Tag Archive: Madden


Madden NFL 18 New MUT Squads

I had a chance to check out the new MUT Squads mode in Madden NFL 18, which adds 3-versus-3 gameplay and co-op gameplay back to the franchise for the first time in years. Madden NFL 18 is out now.

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When I first started playing Madden NFL 18, I was pleasantly surprised. For the first time in several years, the legendary coach, commentator, and namesake for the franchise, John Madden, lent his voice back to the game. It was only the opening title screen animation, but he briefly waxes poetic—as much as anything John Madden says could be considered poetry—about the greatness of cover athlete Tom Brady, just like he was back in the broadcast booth.

Hearing his voice again brought back a lot of good memories for me, because when Madden was at his best, there were few better at conveying football to the masses. It also brought back some rough ones too, however, because when Madden was at his worst, he was a bit of a laughing stock that distracted from the games he broadcast. It’s somewhat apropos then that his voice is there at the start of this year’s Madden entry, because in many ways, this is a perfect symbol for Madden NFL 18. Some things about the game are very good; some just had me shaking my head.

Easily one of the brightest spots of the game was also the most surprising. Partially made possible by the Madden team switching to the Frostbite engine, and partially because FIFA’s “The Journey” mode was so well received and helped pave a path, Madden added its own story-driven mode this year called Longshot—and it’s one of the freshest and most enjoyable things the Madden series has ever done.

Longshot could best be described as one part Madden, one part Friday Night Lights, and maybe two parts Telltale storytelling. You play as Devin Wade, a one time blue-chip QB prospect who hung up his cleats shortly after beginning his college career and took a couple of years to find himself after personal tragedy left him shaken as a young man. Working through the regional combine and taking advantage of a unique opportunity that comes his way, Wade is the very definition of a longshot, with one last chance to make it in the NFL. Alongside his best buddy and number one wide receiver, Colt Cruise, Wade’s determination will be tested just as much as his athletic ability.

The story that Longshot tells could be placed alongside all the best football stories we’ve seen, from Rudy to Remember the Titans to the aforementioned Friday Night Lights. Not only do you see his story unfold, but often times you’ll be asked to step in and choose Devin’s words or actions in various situations that will guide him down dozens of different branching paths (a la a Telltale game). Depending on those choices—and how you perform on the football field—Devin could be drafted, Colt could be drafted, neither could be drafted, or both could be drafted.

Besides dialogue choices, Devin will also suit up. You’ll get to relive some of Devin’s glory days in high school, as well as be put to the test in combines and game scrimmages. Your performance here has a direct effect on what makes Longshot truly unique, and that’s Devin’s draft grade page. Every major event you partake in can affect Devin’s grade, football IQ, how his personality is perceived, and more. Even bigger, every NFL team is watching, and you can instantly see how every one of these events affects the score directly.

Longshot could truly change what draws people to Madden, and might even appeal to those not typically interested in a football sim. There are a couple of drawbacks to what should otherwise be a highly-celebrated new mode, though. It’s not bad that Longshot should only take you three to five hours to beat, and it’s damn impressive that there are no load times whatsoever once you jump in—you can play the entire thing straight through if you so choose. I just personally wished there was a better balance between those critical gameplay moments that affect your score, and the sometimes long cutscenes that take place in-between to drive the story forward. Also, it was jarring how the biggest moments of Devin’s on-field life at times get boiled down to quicktime events. It heightened the drama, but definitely not the gameplay.

Also, even if you should get your grade to be extremely high (I ended up with a 9.7/10 score), you won’t be drafted where you should be as a player of that caliber. I think a couple more endings would’ve been warranted, because even with all the drama surrounding Devin, if you score that highly, one NFL team would take a flyer on you early. Considering how often teams take risks—like the Bucs wasting a second-round draft pick on a kicker, or the Broncos when they took Tim Tebow of all people with a first-round pick—somebody should snatch up Devin if you end up turning him into a true superstar. Otherwise, I absolutely loved this mode, and hope to have more adventures with Devin next year.

As good as Longshot is, there are some misses on other fronts this year in Madden. The past several years saw major gameplay overhauls, focusing on offensive/defensive line play, the running game, and the passing game. Now that such major components of football have been looked at, EA Tiburon seemingly wanted to use this year to start focusing a bit more after such broad endeavors.

