Title: Madden NFL 16
Platform: 360 / PS3 / PS4 / Xbox One (Reviewed on Xbox One)
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Release date: Out now
Family Focus: Click here for more information
Sports video games are a good way for me to get over real life sporting disappointments. For example, when I play FIFA or Football Manager, I can make up for the fact that Newcastle United did so poorly in the previous season (there’s a good chance of this happening year on year). This year’s Madden NFL 16 has helped me get over that goal line interception Russell Wilson threw in the dying moments of Super Bowl XLIX.
In fact, one of the first short challenges that becomes available to you is replaying that exact moment. It’s in the Ultimate Team mode, which has been the favoured way to play EA’s sport games for me and most other people for a good few years now. It’s the mode where you build up your own team using players from around the league. However this year, UT has been usurped in my heart by the all new Draft Champions mode. If you’ve played Hearthstone, imagine its drafting mode, but replace the murlocs and spells with muscular dudes wearing helmets and armour.
You’re given a base team of mediocre players, and over 15 rounds of drafting, you improve your team. You pick your head coach first, which will determine the style of your offense and defense. Then, each round you are given the choice between three players, with the final round being the choice between three legends from past NFL seasons. The best player overall might not be the best one to fit into the style dictated by your coach, so it becomes an interesting balancing act. You also have to be wary of filling all the roles. If you pass on a decent quarterback in the hopes of getting a better one further down the line, you run the risk of never actually getting another quarterback selection in the draft. The draft where I was stuck with Matt Cassel at QB didn’t go so well for me. Sorry, Matt.
After you’ve got your team, you have to win a number of games in a row – three offline, four online. If you win them all, you unlock rewards for your Ultimate Team. If you lose just one game, then you’re out, and given a lame consolation prize. What makes the Draft Champions mode so engaging for me, is that it changes how I view losing in Madden. In previous years, losing a game made me want to turn the game off. Now, the actual process of drafting is so enjoyable that losing isn’t so bad – I can just draft again.
That’s the main new game mode, and while there are some tweaks elsewhere, the rest of the game should be familiar to anyone who’s played Madden in recent years. In Franchise Mode you take control of your favourite team as usual. This year, preparing for the draft is slightly different, in that each week you get a number of scouting points which you use to unlock prospective players’ best attributes. It’s a fairly simplified way of doing it, but it’s effective if you’re not that interesting in getting down to the nitty gritty of scouting players. There are also new drive goals which pop up while you’re playing. You might have to get two first downs on your possession, or limit the opponents to 15 yards. If you complete the drive goal, you’ll get a temporary stat boost and confidence bonus.
The real changes come in the actual gameplay, with alterations on both sides of the ball. When throwing a pass, you now have three options when you switch to the receiver. Holding down the Y, X, or A buttons while the ball is in flight changes the way the player goes after the ball. Holding Y means the player gets aggressive, and attacks the ball at its highest point, trying to make the grab above a defending player. However doing this leaves the player open to big hits. Holding X means the receiver moves his body in order to run and gains yards after catching the ball. Holding A means the player aims to simply gain possession of the ball, bracing himself for an impact after catching it. Using the possession catch option does mean defenders can more easily get in front and intercept the ball, however. These three simple button presses really do change the way each throw turns out, and it’s a great addition.
Similarly, you now have options as the defender. When the ball is in the air, you can hold one of two buttons to either “play the receiver” or “play the ball”. Playing the ball is similar to the aggressive catch option, in that you’re attacking the ball to either make an interception or bat the ball out of someone’s hands. Playing the receiver is usually used when you’re not going to be able to stop the guy making the catch, but you will be able to stop them gaining any more yards afterwards. These three simple button presses for both offense and defense really do change the way each throw turns out, and it’s a great addition.
Your quarterback also has a few more options now. Double tapping a receiver’s icon performs a touch pass, which has enough heat on it to get over the head of a linebacker, but it’ll drop into the receiver in front of the safety. Additionally, holding down one of the shoulder buttons while throwing means you either throw a high ball for your receiver to go up and grab, or a low ball that won’t be able to be intercepted by a defender. On top of all the options the QB already had, choosing the right thing to do can be tricky at first. But after a while (quite a while, actually), the new additions really give you the freedom to make the exact plays you want to.
Presentationally speaking, this is the best looking Madden yet, and neat new additions like “monuments” add to the feeling that you’re watching an actual game. These are overlays that come up on the field and show some live action video of the player in question, along with their stats for the season so far. Oddly, the transitions can be a little framey at times, and the tutorial showing off the new mechanics, which is the very first thing you see in the game is basically unwatchable while you’re not playing it.
During actual gameplay through, everything runs smooth as silk, and there are some new animations which look great while they’re in motion, particularly in the gang tackles area. However it doesn’t quite have ‘players standing up’ animations down quite yet. It usually looks like they’re marionettes being picked up by wires. It’s also a shame that commentary is as repetitive and disjointed as ever, and I encountered several occasions where it was just wrong. “The receiver comes down with the catch!” they yelled, as the ball rolled off towards the sideline.
Minor issues aside, Madden NFL 16 is a fantastic improvement on previous years. The new passing and catching mechanics really do change the way you play, and the Draft Champions mode is something that has seemingly endless legs for me. If you’re new to the series, or american football in general, there’s a really robust tutorial system too, while not only tells you how to play the game, but also explains why you’re doing the things you’re doing. People often bemoan sports games for not changing enough from year to year, but EA has really knocked it out the park er- scored a touchdown with this one.
- New mechanics change the way you play for the better
- Draft champions mode is a fun new way to play
- Visual improvements have it looking better than ever
- Commentary is still sub par
- Animations can still look a little weird at times
- People run screen passes all the time online and I HATE IT
If you watch the NFL with your family, then you’ll definitely be able to play Madden NFL 16 with them. The tutorials can even give the young ones a much better understanding of the game.
Code provided courtesy of EA