Tag Archive: ea sports


Getting Drafted in NBA Live 18

I had a chance to play “The Rise”, the new prologue in EA Sports’ The One mode in NBA Live 18. NBA Live 18 will drop on September 15th for Xbox One and PS4.

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No matter if you are a casual NHL 16 player or a full out member of EA Sports EASHL, we’ve all come across the stereotypical players from around the world. Whether it be the guy who pauses the game every five seconds or the rage quit troll – all of these types of gamers are unforgettable.

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EA Sports has used NHL 16 to virtually sim the entire 2015-16 season.

Thusly, EA Sports believes the Anaheim Ducks will win their second Stanley Cup after beating the Montreal Canadiens in the Final. Montreal will have knocked off Pittsburgh in the East to get to the Cup Final, and Anaheim will have eliminated Minnesota in the West. Winger Corey Perry of the Ducks will be named the Conn Smythe Winner (playoff MVP).

Other predictions included Canadiens goalie Carey Price winning the Vezina (best goaltender) for the second year in a row and Alexander Ovechkin winning his fifth Rocket Richard scoring title in eight years. And, as no surprise to anyone, Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid won the Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year).

NHL 16 is available now for Xbox One and PS4 and be sure to check out my full review to see how this year’s game stacks up.

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Semi-pro

As a New York Knicks fan, I am extremely familiar with the concept of rebuilding a franchise. After a three-year absence from the gaming scene, NBA Live has been furiously trying to make up lost ground and get back to a point where it could stand toe-to-toe with its most direct competition. It’s first two years back, however, barely moved the needle with all those virtual ballers out there. The hope was that, like with many annual sports franchises, the third year on new-gen consoles could be the one that would announce NBA Live’s triumphant return to glory. Looking more like my Knicks, though, NBA Live 16 continues moving the franchise in the right direction, but only in baby-steps—and not to a point where it can actually compete just yet.

The most impressive addition to this year’s game comes in the form of the new Live Pro-Am mode. Here you can get ten human players together for some classic five-on-five action in venues that channel your local gymnasium or playground blacktop. Further illustrating that pick-up game feel, the first team to 21 points wins—which, for me, triggered flashbacks to games I played after school or during recess with my friends as a kid. If you can’t find human opponents, there’s also the option to take your five-man squad up against a series of computer teams of varying difficulty.

Playing with other people is really where NBA Live 16 shines. While my time online was seamless, it does need to be mentioned this was before the game’s wide release. Communicating via headset, setting up screens, calling out plays, and learning how to work with one another made me want to lace up my favorite pair of sneakers before playing again.

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One note, though. If you plan on playing with friends, you might want to talk before you group up because in Pro-Am you play as the created player you make when you first start the game and it wouldn’t be wise to take the court with five point guards. This means that Pro-Am mode doubles as a nice way to earn experience points before you take that created player into the single player Rising Star mode—NBA Live’s version of Be a Pro.

Besides Pro-Am, the usual suite of online versus modes return, including EA Sports’ card-based Ultimate Team. Live Ultimate Team adds a new feature where you can earn some of the NBA’s elite from early on in the mode, but can only keep them on your team for a small number of games before you lose them—adding a new strategic element to when and where you play certain players. There are also 160 offline challenges in LUT this year, allowing you to earn tons of coins and players for your squad before heading online.

My only gripe with this is that each challenge I saw is a full-length game. I think LUT needs to take a page out of Madden NFL 16’s MUT playbook and focus on shorter challenges like hitting buzzer beaters or making last minute defensive stops. It’s kind of exhausting to put in an entire game’s worth of time just to get a single card, especially if you fail.

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There have also been some tweaks to the offline components of NBA Live 16. The aforementioned Rising Star mode is accompanied again by Dynasty mode, which allows players to be the GM of their favorite NBA franchise and try to take them to glory. Dynasty still allows you to micro-manage every decision about your team, from making trades and re-signing free agents, to setting your starting lineup each night. If you decide to start with Rising Star, you’ll try to take your personal created player and turn them into NBA royalty.

Rising Star sees a major change for that custom player this year, and it comes in the form of the new progression system. Instead of upgrading a single point at a time, NBA Live 16 now sets threshold marks, so a skill may jump as much as five attribute points if you have enough XP to spend. Also, when you pick a position for your player, you now also have to pick a specialty. Point guards, for example, can be Shooters, Passers, or Slashers, each having their own boosts in particular categories when you start out, requiring less upgrading early on in your career.

