Madden NFL 16 Review: Highlight Reel

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Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4
Released: August 25th 2015

Every year football fans gear up for the annual release of Madden NFL. It’s become synonymous with back to school commercials, and preseason football on TV. It’s inevitable. When you’ve been playing Madden as long as I have (since the Sega Genesis days) you can become a bit jaded, but I was pleasantly surprised that Madden NFL 16 restored the feeling.

When you first pop in the game you’re thrust into a fabricated Super Bowl 50 pitting the Cardinals versus the Steelers. It tries to give you a cinematic feel with close ups on players, and over the top football dialogue, but honestly I can do without these openings and wish EA gave us the option to skip it altogether. Once you take the field the improvements in gameplay become noticeable right away. The first thing I noticed was how smooth the running game is in Madden 16 and how much of an improvement it was from last years edition. Running between the tackles is now a much more viable action as backs have the option of “getting skinny” (hold R1) when trying to squeeze through a hole. Also the developers have tweaked the conceptual awareness animations so you don’t get stuck behind your blockers and they added a context sensitive juke allowing you to cut off your blocks easier. The True Step mechanic also received some love and it’s now easier to change directions as the amount of stop steps your player takes have been shortened. The end result is a much more responsive running game. Building on last year’s improvements to defensive play, the focus has been placed on the passing game this year. Receivers have been given new tools, allowing you to catch the ball exactly how you want, depending on the situation. There are three types of catches, done by holding one of three buttons while the ball is in the air en route to the receiver. The Aggressive catch (triangle) is for leaping catches and keeping cornerbacks at bay. RAC (square) encourages the player to make a catch in motion and continue running up field, provided they’re not about to be clocked. Possession catches (x) are for keeping feet in-bounds or making sure the receiver hangs on to a first down. If you aren’t sure which option would be the most useful, a button prompt flashes above your receiver’s head, so you can make the appropiate type catch

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Players will really appreciate the ability to control the receiver and dictate what type of catch you want them to make, an option that hasn’t ever been in the game. Keep in mind it won’t be easy attempting these catches and the higher dificulty level you play on decreases your margin for error. The RAC command, meant to give you an extra step, could result in a dropped pass if you’re using a marginally rated wide receiver even if he’s wide open. Choosing to make a possession catch will see a receiver often go to his knees to secure the grab, and using the aggressive catch when the situation does not dictate it, will leave your receiver exposed for a kill shot. There will be a learning curve for even the most experienced Madden baller. Working in conjunction with the receiving game is the tweaked abilities in the passing game. While directional passing has been a staple in Madden for some time now, quarterbacks now have new weapons at their disposal. Your QB now has the ability to make more specific passes. With the L1 and L2 buttons, QBs can make body relative throws that are either high (L1) or low (L2) to the receiver. Touch passes are now also varied. A single tap gives a touch pass with a lot of height while a double tap gives a pass with less height, so it drops right into the receiver’s hands quicker. Again, it won’t be easy to just come in and master all of these components right away, but when you do pull off that beautiful back shoulder throw to a receiver, it is very gratifying.

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Of course none of these new additions would make much sense if the defense didn’t have weapons of its own to combat them and thankfully it does. Defending a pass in Madden 16 has become more of a chess match as the defensive back may be commanded either to play the ball or the receiver (hit the player when he catches it, or swat the ball out). Playing the ball provides the optimal path to the ball in an attempt to intercept or break up the pass, but if your defender is out of position you’ll most likely miss the opportunity to make a tackle. Playing the receiver has the opposite effect. Rather than trying for an interception, your defender will try to dislodge the ball. There’s less of a chance for a big play, but you’re practically guaranteed that the tackle will be made or the ball will be swatted out of the receivers hands. Execute the wrong command and you’ll most likley be looking at a huge gain, or worse a TD. I found out the hard way in a few online games when I chose to go for the interception only to see my opponent pull off a spectacular aggressive catch. Had I chose to play the receiver, I would have increased my chances of making the receiver drop the pass. On the flip, I’ve also pulled off some pretty swat animations on deep bombs that looked really good. This was an element that was sorely missing from Madden so I’m pleased that EA has added it. There was also more of a focus on penalties this year and there are some new ones added. Players also have penalty traits that dictate how frequently they will be penalized. I think people will find that the penalty sliders will have to be ticked up a few notches because in about twenty online head to head games I’ve played on the deafult settings, I haven’t seen many called.

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As many thing as Madden 16 has gotten right, I’d be remiss not to mention some issues that do somewhat put a damper on things. There are some glitches that you’ll notice instantly, one of which is an annoying enchroachment bug that occurs right when the offense breaks the huddle. Sometimes one of your defensive lineman will run across the line and make contact with the offense while they’re still coming to the line, resulting in a flag. There is also a bug that is tied to the new dynamic drive goals within Connected Franchise. If you complete your drive goals, your players are getting major in-game boosts that inflate their attributes to ridiculous levels. To their credit, EA Sports is aware of it (the Madden community made sure of that) and have indicated that the bugs will be patched. Connected Franchise returns and is largely the same save for the new dynamic goals and the slick new menu layouts. The amount of XP players are given for completing different goals has also appeared to be scaled back and it will be a lot harder to progress your players this year. The Ultimate Team has been largely unchanged but they did add new “Ultimate Moments.” In this mode you MUT team is faced with small challenges that put you in specific situations that other teams have faced is a quick way to earn cards and coins. The new Draft Champions is pretty nice and one of the better new modes in Madden 16. Draft Champions is perfect for people who don’t want to be bothered with the micromanaging of MUT. Over the course of 15 rounds, you’re offered a choice between one of three players, each at a different position that you most likely need filled. After the draft is over, you can either play against the computer or take your team online for a quick single elimination tournament. There’s no way to draft a super-team and any loss against the cpu before winning four games ends the challenge.

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Madden 16 challenges you to change the way you approach playing the game offering additions that even the most diehard player will appreciate. They’ve added a layer of realism with the risk vs. reward aspect of the new passing and defending mechanics without making it too difficult for new players to grasp. While there are some bugs afflicting the game that will have to be addressed and Connected Franchise needs an overhaul, overall EA has upped the ante and has delivered a solid sim football title. – written by DJRhude (@DJRhude)

BMR Rating 8.6