The first (and worst) of these new mechanics is something called Target Passing. It has to be said that Target Passing is completely optional, but after trying to use it several dozen times, I chose to never use it again, and hope it goes the way of QB Vision a decade ago—as in it never comes back. Target Passing borrows a little bit from some of the drills in Longshot, where you can bring up a targeting reticule on the field and move it into position. By pressing the corresponding button while holding the trigger, you can throw the ball not where the computer wants to throw it, but to where the reticule specifically is, and the receiver will break their route to best try to catch the ball.

The idea was to offer the kind of precision we see on any given Sunday in an NFL game—for example, aiming for a receiver’s outside shoulder to guard against a corner, or to aim for the corner of an endzone that only your tight end can get to. What it ends up doing is adding an overly complex layer to Madden’s passing game, and throws even more information at you to process in the brief amount of time you have to get rid of the ball. I’m sure there are some pro-Madden players out there who will jump for joy over this mechanic, and I admit the idea was a sound one, making perfect sense on paper. But QB Vision was also a sound idea that was poorly implemented, and I believe that’s the case here again. Target Passing’s not fun to use, and will take far longer to figure out than it is worth for most players.

Of course, no matter how you end up throwing the ball, you always need someone to throw to, and so wide receiver versus cornerback play has also fallen into EA Tiburon’s crosshairs this year. Here, however, I found the new controls to definitely add something to the experience. Now, it’s easier than ever to jam wide receivers if you play with corners by using the right joystick and simply pressing against the receiver, trying to guess correctly which way they’ll try to run. Conversely, receivers can also use the sticks and shoulder buttons to roll around from potential jamming, and can more easily break their routes off or make sharp cuts to get to the inside or outside of the numbers depending on what the situation may call for, adding a welcome layer of realism to one of the most important battles on a football field.

This new gameplay in particular comes in handy within a new wrinkle in one of Madden’s most popular modes, Madden Ultimate Team. Yes, the card collectible game that allows you to buy packs of players and create your own fantasy team is unsurprisingly back, but with it comes a lot of changes. For example, there are now special fantasy packs that allow you to see an entire selection of amazing players, and then choose the best one of that group (while forcing you to discard the rest of the pack). There is also the brand new MUT Squads, bringing big time online co-op to Madden.

MUT Squads allows for 3-on-3 online matchups to take place, with one player serving as the offensive coordinator and providing the offense, one player doing the same for the defense, and another acting as head coach, who basically controls the timeouts (a role potentially great for less-experienced Madden players). MUT Squads is a bit of a double-edged sword for Madden, however. It is great that Madden can support larger groups online, and that buddies who have always wanted to play together now can. One player can be the QB throwing to a receiver who, using the new controls to get away from receivers, is fighting to get open for his team.

The downside to MUT Squads is that it’s very hard to get on the same page in Madden. Much like real life football, it will require a lot of time to get in sync with someone, especially when most folks at this point are used to playing Madden alone, where the entire team works together as an extension of the player. Another disappointment is that the 3-on-3 co-op is only in MUT Squads, when I know there are many out there who would probably rather just play as their favorite team with their buddies without having to rely on the randomness of MUT to provide them with good players in order to be competitive.

And that’s the real rub of MUT and a lot of Madden NFL 18 in general: It feels like all of the game outside of Franchise is just trying to funnel players into MUT, where you either need to grind for the best players, or be forced to spend real world money on microtransactions. (Even Longshot will “reward” you with MUT items if you beat it.) The microtransactions are all optional, of course, but the more times you put temptation in front of someone, the more likely they are to bite.

Even Draft Champions—an inclusion we first got back in Madden NFL 16 that has been a tremendous addition to the series—is now locked behind a level wall in MUT, and you need MUT tickets to play against people online.

Admittedly, you only need to put around 20 to 30 minutes of time into MUT challenges to unlock access to MUT Draft (the new name for Draft Champions), but the fact that one of the most popular aspects of Madden has been absorbed under MUT and put behind a wall of any kind is frustrating. The worst of this is that the balance of the randomness from previous years feels lost, because not only are the players you can choose from in each round of MUT Draft random, but so are their overalls, since MUT can feature the same player with different stats each time. Frustratingly, it feels like EA Tiburon ruined Draft Champions by turning it into another way to try to keep you around longer in a mode that tempts you into spending more real money.

