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It feels like it was only last week that the New England Patriots’ Malcolm Butler made that fateful interception with only 20 seconds left in Super Bowl 49. Then you wake up one day and teams are already on the road to Super Bowl 50. That also means a brand new Madden NFL as per the late summer tradition. Capitalizing on the many strengths of last year’s installment, Madden NFL 16 isn’t the kind of "status quo" sequel that made the likes of Madden NFL 07 or 12 forgettable. This year’s Madden feels like an outward acknowledgement that different fans not only gravitate to different modes, but different play styles as well.
This recognition of the diversity of tastes and play preference is fitting for the 2015 installment of Madden NFL. It helped a great deal that Madden NFL 15 made defense as compelling as offense, which means a lot for a series that used to be known for its unintentional propensity to encourage deep passes. This kind of accessibility in Madden NFL 16 can be found in its myriad training drills and more significantly, in the ever popular Ultimate Team mode. In fact, the first decision you have to make in Ultimate Team is to choose your team style, whether it’s a Speed Run offense, a Pass Rush defense, or six other play systems.
For as much as EA Tiburon has made defense more appealing, it still found time to add new and practical options to the passing game. Now quarterbacks can elect to throw a hotly contested high jump throw or a low throw for a higher percentage catch. In regards to catches, players can take the high risk on a run-after-catch or leap for a highlight reel moment. If oncoming traffic is an issue, the receiver can use a possession catch to give the ball added protection. These new features positively add to an already robust arsenal of offensive maneuvers, and getting the hang of these new moves is as gratifying as it is countering them as defense.
Many of those who saw no significant changes in adjusting the sliders in Madden NFL 15 will be pleased to learn that EA Sports improved the sliders’ sensitivity this year. You might not notice an improvement over the course of a quarter, but you should see a change over the course of a game. These adjustments include tackling efficiency, the likelihood of fumbles, and facemask calls--over 40 conditions in all. From hail mary passes to dramatic interceptions, all these moments are possible with the game's default settings, but it's great to have the option to tweak their frequency to your liking should the need arise.
EA Tiburon has created the most visually arresting football video game to date. That goes across nearly the entire visual spectrum, from the play animations to the uniform detail. The studio also managed to narrow the animation gap between the smooth on-field action and the less fluid scenes on the sidelines after the whistle. I had hoped for this gap to tighten even further in Madden 16, especially when player movements during huddle breaks and pile avoidance has never looked more realistic. Unfortunately, Madden NFL 16's presentation doesn't compare to the broadcast quality visuals found in other EA Sports franchises like FIFA and NHL, which convincingly recreate the feeling of watching live TV. Unlike those two series, I have never had any onlookers mistake Madden 16 for the real deal.
EA Tiburon has created the most visually arresting football video game to date. That goes across nearly the entire visual spectrum, from the play animations to the uniform detail.
Proving that EA Tiburon isn’t shy about experimentation, it's introduced a new team building customization mode called Draft Champions. You wouldn’t be blamed for mistaking it as a replacement to Madden Ultimate Team, as both modes are driven by building the best possible squad. The difference is that Draft Champions is more influenced by fantasy football. Along with picking an active coach, you undergo 15 rounds of drafts. Each round limits you to a small random selection of players of a specific position, meaning that you get completely different teams every time you draft a new team. Much like Ultimate Team, Draft Champions’ draw is the element of surprise on player availability. It’s a novelty-free mode that makes for a fine permanent addition to the Madden NFL modes suite. It complements Ultimate Team well enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if Draft Champions is absorbed into the Ultimate Team submenu in future Madden games.
There’s an impressive cleanliness to the Madden NFL user interface this year. Its modes are still laid out using boxes of various sizes, but it manages to distance itself from the Microsoft Windows-inspired UI that has become the generic style of many racing and sports games in recent years. The key modes like Franchise, Ultimate Team, and Online Head to Head are all aptly featured in the main screen, while leaderboards and the ability to rewrite history from the 2014 season can be found in the submenus. This results in a cleaner main menu, one that does not overwhelm you with options upon initial start-up.
Practice mode remains valuable among these options, offering numerous combinations of scenarios that you can test out over and over again until you get it right. It’s about the closest you’ll get to a real life training camp and it's incredibly useful. Just as Draft Champions complements Ultimate Team with minimal redundancies, Practice feels likes a sibling mode to the Gatorade-sponsored Skills Trainer. The latter focuses on more specific and fundamental plays like attacking coverages and run concepts.