Besides the skill aspects of your character, you can also customize their look down to the slightest detail. Tattoos, shoes, warm-up gear, and more are available to be earned. There’s also the Gameface HD companion app that even lets you put your own face on your player. I personally had a fair amount of issues linking the app with my PSN ID, and my odd-shaped head seemed to make the app go haywire on my first several attempts—but it’s an interesting idea if you can get it to work. Until then, I’ll stick with one of the pre-rendered faces.

Customization

There are also some welcome changes to gameplay when you actually take the court. New additions like clearer feedback on shots fix what used to be a confusing element from previous years. Now, a very clear shot meter comes up when shooting a jumper, and depending on skill level and how open the individual is, you receive a definitive percentage letting you know your chances of that shot going in when it leaves your hand. The hope is, over time, you’ll start to learn which are high-percentage shots and which aren’t. There’s also new feedback on called plays that tell you where to go and who you should be passing to in the hopes of getting an open look at the basket.

Unfortunately, things start to fall apart beyond the feedback. When controlling your player at a normal tempo, or if you try to slow things down to eat up some clock, it feels like you’re constantly fighting the controller. There’s almost no finesse when moving your player, unless you’re on the fast break sprinting towards the basket for an easy layup or dunk. And the more complex moves to break away from players guarding you are a series of semi- and half-circles on the right stick that remind you more of a fighting game than a sports title.

The worst gameplay offender, though, is your friendly AI. Whether in Dynasty or Rising Star, your teammates are nearly worthless. When I knock a ball loose on defense, I want my teammates to react to it like in a real game and scramble after it. When I’m boxing out on one side with my power forward, I want my center doing the same thing instead of letting small forwards run by him for easy putbacks. And while it’s great that I can call plays now, when I’m seeing the actual diagram on the court of where I need to be and where my teammates are supposed to go, I want them to actually go to those spots so I can pass or shoot like the play intended. I lead my team every night in points as a passing oriented point guard in Rising Star—not because I want to, but because if I pass the ball to one of my dunderhead teammates, they’re going to turn the ball over. It happens with too much regularity.

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Of course, the friendly AI isn’t the only disappointment, as the opponent AI isn’t very good either. Playing as my New York Knicks in Dynasty last night, I gave up one three-pointer. A stellar defensive feat? No. The AI, even with several open looks, never took a three-pointer unless it absolutely positively had to, which in the case of the one three I gave up, it did because it was at the buzzer to force overtime. If it were a three-point shooter, they’d look instead to try to drive to the basket. If it were a big man, they’d look to pass the ball. I can only control one guy at a time, and as alluded to earlier, the AI defense isn’t that good.

And really, that’s the disappointing thing about NBA Live 16. New modes along with additional bells and whistles for existing ones are perfectly fine, but there is still a roughness to the core gameplay that keeps it from being great. The reason why Pro-Am mode was so good when I played it was because it was humans versus humans, reacting and playing basketball the way you’d expect people should and would. Until that level of gameplay quality translates better into the offline modes, NBA Live 16 is a D-league title at best.

Developer: EA Tiburon • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.29.15
6.5
NBA Live 16 takes a small baby step forward with the franchise, but there are still core gameplay elements that need to be smoothed out before it can be a championship caliber game.
The Good Pro-Am mode is a welcome addition to the online suite; better feedback on shot taking.
The Bad AI on both sides of the ball is still abysmal and gameplay remains stiff.
The Ugly My odd-shaped head drives Gameface HD insane.
NBA Live 16 is available on PS4 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review.

Everything old is new again

A lot of focus went into the style and physics of last year’s NHL title, and in some ways it paid off. A hockey video game had never looked or played better than NHL 15, but in order to stay on its yearly schedule, EA Canada had to make sacrifices and cut featues—a lot of features. To the chagrin of its long-time fans, many aspects only came back in patches well after the game’s launch, and some modes never returned at all. With another year to work, however, NHL 16 brings the series back up to the standards set in previous years—and with an extra coat of polish for good measure.

The biggest returning feature is the beloved EA Sports Hockey League online mode and the 6-on-6 gameplay EASHL is known for touts two key additions. The first of these improvements is online couch co-op. Now, you and a friend can play on the same console and drop into a match whenever you both want making communication and practicing together easier than ever.