And of all the things that aren’t linked to MUT—Franchise mode—there’s a part of it which could be. In that mode, you can train with your team before each game as part of a scouting report against that week’s opponent. Meanwhile, there’s also the Skills Trainer option on the main menu, which is where all the scouting report drills are pulled from. Completing tasks in Skills Trailer rewards free MUT packs; completing those tasks in Franchise does nothing for MUT. Why those two things aren’t linked makes no sense, aside from the fact that Madden loves making you grind. It’s the digital equivalent of two-a-days.

While speaking of Franchise, there have at least been some minor improvements to it outside of the drills. The user interface was cleaned up some, particularly when it comes to scouting and drafting college players. As well, animations are better than ever now that they’re powered by Frostbite. Using the hit stick and making open-field tackles has never looked cleaner, and you can almost feel the impact in your favorite gaming chair. There’s still the occasional rag doll glitch, but the visuals at least seem to be the most polished Madden has had in a long time. That said, some member of the team must’ve had a brain fart, because they messed up the New York Giants’ and Los Angeles Chargers’ schedules, giving the Giants nine road games and only seven home games and the Chargers the inverse—in real life, the Chargers are going to Metlife, the Giants aren’t going to StubHub—and hopefully that is fixed immediately in an upcoming patch. These were the only two teams I saw with incorrect schedules, but the fact I even had to check this was irritating to say the least.

Unintentional errors bring me to my final point of Madden NFL 18: the online servers. I played several online games literally just a few hours before this review went live. Several thousand people were supposedly already online and finding a game wasn’t an issue. Neither, for the most part, was maintaining a connection. That said, there were a couple of random disconnects from the EA servers, which could be a sign of instability—and if that’s the case here in this limited pre-launch scenario, that worries me. Of course, the game doesn’t release worldwide for another week even though we were told the servers should be good to go, so there is always hope that this was simply a last second hiccup, rather than a portent for worse things to come. Considering how critical online play is to Madden, it’d be surprising to see any real long-term issues, but we’ll see when the servers ramp up to some real strain in the coming days.

This year, it seems Madden NFL 18 is all about taking the good with the bad. There is more good than bad for sure (highlighted by the new Longshot mode), but things like putting Draft Champions into MUT and the new Target Passing mechanics should make a lot of folks at least a little bit wary. We’re not quite back to the “annual roster update” days, but after the roll Madden has been on in recent years, if you’re looking to take a break, this might be the year to do so.

Publisher: EA Sports • Developer: EA Tiburon • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 08.25.17
7.0
Although the new Longshot mode shines, Madden misses the mark with a few of its gameplay additions this year—so if you don’t immediately take a liking to them and choose to ignore them, the experience will feel a lot like last year’s. Meanwhile, the additions to MUT feel unnecessary, and like a desperate attempt to get more people playing—and potentially investing in microtransactions.
The Good I think Longshot hits its mark for the most part in trying to add a compelling football narrative to Madden.
The Bad I believe new target-passing controls are going to go the way of QB vision; the ever-increasing focus on MUT.
The Ugly Tom Brady is admittedly the G.O.A.T. after last year, but let’s remember that along with those five Super Bowl wins, he has two GIANT losses. Let’s go G-Men.
Madden NFL 18 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. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Madden NFL 16 saw the incremental changes of the several previous titles finally culminate in probably the best year-over-year improvements the series had seen to date. Therefore, it was only natural to assume that this might prove to be a down year. After all, how could they top the effort that changed the passing game and saw the addition of Draft Champions? Well, there may not be anything as flashy as brand new modes added this year, but Madden NFL 17 amazingly builds upon what last year’s game did, and may be the most polished entry I’ve played from the annual series in a very long time.

For me, Madden’s greatest mode has always been Franchise mode. Since I first started playing the series 21 years ago—don’t mind me as I take a moment and remember how old I am now, shedding a single tear at the thought of my own mortality—the idea of taking your favorite team to the Super Bowl was what drove you in the days before the advent of online play. When Franchise was introduced and I could then take my team repeatedly to the Super Bowl, I was hooked forever.

