Let’s get this out of the way, Madden NFL 16 is the best Madden in years. Once you get past the kind of terrible intro sequence, the game opens up to become one of the best football experiences I have ever had. Not since I fired up Super Tecmo Bowl on the NES have I felt so at one with a game of football. That may sound like hyperbole, and maybe it is, but I find myself wanting to play this game just as much as I did the later all those years ago.
So what makes this game so great? It’s fun, the controls are tight and has more modes and features to explore than you have time in the day. It doesn't hurt that the new gameplay additions are so solid that it makes you question why they weren’t included in the first place.
The new game mode, Draft Champions, takes the best parts of fantasy football and mashes them with the uber popular Ultimate Team mode to create my new Madden obsession. Franchise mode is a mixed bag that remains mostly unchanged from last year. Minus a few things that have been streamlined, minor annoyances from the past continue to rear their head. Is this the best football game ever made...I don’t know, but it's the best we have had in years.
YES, RECEIVERS ARE NOW OVERPOWERED
The big new addition is actually more impactful than anything that has been introduced since the hit stick. The ability to control how your receiver catches the ball by pressing one of three buttons might sound ridiculously over-complicated, but it’s anything but as you are now able to recreate some of the best moments NFL games have to offer. The corner of the endzone fade, which has never worked, is now a thing of beauty. The deep route where the ball lands in your hands, in stride, actually looks like it does on tv. The best thing I can say about these controls is that when you first use them, they feel overwhelming, by the time your second or third game is over, you will wonder why they haven’t been included since day one.
That leads me to the biggest concern about these new controls, are they overpowered? The answer is a resounding yes. But, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The whole reason we play sports video games is because we want to recreate the larger than life moments we see during games. These new controls that have your receiver leaping in the air, hand battle with a defender before pulling down the ball on their way to the ground, masterfully make you feel that.
Online, I am sorry to say you are fucked. The dude you are playing is always going to run four verticals, chuck a bomb and use the spectacular catch button. Which is what I do in single player...over and over and over and over again. And it’s great.
WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE GAMEPLAY
Outside of the new receiver controls the game has also added the ability to pass the ball a variety of different ways. You can now throw a ball down at a receiver's feet or toss it high to get it over the middle linebacker that always seemed to jump off a trampoline to knock down your passes.
Running the ball also feels a little more fluid as the holes made by your offensive linemen feel natural and leave you have enough time to pick your hole and dart into it. The much improved gang tackling also makes the running game feel more dynamic as bigger backs can drag the pile, or on rare occasions, bust out of groups of would be tacklers in a slightly exaggerated version of reality.
Outside of the new interactions between defensive backs and receivers, the defensive side of the ball hasn’t seen many upgrades. You still hit a button to try and jump the snap. Defensive line maneuvers still feel under-powered, and on a few occasions, defensive backs have dropped passes that hit them right in their hands, which is annoying but something you see every week in real life so they get a pass. Hits feel powerful and overall the defensive side of the ball is ok, but nowhere near as fun as offense, as it should be.
THE VIRTUAL PHIL SIMMS IS GONE
The presentation in Madden 16 is a mixed bag and might be the low point of the entire package. I am sick and tired of hearing this team tell me that the presentation has been improved year over year only to fire up a game and realize not much has changed.
That goes for the commentary which flat out sucks. When compared side by side to other sports games, the commentary in Madden is a joke. NBA 2K and FIFA have found a way to make commentary exciting, engaging and carry some semblance of relevance. Here, you hear too many repeated lines and calls that feel like the announcers are watching a different game. In FIFA if you sign a new player or make a big change to your lineup, the announcers talk about it before and during the game. Here, my opponents starting QB was out and they introduced his backup like he was the star of the team. It's kind of embarrassing at this point. When you see my review score at the end, flash back up here because the lackluster presentation, commentary and sound really hurt the game.
On the sound front, stadiums also never feel alive. The closing two minutes of a big game feel exactly the same as the opening. How is that still possible? Why isn't the crowd out of control. Why aren't the announcers setting the mood. Why do the playoffs feel like a preseason game. Don't even get me started on why the league is such a pussy when it comes to letting EA make stadiums have dynamic attendance, which is another thing that would help add to the atmosphere.