The other is player classes. The NHL series has long featured a dozen classes for forwards, defensemen, and goalies in their single-player modes, but as a part of online player customization, you can now choose the class you want to play with in NHL 16‘s EASHL. Having a balanced team will be critical to victory, but nothing may be more important than who plays as your net minder.

For too long, goalies have been ineffective in EASHL and it was often due to the clunky controls more so than the players themselves. Therefore, NHL 16 has introduced brand-new goalie mechanics. With a click of a trigger, you can drop into a butterfly and make yourself “look big” in net, or flick the right-stick to dive in front of the open goal mouth for that spectacular blocker save at the last second. I messed around with the goalie controls offline as not to embarrass myself too badly with them in an actual EASHL game, and although I still gave up five goals in a Rangers 6-5 win over the computer-controlled Blackhawks, gameplay in the crease is definitely a step up from what we’ve seen in the past.

I actually got to test out EASHL online with a full complement of 12 players, and besides a little lag at the start of the first period, it was just as exciting as ever. I helped lead my team to a thrilling 7-5 win in a scorefest, during which I picked up both a Gordie Howe hat trick and a regular hat trick from my natural gaming position of left wing, and choosing to play as a power forward.

While the online focus will surely be on the rebirth of EASHL, Hockey Ultimate Team—the NHL series’ other beloved online mode—has undergone some changes, too. The majority of the experience remains relatively similar—including the UI for the mode, which still could use some work when it comes to making your lines and getting your team ready to play. But a totally refreshed single-player mode has been added, providing players a less pressure-filled situation to try those new lines out in, earn pucks (HUT’s online currency that allows you to earn packs featuring additional players), and move up through a whole new set of divisions.

The idea of a HUT single-player mode is a good one, and something fans have wanted for a while, but its implementation could’ve been so much better. Taking on a similar structure to the online version of the mode, single-player HUT has you play through divisions as you try to create a powerhouse fantasy team. By winning, you’ll move up until you reach the top. The problem is that only the Rookie difficulty setting is available at the start of the mode, since you need certain card requirements to unlock higher levels.

Sure, you could just buy new packs with real world currency, trying to get the cards you need, grind away online, or save up the daily puck rewards for playing on consecutive days. But if you want to get right into the mode, Rookie difficulty is just not fun at all for a veteran player of the series—so those unlock requirements were very frustrating to find.

I won my first four games in single-player HUT by a combined score of 97-6. No, that’s not a typo; I averaged well over 20 goals a game on Rookie. After that, I had no desire to play the mode ever again. Either HUT single-player needs to be balanced better so that Rookie offers a challenge, or the difficulty unlocks need to be done away with. After all, it’s a single-player mode in a sports game. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to decide how much of a challenge you want from the start.

Speaking of single-player modes, NHL 16 hasn’t forgotten about its offline suite of gameplay options when it comes to getting the game back up to speed. First off, all the solo modes you expect are there. NHL Moments Live remains exactly the same as last year, allowing you to again replay the previous season’s most impressive moments and either replicate or change history depending on the stipulation, and will feature new content as epic games happen over the course of the new season.

There’s also Be a Pro, where you can create your own prolific hockey superstar and follow him or her over the course of a 20-year career. This mode remains mostly the same, as well, but has improved coach feedback and training between games, and brings back “classic versus simulation” options that were missing from NHL 15. Basically, the difference between the two is whether or not you can simulate between your Pro’s on-ice shifts, creating two very differently paced experiences. Besides this, Be a Pro (along with the other game modes) has added playoff beards. A truly minor detail, but yes, you can now choose how your facial hair will grow if your team makes it into the playoffs.

If you prefer to have a more top-down view of your hockey franchise, there’s the classic Be a GM mode, where you can run the day-to-day operations of your franchise like a super-executive, trying to bring your team a Stanley Cup and maybe even build a dynasty. The big change that’s come here is a new Morale system. Inspired by the Martin St. Louis/Ryan Callahan trade between the Rangers and Lightning a couple years ago, players will now tell you in Be a GM when they are or are not happy, and can even demand a trade. This affects your overall team morale, which boosts your players’ stats when high and decreases them when low. If you start wheeling and dealing players, it could actually put a sense of dread in the locker room, but getting rid of a nuisance could be a game changer. These are things you’ll need to keep an eye on, and knowing the pulse of your dressing room is a fun new way to interact with your franchise.

