterparts. For example I have NEVER seen Peyton Manning strut down the field and puff out his chest after making a 12 yard first down; but in Madden 16 the celebratory animations have no regard for who’s pulling them off. Another example would be someone like wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He’s the definition of class, never smack talks on the field, and always keeps his cool. Yet in this game I’ve seen him dance like an idiot and get in player’s faces and push and shove. The emotion, mini scrums, and excitement from the players make Madden look and feel authentic. Yet the developers should have adjusted how different players celebrate and act based on how they act in real life, especially the notable and popular NFL players.
One thing they did NAIL is player’s faces. Eli Manning looks just like Eli Manning. Rob Gronkowski looks exactly like Rob Gronkowski. I mean it’s incredible!! I sometimes will just look at replays and scan the field to check out different athletes in awe. Not EVERY player looks perfect. But all the QBs, coaches and all the stars looks pretty much perfect. There are even a good handful of
“tier two” players like Martavis Bryant of the Steelers, their number two wide out, that look great. There was also an update just a few days ago that updated the “likeliness” of even more players which is fantastic.
Another big change to the presentation is the in game “augmented reality” type stats. What Madden 16 has pulled off in this area should actually make the NFL kinda jealous, and ESPN, NBC, FOX, and CBS should take notice. Often after a play is completed a box will pop up and follow a player with some important stats. For example if a wide receiver has now hit the 100 yard mark on the game the stat box will pop up and follow the receiver who is celebrating, walking back to the huddle, et c. These little touches really go a long way.
Phil Simms and Jim Nantz do the play calling again this year. In my review last year I blasted them for some terrible announcing. This year it’s honestly slightly better, but it’s still painful. They come across as complete know-it-alls. They do feel like they have a bit more energy this time, and when they jokingly bust on each other it can be amusing. Simms however just always sounds like he’s angry about not being able to play football in today’s game. Almost every drive he talks about how the rules make it so easy for quarterbacks and wide receivers, as if the skill level of the player is an afterthought. One thing that is not the announcers’ fault and instead is the developer’s fault is re-used calls. If you play a full game you will sometimes here the same thing a half dozen times. There are occasions where I’ve heard the same exact recording on back to back plays. It doesn’t seem difficult at all to me for EA to simply code the game so that Phil and Jim will never say the same thing twice in one match. To me that would be an easy fix to a problem that has existed since the beginning of Madden. Same thing goes for contradictions in the recordings. All the time I’ll hear Phil or Jim make a comment about something like how poorly the running back is playing, but two plays later they will praise him. On one instance the computer went for it on fourth down when they were down by 6 points with less than a minute left and Phil and Jim said it was a terrible decision and they should have punted it… 20 yards from the endzone? Sometimes the play by play is entertaining. But usually it’s either overly obnoxious, as I’m just not a fan of the Simms/Nantz combo or it’s just plain stupid because the things they say won’t even be accurate as to what’s going on. I’ve got one more idea that I really think EA would benefit from. In the NFL there are dozens of announcing duos that cover the games. Why not bring Phil Sims and Jim Nantz back next year but ALSO bring in two or three other announcing teams? How about Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock from the NFL Network? Joe Buck and Troy Aikmen from Fox? Maybe even a random radio coverage duo for local teams. The Cardinals have a great announcing team for example. It would be really cool if there were a handful of different teams that covered the Madden games so you could constantly get different perspectives. EA I know you like the idea, just give me some credit if you follow through. Also bring in Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth please. They are by far the best tin the business. Cris Collinsworth used to be in Madden for a few years and I LOVED him.
One last thing I want to point out, when you start up Madden it enters you into a Super Bowl scenario, Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco as the Steelers take on the Cardinals. As a Steelers fan this was the coolest possible way to start the game. Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger and Martavis Bryant’s real voices were used, I noticed right away. The game sets you up in various situations to intercept the ball, score touchdowns, and finish a drive off by throwing a game winner to Brown. The production level, the Super Bowl feel—it is all perfect and as a Steelers fan I was geeking out big time!
The Madden franchise was in a real rut in my opinion for a half decade or more. Madden 2005 was the last game I felt like I truly enjoyed. Yet the last few years it seems like they’ve really figured things out again. Mut is probably what go them back on track; it’s a brilliant game mode that feeds off of the fantasy football craze. The adjustments to MUT in Madden 16 just help continue to elevate that great game mode. Franchise mode is better than ever, the overhaul and additions make it my favorite game mode to play in this year’s Madden. Skills trainer is as good as ever, and Madden’s cerebral side makes me happy. The new game mechanics for the defensive side, the passing and catching game, and the running game are all brilliant and allow the game play to be better than ever. If you’ve skipped out on a couple Maddens and have been waiting out, pick up Madden 16. If you are a Madden enthusiast, you already have the game and this review probably just verifies all of your thoughts. It’s not a perfect game, it has some issues here and there; but if your hope in Madden has been deflated for any reasons at all, allow this review to pump your trust back into EA because this is the best Madden yet.
1) New passing, receiving, defending mechanics
2) Improved running game
3) Franchise Mode’s changes are brilliant
4) Gorgeous graphics
5) Cerebral Football still at its best
1) Super-Sim is broken
2) Jim Nantz and Phil Simms still suck
3) Occasional Glitches in Franchise Mode