The mode has been tweaked countlessly over the years, but never before have we had so much control over our team I think. The addition of practice squad players and being able to focus experience points towards developing draft picks shows a better commitment to how an actual NFL team prepares for the future. Combine this with the returning college scouting system, where you spend points each week to see where potential picks should really fall in the draft, and if you’re likely to play at least several seasons worth of Franchise mode, then building up your team has never felt easier or more natural.

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Franchise isn’t just about building towards the future, though. In the here and now, new coach goals and predictions can determine your future with a team—as in if you don’t win now, you might not have that future to build towards. There’s the ability to practice and gameplan each week before your next opponent, and doing so successfully provides in-game bonuses to key player stats. For example, practicing Flood patterns on offense and Cover 2 on defense will boost your players when calling plays that fall in those categories in the game that week. Making legitimate game prep an actual part of Madden surprised me—first for being there, and then for being as enjoyable as it is.

The hardest part of turning any team into a dynasty, though, is keeping them together. New mid-year contract negotiations help make that a breeze, as you see how much a player could want before even getting to the off-season and potentially extend their contract right there. (It’s especially effective with those players who want to negotiate earlier in the year.) Sometimes you’ll realize it’s better to trade away a player who wants too much money, and you can get some sort of return before it’s too late. Sorry middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley; the Ray Carsillo-run New York Giants organization appreciates your service with the team, but we’ve traded you and a draft-pick to the Packers for Jake Ryan, someone just as good as you, who comes at a cheaper price tag, and is seven years younger than you. Welcome to the National Football League, folks.

It’s not just managing a team that has been beefed up, though. Once you take the field, several noticeable changes have made Madden NFL 17 feel like the most realistic game the series has produced yet, starting with the look. A new presentation package gives us more realistic camera angles on replays, and to my delight, the fewest animation bugs I’ve seen in Madden in years. There’s still the occasional hiccup, but the days of players glitching in and out of existence or running off the field and into a replay booth headfirst seem to be gone.

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Also, thank goodness the commentary team has been changed. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz sounded so repetitive and canned (just like in real life!) that I played the game on mute most times. Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis sound like they’re actually enjoying the game, making the recording sound fresh and inspired. Even little touches, like Gaudin taking note when you decide to skip the Larry Ridley halftime show and get back into the action, makes the product feel more alive and far more enjoyable.

In terms of gameplay, since last year had a focus on the passing attack, Madden NFL 17 turned its attention to the ground game. First up is how players will fight for extra yards. In certain one-on-one situations, a button prompt will appear on a defender or runner. If you’re the runner, it means you’ll most likely shed a would-be tackler, leading to a bigger gain; if you’re a defender, you’ll emphatically slam the runner down, halting their forward momentum. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it can be a game-changer, keeping you on the lookout for those shining moments.

Another tweak to the running game has been special moves. They’ve long been a part of Madden, but even after all these years, getting the timing down for spins, jukes, and stiff arms has never been an exact science. So, sort of taking a page out of the NHL series’ tutorial overlap, Madden now tells you exactly what button to press—and when—to help you learn the moves you’ll need to turn average runs into game-breaking touchdown scampers.

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As a heads-up, though, this feature is set to automatic as the default setting. I found after only a couple games that I needed to turn it off, because as much as it was great when my receiver or back would juke a defender out of his shoes and go for a big gain, it was frustrating when they would try to do a spin move around a wall of defenders. I’d rather just run forward at that point and try to churn my legs for an extra yard or two, instead of being spun down in the spot I’m standing. Besides, by then I had rediscovered my personal timing anyway. So, just as a word of advice: you might need to tweak the settings on this for it to fit your play style the best.

As great as this has been to help balance the running and passing game, the biggest gameplay changes may have surprisingly come from special teams. The third phase of football has long been overlooked by Madden, but this year they’re getting their due, starting with kicking. Borrowing the three-input system from the PGA Tour series, kicking field goals and punting now requires you to press a button three times before sending the ball (hopefully) sailing. The first press starts your power meter, the second sets power and starts to swing the meter back down for accuracy, and the third sets that. It finally adds challenge to what is an integral part of football, and one that had surprisingly become relatively automatic in Madden.