Even though the modes are mostly about getting back to the old status quo, the overall gameplay has seen some significant changes. Sure, there’s the tweaking of physics and skating mechanics that we see from polishing the game on a year-to-year basis. Arenas are more realistic, too, with authentic goal songs added and the presentation package adjusted to fit in with NBC Sports’ real-life changes. And there are the aforementioned goalie controls.

In terms of how you play and learn the game, however, the new on-ice visual trainer is the biggest revision to NHL gameplay since the league added delayed offsides and the trapezoid behind the goal crease. Turn on this optional feature, and you’ll see a new overlay during gameplay that tells you very clearly where your passes would go, where your shots would hit on the net (if at all), and even tells you what kind of check to use on defense. More experienced players, such as myself, might scoff at this idea, thinking it’s just for newcomers to the franchise. But if you choose the adaptive training option—so NHL 16 picks up on your skillset dynamically—after just a couple games it’ll focus on more advanced aspects, and I found that even I still had a thing or two to learn. Thanks to the visual trainer’s advice, I have a better than 50-percent winning percentage in the faceoff circle for quite possibly the first time ever. My passing percentage is up, and while I’m not scoring so many more goals to make the game no longer entertaining (unless it’s single-player HUT), I’m definitely putting the biscuit in the basket at a better clip.

Without a doubt, NHL 16 is better than its direct predecessor. But when I look at the product as a whole, while there are some welcome new features—and some that need more work—NHL 16’s most significant points come from adding old stuff back in, making the experience come across more like it’s just catching up to what it was before the console generation shift. That said, NHL 16 feels like a welcome return to form for the series, as solid top to bottom as the ice we skate on.

Developer: EA Canada • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.15.15
8.0
New aspects in NHL 16 like the on-ice trainer and the Morale system in Be a GM give the game some welcome layers of depth, and the actual gameplay is as good as ever. However, you can’t help but get the sense that the biggest additions to this year’s game just came from putting back features that were cut from last year’s title.
The Good The new morale system in Be a GM. The on-ice visual trainer will teach even longtime players something new. The return of so many features initially lost in the console shift.
The Bad Single player HUT seasons needs balancing. Even with all the new and returning features, it felt like too much of this year was spent playing catch-up.
The Ugly The fact someone might actually want to grow a playoff “beard” like Sidney Crosby’s.
NHL 16 is available on Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Online portions were tested at an event at EA Canada. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review.

A new gridiron great

Madden has been unpredictable the past few years. Between a slow mastering of the new technology brought about by a console generation shift, and the decision to focus on singular parts of the on-field product due to their annual cycle, the product just hasn’t come together in a way the folks down at EA Tiburon probably hoped it would. But playing the proverbial long game seems to have finally paid off, with Madden NFL 16 providing an experience that football fans of all passion levels should be able to get excited for.

The biggest gameplay change is evident from the moment you start your first game or training drill. After zeroing in on the trenches the past two years, it is finally time for Madden to air the ball out. Quarterbacks can now add touch to thrown balls by double tapping a receiver’s icon for a pass that falls in between the bullet and lame duck passes of years past. This is great for when you’re trying to hit a small window between multiple defenders and one of them happens to be in front of your intended target. You can also use the left bumper and trigger to modify your passes even further, throwing them high or low and into a spot that only your receiver can make the play on them at.

Receivers also have new options when it comes to how they actually catch the ball. By holding different face buttons with the ball in mid-air, players can prepare for a RAC (run after catch), Aggressive catch, or Possession catch. The Possession catch will make your receiver focus on just securing the catch and getting their feet in bounds if near a sideline. The Aggressive catch, by contrast, allows spectacular plays to happen. New dynamic animations occur when your receiver leaps into the air to try to snag the ball at its highest point, but the gamble leaves themselves open to having the ball knocked loose, since they’re unable to defend themselves. Finally, the RAC is great for when you want to get a lot of yards after a play since your receiver starts turning up field before they even have the ball, but this can result in some unforced errors with the receivers dropping the ball outright.

It wouldn’t be fair for the offense to get all the upgrades, though. Defenders can now choose to play the ball or the receiver. Being proactive and going for the ball can lead to more interceptions, deflections, and some impressive animations as both receiver and defender fall to the ground. Playing the receiver is great when you’re just trying to prevent yards after the catch, like on a pass in the flat and you want to keep the receiver from getting a first down.