The result is a game that's ultimately accessible to pretty much anyone. When there is a 6-drill set titled "HELP! I AM NEW TO MADDEN", you get the sense that Madden 16 is a welcome playground. That particular section is found under the Gatorade Skills Trainer and underscores the lighthearted nature of the mode. Its most notable feature is the return of The Gauntlet drill series, aptly titled "The Gauntlet Strikes Back", a nod to the fact that this is the second year of this now-popular mode.
There’s a good deal of thoughtfulness in Madden NFL 16. Devoid of any throwaway modes or game types that rely on nostalgia, Madden NFL 16 is both sensible and forward thinking. Its developers could have made a bigger deal about Super Bowl 50 or relied more heavily on the appeal of Hall of Fame players (who are available in Ultimate Team). Instead, EA Tiburon has focused more on fans’ diverse play tastes as well as making this one of the most welcoming Madden games in recent memory.
Madden NFL 16 (PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) Developer: EA Tiburon Publisher: EA Sports Released: August 25, 2015 MSRP: $59.99
Fuck, is it boring. It introduces new (very simple) catching mechanics in painful slow motion setting up situations (oh, one of the teams is trailing!) we're supposed to have emotions in, like I have any stake in Fake Super Bowl 50, like I'm supposed to feel something when alleged rapist Ben Roethlisberger (who narrates later tutorials) tells his mates, "It's time to be the team we're supposed to be right now. Believe in the man to your left and to your right. It's our time right now" like he's reading commercial cue cards. At least the San Jose 49ers' digital Levi's Stadium field hasn't turned to pudding like the real one.
This is what Madden is, though. In past years I have creatively ripped on the series for aggressive advertisements of real-world products, which this one seems to have toned down significantly (unless they're coming dynamically as updates post launch). But! Madden is a yearly advertisement for the NFL. From the start menu it encouraged me to share my information with the NFL, promising digital playing cards as a reward. This is what it means to have exclusivity rights to the only meaningful football league (because no one internationally gives a shit), the commodification of players.
It is cool to see the increased likeness of Arizona's head coach whose fascinating neck folds and face-scanned pores have him looking like a corrugated version of Dana Carvey's turtliest member of the turtle club.
In 2006 (that would make it Madden 07) I distinctly remember when I fell into the habit of abusing slot receivers instead of number one and number two wide receivers. This meant a lot of balls to the perfectly serviceable Kevin Curtis instead of two of the greats, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. The worst thing about those slot receiver posts, or crossing routes over the middle, has always been linebackers undercutting the passes for picks.
Here is the scenario: a player looks reasonably open for a pass. It is a pass any NFL quarterback could make. It is a pass I, an idiot with bad knees, could make. You throw it with a nice arc over the front defensive layer and before the safeties. Madden has never wanted to give you that pass and it has taken near 10 years for the series to introduce "touch passing," a double tap that lets you drop balls into open zones. Ten years. Low and high throws are executed by holding L1 (high) or L2 (low) while passing.
The passing game has seen the most new features added this year. Aside from the aforementioned quarterback stuff, there are three types of catches, done by holding one of three buttons while the ball is in the air en route to the receiver. The Aggressive catch (triangle) is for leaping catches and bodying cornerbacks. RAC (square) encourages the player to make a catch in motion and continue running up field, provided they're not about to be clocked. Possession catches (x) are for keeping feet in-bounds or making sure the receiver hangs on to a first down.
These useful buttons encourage more user interaction during catches and also speak to a refined interplay between defensive backs and receivers. On the other side of the ball, you can switch to defends play the ball (hold triangle) to go for an interception or deflection, or more conservatively player the receiver (hold x) to ensure you make a tackle and possibly knock the ball from them.
There is much more realistic jockeying for body position and faithful physics so long as you don't stare too closely at the instant replays. Eventually you'll notice some similar, more dramatic catch animations (a particular one-handed one stuck out), but it is a plus on the whole for verisimilitude, for giving weight and feeling to awesome athletes interacting in a confined space.
That's about it, though. There are some neat presentation additions (statistic graphics overlaid on players) and the menus are well laid out, though they are also pretty slow. Load times, too, are still a bit of a problem (and intrusive presentation elements are bothersome when running a hurry up offense). The insistence towards microtransaction-laden Ultimate Team and the new fantasy football-cribbed Draft Champions modes is useless. Throwing, catching, and defending throws have seen some welcomed, long-ignored additions that get a couple yards closer to faithful simulation. You can decide if that's enough.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
MADDEN 16 - REVIEWED BY STEVEN HANSEN
Amicable - A presentable but unmemorable time. Focusing on the bright spots helps, and I appreciate the effort, but I won't be playing this repeatedly.I do feel, some, for Electronic Arts and the people responsible for makingMaddenevery year. This is only my 4th year (out of 27 releases) covering it and I fear I may have peaked withlast year's review. But like a fringe player with one too many concussions and a fear of the future, I'll trot out another year to earn my keep.