There are two sides to every kick, however, and defending kicks has changed as well—in that you can actually block kicks now. Jumping snap counts and actually being able to run around defenders makes it so that playing the other side of the ball on field goals and punts isn’t automatic anymore. More realistic blocking AI means mistakes can happen, and there are few things in football more exciting than a blocked kick. I’d blocked one kick in my entire Madden career—Madden 2004 with Osi Umenyiora of the Giants in a Super Bowl against the Bengals in franchise mode—up until this point. I’ve already blocked three field goals, and had one of my own field goals and punts blocked in only a couple dozen games in Madden NFL 17.

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Of course, this could use some better balancing, especially in online modes like Madden Ultimate Team and Draft Champions. In Franchise, it’s still hard enough to block a kick and it happens about as often as it does in real life, to say not very. In these online modes, since you start with lesser players—and, in the case of Draft Champions, may not fill all the holes you need to in the fantasy draft—it’s much easier for high-level corners to work around low-level linemen. This turns Madden NFL 17 almost into Madden 97 when it comes to playing against others—no one wants to kick the ball.

Speaking of these online modes, Madden’s online suite remains as vibrant as ever. Ultimate Team brings the “Chemistry” feature back (which I’m thrilled about), with clear markings on each card you earn telling you what system those players will best fit. Fill up your chemistry meter with enough players of a particular style (west coast offense, run defense, balanced offense, etc.) and gain bonuses for them in matches. This makes it easier to focus on how you want to build your team and how best to counter your rivals. New solo challenges—now with instant win conditions—expedite the team building process. Last year’s new mode, Draft Champions, also returns with new legends to bolster your roster. As of writing this review, servers appear stable and it’s been quick and easy to get into Draft Champion and head-to-head matchups.

Madden NFL 17 bucks a trend for annual franchises by showing that it can not only find new ways to continue to innovate, but maintain a high-level of consistent quality. Some new features may require more balancing for online play, and there will always be the occasional graphical or audio glitch, but considering where Madden was even just a few years ago, it has come a long way towards showing off its sports dominance and is much more than just a roster update like titles from its past. If you love football, Madden NFL 17 may be the best football game yet.

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Publisher: EA Sports • Developer: EA Tiburon • Release Date: 08.23.16 • ESRB Rating: E – Everyone
9.0
New features may need a little more balancing to be effective online, but overall, Madden NFL 17 is the most polished and enjoyable Madden yet, magnificently avoiding a potential regression after the successes of the year prior.
The Good Special teams, Franchise mode, and ground game tweaks make it feel like the most authentic football sim yet.
The Bad The occasional graphical glitch. The online balancing of the new features needs some work.
The Ugly That opening LA Rams vs Washington simulation. You really think that’s going to be a Wild Card Round playoff matchup EA Sports?
Madden NFL 17 is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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. 

Originally Published: December 17, 2010, on youtube.com/CGRUndertow

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Madden 10 for the Xbox 360.

Return to Glory

Originally Published: August 25, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and Examiner.com

It’s that time of year again. Stacks of fantasy football magazines litter the floor of your living room, emptied Red Bull cans overflowing your trash can, and your thumb is locking up from practicing smashing the truck stick on your game controller.

Football season is practically here and with it comes the annual release of one of the most popular (and profitable) franchises of all-time, MADDEN.

After a down year in 09, EA Sports went back to the drawing board with their even-year team (two teams at EA are constantly working on the Madden franchises, one on even years and the other on odd) and have come out with possibly the best Madden ever.

It’s hard to decide where to even begin in our discussion of improvements so we’ll start with the first thing you see when you pop it in your console. The graphics are back to a standard worthy of the current generation of consoles and for the Madden franchise. The players and playbooks do not look condensed on the field and having full, individual models in the stands again makes the game look gorgeous.

The gameplay is smooth, although it slows down a bit on kickoffs on the Xbox 360. Aside from this minor lag, the game is smooth in every other aspect. This is a surprising point considering the inclusion of this year’s main selling point, the all new PRO-TAK.