The best part of the defensive upgrades has to be the fact that defensive backs can actually catch the ball in Madden NFL 16. No longer will players drop easy interceptions on lame duck passes or tipped balls like their hands are covered in grease. They’ll still drop an easy one every now and again, but not nearly at the rate seen in previous games.

These new features re-invigorate what had become one of the more stale parts of playing Madden, because each new pass can lead to plays you’ll never have seen before from the series. The upgraded catches offer up an interesting rock-paper-scissors dynamic that tests your reflexes in the best ways possible, since you only have split-seconds to decide both what receiver to throw the ball to but also how you want to catch it. And ball hawking as a defensive back is finally satisfying, because you know when you read the receivers properly and jump the route that you’ll be coming down with the ball most of the time instead of watching it hit your hands and fall harmlessly to the ground.

The new passing mechanics have also provided welcome indirect improvements by giving Madden some much-needed balance. Working on the ground game and offensive/defensive line play so much in previous iterations threw the gameplay completely out of whack and left us with an unrealistic experience. It was common for me to have defensive linemen with 50-plus sacks each year and running backs with nearly 3,000 yards rushing. In order to make sure your QB actually has the time to throw the ball, defensive players won’t always beat an offensive lineman anymore—even when perfectly timing the snap. I still have great seasons with my defensive linemen, with guys like Damontre Moore of the Giants getting 15 sacks in my first franchise year, but those ridiculous numbers from previous games are a thing of the past.

The same goes with running the ball. Instead of averaging 175 yards a game, I found Shane Vereen averaged a much more realistic 90 yards a game this year, and the extra benefit of this is it improved my success with the play-action pass. Finally, my stat sheet looked more like an actual football game and allowed me to truly test myself against either the AI or human opponents.

Speaking of playing against other people, Madden’s suite of online modes has a new crown jewel. Draft Champions gives you a team of mediocre players (around 70 overall), and then tasks you with putting together a team of superstars through a fantasy draft. The problem is that you only have 15 rounds in the draft and 22 spots to fill, meaning every team will have some holes. Finding your opponent’s weaknesses—and minimizing your own—puts your football acumen to the test like never before, especially because no two drafts are ever the same. It’s also a fun way to just jump into the action if you’re not into the hardcore simulation of micro-managing a franchise.

Draft Champions touts a huge risk/reward factor because there are some incredibly tough decisions that you’ll have to make over the course of your draft. Since there’s no guarantee certain positions will come up, every time you pass on two other players when you make your singular choice each round, there’s a chance you’ll never see that position come up again. I truly believe that one of the games I lost while playing was because I scoffed at Matthew Stafford (81 overall) of the Lions in the sixth round in the hopes another QB would come up. One never did, and I was stuck with Austin Davis (70 overall), the pitiful backup for the St. Louis Rams.

Besides Draft Champions, the ever-popular Madden Ultimate Team returns. While not much has changed in regards to collecting cards, trying to improve your line-up, and then facing-off against people online in order to move up the virtual divisions, the special single player challenges that allow you to hone your team and relive the most exciting moments from last year’s NFL season have been tweaked. Now, these challenges are focused more on specific moments, typically towards the end of games, to offer quicker, more easily digestible gameplay snippets. You’ll progress faster with your MUT while also being thrown right into the action, providing an experience that’s easier to get into and requires far less of a time commitment.

Of course, playing online might not be your thing. Maybe this is your first time experiencing a Madden game and online is a bit intimidating. In that case, Skills Trainer returns with all new challenges and tutorials specifically focused around the new gameplay features added this year. A new 25-challenge Gauntlet has also been created to truly put your skills to the test.

You could also be a Madden veteran, but the idea of grinding against the computer might be more your speed. Connected Franchise is back and gives you the opportunity to control your favorite NFL team and turn them into a dynasty. Whether an owner, coach, or player, you’ll be directly involved with how your team hopefully becomes world-beaters. And if you choose to be an owner or coach, a brand new, more user-friendly interface makes it easier than ever to scout potential superstars in the draft, make lineup changes, or sign and trade current players on your roster. There is also a new XP system featuring season-long, game-to-game, and even drive-to-drive dynamic goals for players and coaches to help them develop into living legends (although the mid-game graphics tracking these goals are a bit of a mess). If you like being in control, Connected Franchise offers up more than ever before and makes it easier to maintain your perfect football legacy.