Same goes for the terrible halftime show and replay package. Replays have been improved this year but still look nothing like what I see on Sunday. They look more like NFL films(who work with EA on the game), which would be fine if the replays were set to cool music and amazing voice overs. The're not. I'm in game and expect them to mimic real life and not constantly show me a close up of the ball on a deep pass. They need to zoom the camera out and show me how special that play was. Maybe next year.
THERE MIGHT ACTUALLY BE TOO MUCH TO DO HERE
We are constantly talking about value on the site and Madden 16 is one game that will not need an episode of "is it worth it". Every game mode you could want from a football game is here. Franchise mode, Online Franchise mode, Ultimate Team and Draft champions are the big ones but I will just quickly touch on the Draft Champions, which is my new favorite mode.
A mix of fantasy football and Ultimate Team, in Draft Champions you start off with a base team by choosing one of three random coaches. This ties you to a play style(ground and pound, air it out, etc) and your core roster. After that, you go through 15 rounds of fantasy football where you have to chose one of 3 players each round. The hook here is that each round is randomized and you never know who or when you are going to get them. All you know is that the pairings are going to force you to make tough decisions. Do you take a good QB the second you see him or do you wait and hope another one comes up? I waited my first go round and ended up with the horrible QB, Mark Sanchez. Special hall of fame players also make an appearance which meant my second go round I ended up with John Elway as my QB. Upgrade.
Once your team is picked you move on to a tournament where you have to win 3 games in a row with that team. The CPU also has crazy teams who fill with better players as you go on. Once you lose, it's game over and you have to pick a new team and start at game one. I only played this mode offline(it is also available online) and had a blast the few times I did it.
IT’S THE BEST INNOVATION FOR A REASON
Franchise mode is where I spend the majority of my time with Madden each year so it's the mode I scrutinize the most. I hate to be the one to break it to you but not much has changed in Franchise mode this year. If you have played Madden any of the past three years, you know what to expect here.
The only major change is the ways scouting college players is handled. Instead of using points on every stat, you are now only allowed to scout the three skills most relevant to that player. Prior to the draft you get another layer of stats unlocked automatically as info from the fictional scouting combine is shown. This will tell you how the player rates against other players at that position. It's a cool add and I'm glad they finally decided to streamline this process as clicking through menus last year was tedious.
While we are talking draft the stories that used to follow college players through the season are now relegated to the news section, which is buried in the last row of menu items. If you want to follow players, you are going to be clicking through the sluggish menus to do so. After a few in-game weeks, you will give up. Why they even decided to keep the news section is beyond me since it's such a pain in the ass to get to.
The best addition to the mode is actually something that was in before, but is implemented way better this year. Every player on your team is assigned a set of goals each week. These goals are broken down by game, season and career. Completing a goal rewards your player with experience points that you can use to upgrade their stats. Typical RPG meets sports game stuff. The cool thing here is the way these goals are presented in game. During games cool looking pop-ups appear after plays, above the player that just made a play, showing you how close you are to reaching goals. It's a small thing that makes each game a little more interesting. I found myself struggling to decide if I should make the smart pass or try to squeeze it to that receiver that is one catch away from a big goal. Going in I didn't think this stuff would do anything for me but it has turned out to be one of my favorite additions.
Everything else in Franchise mode is basically unchanged. You can move your team, see jersey sales and set food prices as you could before...which means they still basically have zero effect on your franchise.
It's a total bummer that this mode now takes the back seat to Ultimate Team, which makes sense from a business standpoint, but still sucks.
Madden does almost everything right this year. If you can overlook the average presentation and franchise mode, this is one of the best football games ever made.
RELEASED: August 24 2015 | SYSTEM: XBOXONE | SINGLE PLAYER: 20+ hours | MULTIPLAYER: 3 hours
Gameplay - 5/5
Visuals - 4/5
Franchise Mode - 3/5
Features - 5/5
- Best football game in years. Period.
- The commentary and presentation still suck.
- Overpowered receivers are so much damn fun.
- Franchise mode is solid but stagnent.
- The gameplay is rock solid and that's all that matters.
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