PRO-TAK is Madden’s new gang-tackling system to provide the most realistic tackling system to date. Now, your speed running back can be pushed forward for that extra yard by having his offensive linemen come up from behind and help push him through that pesky cornerback or a power running back that would normally run over that lanky safety (Brandon Jacobs) can be slowed down enough for linebackers and defensive ends to catch up and assist with the tackle to prevent the back from getting that critical first down.

The PRO-TAK animations are seamless and it is as close as you’ve ever gotten in a video game to watching real football.

Along with the inclusion of PRO-TAK, there is also an updated playbook that includes the Wildcat formation for certain teams. The four setting difficulty system also returns and has been made the primary difficulty system again over last year’s dreadful Madden IQ. Although Madden IQ can still be used as an option, the game automatically sets itself up with the Pro difficulty and you can adjust up or down from there.

There are only two real downers in this newest Madden experience. The first is that it takes a lot of time to speed through all the replays and get through the game. I understand that the game has a lot to load (especially for Xbox 360) to make it look as smooth as it does, but it almost feels just like real football because it takes so long to get to your next play selection.

This is especially evident when you get to halftime and they try to force you to watch an NFL Network-like halftime show hosted by Fran Charles and Alex Flanagan. Fran actually hosts the show and Alex voice-overs stats around the league, which makes no sense, and not just that the guy is named Fran and the girl is named Alex, but because that they didn’t show the hot chick and showed the dude instead. Incase you didn’t get the memo; most people who play Madden are guys. Tangent aside, trying to fast-forward through the halftime show is like trying to drive a Corvette ZR-1 through five feet of mud.

The other downside is the return of Cris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond as the color commentary and play-by-play announcers. Collinsworth isn’t really that bad with his color although he tries a little too hard to have his own oxymoronic sayings in pitiful attempts to sound like John Madden used to (“When the offense runs a play and it isn’t a negative, it’s a positive”). The real downer, once again, is Tom Hammond who is just dry and dull to the point where you want to stick your head in the sand while you play.

These minor complaints aside, this might be the best Madden in half a decade and is the first one truly worthy of the current console generation. PRO-TAK is a brilliant addition and the gameplay is back to the high level we were used to from years past. The only other major complaint is that I’m deeply saddened by the absence of John Madden in his game. Aside from an opening credit montage that he voices and his image occasionally popping up in different menus, John Madden has almost completely removed himself from his own game. It will be interesting to see where the franchise goes now with its founder looking to step back from the helm.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best.

Graphics: 10.0: The visuals are flawless. I couldn’t find a single glitch. It is a visual gem.

Audio: 6.0: A great selection of music on the menus as always from EA Sports. They know just what tunes would get you pumped up for football season. The audio gets a low number, though, due to how bad Tom Hammond does the play-by-play and how Cris Collinsworth’s impersonation of John Madden is shameful. They still can’t get Al Michaels to come back?

Plot/Plot Development: N/A: It’s a sports sim…

Gameplay: 9.0: Long load times are the only real downside to the gameplay for Madden 10. PRO-TAK is the football gaming revolution we have been waiting for and hopefully it will last a lot longer than QB Vision did.

Replay Value: 9.0: After a while the typical gameplay glitches will start to arise if you are an elite Madden gamer, but if not you’ll have fun pushing the A.I. to its limits. Add in online capabilities and Madden 10 is more than enough of a fix for any addicted football fan.

Overall (not an average): 9.0: After last year’s version was barely average, the even-year team came out with a winner to pull the Madden franchise out of its short rut. The new PRO-TAK system brings the game to an entirely new level and the looks of the game have been brought back up to snuff. Everything else we love about Madden is still there combined with these improvements and positive additions makes this the best Madden in probably half a decade and the first to be worthy of the Madden franchise in at least three years.

-Ray Carsillo

Bring on the Turducken!

Originally Published: August 28, 2008, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

Every year, right around the middle of August, the sounds of shoulder pads clashing, helmets cracking, and buttons clicking can be heard nationwide. That’s right! Football season is back and, with it, EA punts out yet another installment of the most successful franchise in gaming history, Madden.

For as many gamers that are out there that go out and get it every year like it’s a migration pattern, there are just as many who have grown tired of the series and of dropping $50-$60 on updated rosters. And for as much as John Madden gets mocked for his football commentary, he is a smart business man and knew his series needed a facelift.