Even with EA Tiburon’s plans seemingly coming together in Madden NFL 16, there are still a few tiny flaws with this year’s product. Despite visuals that look better than ever, glitches remain on both the animation and AI side of things. The occasional clipping of two players trying to occupy the same space in transitional scenes between plays. Inhuman ragdoll movements after a tackle. Unnatural ball trajectories when released from the QB’s hand. Players standing perfectly still in the middle of the field before, during, and after a play—or, when they do move, it’s like they’re on an electric football field and not moving smoothly like their ten teammates. These are, admittedly, minor annoyances, but are still enough to break the immersion, especially when those players who refuse to move cost you big plays on offense or defense.

While on the subject of animation, those assigned to Aggressive catches quickly become tired. Seeing everyone on the field trying to replicate the Odell Beckham catch from last year against Dallas is nice the first time, but it’s not special if you do it every play. And you know what else is tired? Phil Simms and Jim Nantz’s commentary. I’m so sick of hearing Simms comparing football to Nantz’s golf game.

The only truly significant issue I experienced, though, came with my limited time when playing online. Usually I was able to connect with minimal issues, but every now and again, I wouldn’t be able to match with other players. Once we connected everything was fine, but it was those initial moments with the matchmaking that had me nervous. These could be just pre-launch bugs that’ll be fixed with the day one patch—and it only happened maybe one out of every five times I tried to connect—but it might be something to keep an eye out for on launch day.

Even with these quibbles, Madden NFL 16 is the best game the franchise has seen in quite some time. It provides fun pick-up and play options along with changes in gameplay mechanics that the hardcore players have been waiting literal years for. And what a concept, an EA Sports game that adds new modes instead of cutting old ones out. Draft Champions is going to change the face of Madden online and should rival MUT for where players devote most of their time. All this should make football fans everywhere rejoice that it is once again Madden Season.

Developer: EA Tiburon • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 08.25.15
9.0
New gameplay mechanics and the new Draft Champions mode mean Madden NFL 16 finally delivers a complete football experience that both casual and hardcore fans should be able to enjoy right from the start.
The Good New passing mechanics have revolutionized the offensive side of the ball. Draft Champions mode is my new online addiction.
The Bad The occasional AI bug is still frustrating. Commentary needs an overhaul.
The Ugly I kept looking to see if they only put three fingers on one of Jason Pierre-Paul’s hands after he blew a couple off in an off-season fireworks accident. (They didn’t.)
Madden NFL 16 is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. EA Sports provided travel to a review event to test out some of the online capabilities for Madden and provided a retail copy for the benefit of this review. 

Needs to repair some divots

Surprisingly, I have found an appreciation for golf as I’ve gotten older. Sure, I’m more likely to channel Jack Nicholson and swing a golf club at someone than to take it to the links. Now and again, though, I’ll tune into a major championship and see who is making a run. So, I was curious when Rory McIlroy PGA Tour arrived, the return of EA Sports’ long-running golf franchise, which skipped releasing an edition in 2014.

PGA Tour takes no time at all throwing you into a high-stakes, high-pressure situation with its new Prologue. Following cover boy Rory McIlroy down the stretch of his run for the 2014 Open championship, the game introduces you to its three control schemes as McIlroy himself explains how he handles golf’s biggest stages. Whether you choose the simulation-heavy method with no assists, the arcade style in which you can adjust your ball in mid-air, or the old-school three-click system to minimize the human element, each mode seemed as though it could cater to golf gamers of all experience levels.

The most impressive part of the control schemes probably comes from the customizable aspects, though. Since I preferred a hybrid arcade/three-click system, I crafted and saved a custom control set so I regularly landed on the greens. I loved that PGA Tour allowed me to contort its deep selection of controls to make even my ham-handed efforts more enjoyable.

Except for when it came to the short game.

Putting remains, even after all these years, my great nemesis, and additional assists would’ve been nice. While the current system remains similar to those from years past—showing the slope of the green, and the path one should hit the ball on—there’s no clear formula to figure out how to navigate each unique green and how much power to put behind a shot.

Nothing is more frustrating than sending the ball on a proper trajectory, only to have it to skip over the cup because you put too much oomph behind it, or for it to rim out because you shot it a hair to the left or right. If we can have sight lines when driving towards the green, I don’t see why we can’t have them on the greens themselves so we’re not making educated guesses all the time as to where our ball will go.

Putting woes aside, playing the optional Prologue was a great warm-up to re-introduce myself to the franchise. It also illustrated the power of Frostbite 3, since PGA Tour looks better than any golf game has a right to, with even the tiniest of details popping off the screen. The game’s improved ball physics offer more realistic bounces and ricochets, as well. Lastly, load times between holes are a thing of the past, coming now only between rounds of a tournament.

Sadly, players will find few modes after the Prologue. Most online modes have been trimmed to the bare minimum, reminding me of the difficult time the NHL series had coming to new-gen systems last year. The Country Club mode of years past, in which you could start your own online community, has been nixed and even rule modes such as Skins or Battle Golf have been scrapped. Even many of the courses and golfers of years past, including legendary golfers and those that appear on the LPGA, have been entirely removed from the game for unknown reasons. Only stroke and match play remain, online or locally. At the very least, the servers seemed quick and steady when I played.

The newly added Golf Club mode lessens the blow of these losses, but not enough to save the game as a whole. With zany golf balls that can stick to a surface or be remotely controlled through obstacles, Golf Club provides a nice change of pace from your prototypical golf experience. Its 170 or so challenges make you think outside the tee box. Each challenge offers some replayability with three high scores to aim for, and takes place on crazy courses such as the Battlefield 4-inspired Paracel Storm course, which is chock full of par-3s. But this collection of mini-games can’t hide the fact that so many other features have been sacrificed in this year’s game.

In this version, designers have even cut too much from the Career Mode. I don’t mind that the amateur tournaments were removed in favor of putting you right on the tour, but players are at a distinct disadvantage when your created golfer starts at 60 overall but must compete against 80 and 90 overall golfers such as Rory McIlroy. The tournaments’ absence means you don’t have time to build up your golfer’s XP. If you’re cutting the pre-tournaments, at least start me at a 75 or so.

Beyond this, the mode has no substance. You have to play every tournament, unlike the pros who sometimes skip an event to rest before a major championship. The game doesn’t give you a calendar, so you can’t look ahead to figure out where you can make up points, if need be, in the FedEx Cup standings. All you get is some lifeless text-filled screens congratulating you before you’re off to the next tournament. Even the Create-a-Pro feature when you start your career has been scaled back, using template golfer bodies and faces in lieu of the body and face sculpting features of years past.

Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a step forward for the franchise in some ways, but in many others it’s also a step back. EA Sports has had a difficult time transitioning so many annual franchises to new-gen hardware, but cutting out modes and features is never the way to go. No matter how good your game looks, appearances will never make up for a lack of content.

However, this year’s PGA Tour probably plays better in most areas than it did when Tiger Woods graced the cover. If you want a golf sim that plays solidly and shuffles you from hole-to-hole, PGA Tour will suffice. But if you’re looking for a golf game with substance, you’re better off grabbing a set of clubs and heading to your own local links.

Developer: EA Tiburon • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 07.14.15
6.5
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour plays better in many ways than when Tiger Woods graced the cover, but the removal of so many modes and continuous shortcomings with the short game make this a disappointing debut on new-gen hardware.
The Good Looks better than any golf game needs to. Multiple control schemes and great physics.
The Bad Short game comes up, well, short. Less content than when Tiger Woods was on the cover.
The Ugly The controller I broke after just missing so many par putts.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is available on Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review.

Thousands of athletes who played college football or basketball and had their likenesses used in a video game are about to finally get paid, CBS Sports reports.

Yesterday, US District Judge Claudia Wilken approved the combined $60 million dollar settlement that EA Sports and the NCAA will have to dish out to former players who had their likenesses used in video games, with EA Sports taking the $40 million dollar brunt of it. This will end the claims against the game manufacturer, the Collegiate Licensing Company, and the NCAA over the issue of players’ names, images, and likenesses that were used between 2003 and 2014.

More than 20,000 claims, including over 400 from current athletes, have already been made against EA Sports and the NCAA and the deadline to file is July 31. Claims can be made here.

Players who were most prominently featured and who were in the most games could receive as much as $7,200, said Steve Berman, one of the attorneys fighting for the players. It is possible that that number could increase, though, according to Rob Carey, the second attorney fighting on behalf of the players. Carey says that Judge Wilken could order the standard attorney fee of 33-percent be lowered to 30-percent, which would obviously increase the money pool for the players.

This decision will mark the first time collegiate athletes can legally be paid, and if there are no appeals to slow down the process, payments could start going out as soon as September. This continues a tidal wave of support behind collegiate athletes getting paid for their services on the field beyond just an education, due to the fact that most can’t rely on family support and don’t have the time for a part-time job and therefore don’t have the money to feed or clothe themselves off the field or court.