So what exactly did they add or change to revitalize a series that has gone 20 games deep? Well, for starters, they created what they call a “revolutionary” A.I. system that conforms to your style of play. Before you’re even allowed to play a game, you are thrust into a series of mini-games to test your running game, passing game, run defense, and pass defense. Depending on how you do in each of these games, the game will change the level at which the computer will react to the plays you call.

This had a lot of people excited because one of the problems that many people faced, myself included, is that you would find the glitches, the handful of plays that would always work and allow you to run up the score and shut down the opponent even on the hardest difficulty level.

Unfortunately, this new A.I. is nothing to be excited about. Even if you should struggle with the mini-games, it would only take you a season or two for all you Madden veterans to max out the A.I. and get it back to the same exact point that you were at with all the other games. The glitches are gone for the most part, and it is nice that it forces you to mix up your plays a little more, but anyone who knows football, or specifically football games, should not end up too stressed over it.

Speaking of the mini-games, why are they hologram outlines? I was happy with the mini-games showing the actual players on the field. The neon hologram field is hard to see and makes it difficult to tell where exactly you are in relation to the ball, making the mini-games much harder than the actual game itself.

Speaking about hard to see, how about almost everything that is smaller than the players’ heads? When looking for the right play in the playbook, the button that corresponds to the appropriate receiver is too small to decipher because the playbook itself has been shrunk to ¼ the size of the screen when it used to be twice as big. What did they do with the extra space? They gave you a stat tracker. Now, if Madden had any affect on my fantasy team, then I would love to know all my stats up to the second, but otherwise, it is unnecessary, especially when the sacrifice is being able to see what play I am selecting. On more than one occasion I have selected the wrong play just because I could not read if it was a run or pass. In the game’s defense, I do not have a HD TV. But my TV is 36″; not small by any standards and I still couldn’t see and since the majority of people do not have an HD TV yet, we should not need one to read what play we are picking.

Aside from this, all the favorite modes are back. Franchise, Exhibition, a revamped Superstar mode, and they even threw in the Coach only mode instead of making it a completely separate game.

With all systems being online capable now, the Online Play mode is a big feature. This was something that needed to be fixed and wasn’t. What needs to be fixed? Simply that every time I start pummeling an opponent online, they jack out and I do not get the win, even if I still select that they get the loss (I show no mercy when it comes to that!). There should be a rule where if the game gets through the 1st half, it should still count as a win for the player who was winning at the time. If the player who was winning jacks out after a half, the game does not count for anyone. No losses or wins given. Play with honor or do not play at all!

In conclusion, it was a valiant effort, John, but maybe you should stick to just making up animals and riding on your bus because it failed. You even listened to your harshest critics and cut out your commentary and Al Michaels play-by-play and replaced it with Cris Collinsworth and some guy named Tom. Cris does a great job. Random guy needs some work. The game needed a facelift, John, and it looks like I’m going to have to sue you for malpractice because you botched it up.

Rankings are based on a score of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best.


Graphics: 6.0:
The graphics on the field are solid. Everything you would expect from a game for this console generation. The graphics on the menus and the mini-games are something that look like last generation and that barely gets this an average rating. Very disappointing.

Audio: 9.0: The sound is great. The hits are crisp and loud and make you feel in the game. The commentary from Collinsworth is priceless. The random Tom dude bothers me a little and that keeps it from getting a perfect score. John Madden’s voice helping you navigate the menus to keep him in the game was a nice touch.


Plot/Plot Development:
N/A: It is a sports sim. There is no storyline or plot beyond the one you create by how you play.

Gameplay: 7.5: The game is great until you max out the A.I. and find the ways around the system. If you are a diehard football fan (or a sore loser) then you have no problem winning all the time with no challenge at all. I can’t give that a perfect score though.

Replay Value: 10.0: Until the next installment comes out, this is football fans’ number one fix Monday – Saturday.

Overall (not an average): 7.0: With the downgrade in graphics, difficult to navigate menus and an overhyped new A.I. system that is almost as bad as the last one, this game is passable at best. Add in the lack of people who like to play fair online and I can’t give this a great overall gaming experience. This is a great reminder why most of us do not buy the game every single year.