When I play Madden, I dominate in the trenches. My defense makes sacks on every other play, and it’s not unheard of for my offense to rush for 2,500 yards and 40 TDs.

My aerial attack is another story, though. I’m lucky to throw for 2,000 yards and have a 1:1 TD/INT ratio. I’m more likely to hit the lottery than to have one of my DBs intercept a pass. It’s been this way for years,  whether I’m playing Madden 95 or Madden NFL 15.

This year, however, Madden is looking to make things easier for players like me to take advantage of superstar wide receivers and ball-hawking cornerbacks with new playmaker options. As soon as the quarterback lets go of the ball, there are more nuances than ever to how much touch or zip you can put behind the ball. Whereas in previous years, you’d either fire a bullet pass or lob a lame duck, depending on how you held the button, an in-between pass offers a chance to hit smaller windows of opportunity, as Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning do every Sunday.

Once the ball is in the air, the possibilities get really exciting. Your receivers can catch the ball differently, depending on how it’s thrown and their own attributes. A receiver like Calvin Johnson can leap up for a ball at its zenith; take a chance, turn and run before the ball reaches its target location; or use his tremendous size to jockey positions with a corner to make a sure-handed grab, all depending on which second button you press after your quarterback lets go of the ball.

Similarly, though, defensive backs offer comparable options. Shutdown corners like Richard Sherman can now more aggressively jam receivers off the line, much the same way a defensive player could try to jump the snap in last year’s game. DBs can also choose to jump routes, or leap for a ball with hopes of coming down with a momentum-swinging interception.

Admittedly, I needed some time to become comfortable with making an extra button press while the ball was in the air. After just a few blunders, I made my first interception on a flat route, and a spectacular catch in the back of the endzone on a jump ball. If I’m able to pull this off consistently, get a better feel for when to make each particular move, and learn what I can do with each receiver, this feature can be a game-changer for guys like me. I’ll need more than the one Madden NFL 16 game than I got to play in my demo, though, and a couple of possible flash-in-the-pan plays to see if Playmaker is all it’s being made out to be.

Madden NFL 16 will launch on Xbox One, Playstation 4, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on August 25.

If you’re a hockey fanatic like I am, you don’t need someone, especially a video game, explaining to you why a slapper from the point on the power play is a great idea if you’ve got bodies in front of the net looking for a deflection. If you’re not a hockey connoisseur, however, even that sentence probably has you scratching your head.

Well, the guys behind the NHL franchise get that not everyone is as obsessed with power play percentages and puck luck as I am. To be honest, I wasn’t always this way. Video games such as NHL 94 sparked my passion for — and understanding of — my most beloved sport.

Wanting to get back to that pedigree, NHL 16’s biggest innovation this year isn’t about tweaked physics or mascots in the stands (although those are there). It’s about finding ways to help newcomers develop an understanding for the sport we love, much the way the games of yesteryear did for a 9-year-old kid who didn’t understand quite how big it was when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994.

A new option in NHL 16 allows gamers to turn on a special HUD that appears beneath each player you’re controlling and certain spots on the ice. This HUD will tell you when you should pass and who the pass will go to, and where you should skate to if you don’t have the puck. Most impressively, the HUD will draw a line from your stick to the net if you’re in a shooting situation to let you know your odds on whether the shot will result in a goal or a save, or miss the net altogether. And it all happens seamlessly in real time.

This display system is a vital new tool in NHL 16’s attempts to teach players how best to play their game, as well as how to play hockey. The hope is that you’ll learn the highest percentage chances for scoring in key situations, where to skate to successfully kill off penalties, and how to most efficiently play the game. Then, newcomers will have a better grasp of both hockey and the video game, and perhaps learn to love it. Who knows, we veterans might even learn a thing or two.

Even though I’ve been playing NHL for years, I was impressed with how well the new HUD assist blended into the gameplay. I never felt like the directions were a distraction for me as an experienced player. I was even happy they were there because I was more sure of myself when taking certain shots, and I started correcting some bad habits I’d fallen into through the years.

This year, most people would’ve been fine with NHL just fixing things that were broken or restoring everything that was missing from last year’s game. So it’s great to see EA Canada’s innovations educate and grow not only the company’s fanbase, but the sport’s fanbase as well. 

NHL 16 is coming in September for Xbox One and Playstation 4.