Madden 16makes an interesting opening gambit, once again going right into a game, this time a fabricated Super Bowl 50 starring the Cardinals and Steelers. No one wanted to watch that match up seven years ago (except me because of the Kurt Warner), but EA insists on framing this nostalgia-less, fake match up withAny Given Sundayediting, close ups on players, and even tepid, badly-acted football dialogue, the kind of jawing written by someone who has not played sport.
Madden 16 review: Should you buy latest version of video game series?
BY ALLEN KIM & BEN EAGLE
Posted: Tue Aug. 25, 2015
Madden 16 hits stores on Aug. 25. Should you buy the latest version of the football franchise, which features Odell Beckham Jr. on the cover? Si.com's Review
Find SI.com’s review—and a recommendation—below.
Ben Eagle: The revamped passing game. The NFL has been a passing league for years, but the Madden series has had trouble keeping pace. Take Madden 15, for example. With Richard Sherman acting as the coverboy, Madden 15 empowered the secondary. Cornerbacks smothered No. 1 receivers, safeties eliminated tight ends, and if you schemed it right pre-snap, you could ensure QBs had absolutely no shot downfield. For fans of defense, it was a welcome feature. For fans of high-flying offense, it was frustrating, to say the least.
Luckily, Madden 16 brings the power back to the passers. It starts with revamped passing controls. In addition to the staples (bullet pass, lob), you have a touch pass (which you can use to drop in a ball against a soft zone), a low throw (which is useful in tight spaces) and a high throw. This last addition may be the most important. A staple of NFL offenses, the back-shoulder throw was nearly impossible to execute in previous versions of Madden. The high throw changes that.
Often neglected in video games, receivers also get a new toolbox in Madden 16. After a throw is released, you can select from three different catch types, depending on the situation. Up against the sideline? The possession catch makes sure you get two feet down. Have room to run? There’s the run after catch option. Streaking toward the end zone on a deep out or posted up one-on-one in the end zone? There’s the aggressive catch feature, where wideouts will attempt to high-point the ball over a corner. No. 1 receivers dominate the NFL in real life. With these new catching features—especially the aggressive catch which makes guys like Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas practically unguardable—receivers dominate Madden, too.
Allen Kim:The new Draft Champions mode. Looking to appeal to the fantasy crowd, Madden introduced this new mode that lets you assemble a squad of stars and legends. You start off by choosing whether to play against the CPU or head-to-head, and then you’re given a randomized base team of mostly backup and bench-warmer talent. You’ll then have an opportunity to improve your squad through a unique 15-round draft, which will force you to make some hard decisions. Each draft begins by presenting you with three random coaches from which to choose, and this will serve as the template for your team. Each coach has a different style, and you’ll have an opportunity to tailor your team to play to your coach’s strengths through the draft.
Every round gives you the option to choose from three random players from different positions, and this is where things get tough. Do you take the left tackle that fits your ground-and-pound style? Or do you select the elite defensive end that could anchor your defense? You’ll have to take some risks, as there are no guarantees that you’ll see another premiere player at a specific position come up again in the draft. And the final round has you choose a “legend,” which ranges from players such as John Elway to Jason Taylor.
After wrapping up your draft, you’ll get a chance to play with your squad to see how it fares on the field against an opponent. And depending on whether you chose to play head-to-head or against the CPU, you’ll earn rewards for every win you get that can go toward unlocking items for the Ultimate Team mode.
This is a pretty addictive mode, and it keeps things fresh as you continually redraft new teams. Draft Champions is a worthy addition that I hope sticks around for future iterations, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it eventually surpasses Ultimate Team mode in popularity.
Eagle: The opening game mode. There’s a disturbing trend taking shape in sports games. We’ve seen it in NBA2K and in past versions of Madden. With traditional game modes relatively exhausted at this point, every new release seems to include some type of RPG (role-playing game) mode. Madden 16 is no exception, putting players on the Steelers’ sideline in a hypothetical Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl 50 matchup seconds after you boot up the game. Scenario after scenario is presented to you as you attempt to drive the Steelers to a Super Bowl title. Miss a pick-six opportunity on defense? Mike Tomlin will brood on the sideline, then you (Ben Roethlisberger) will have to rally the troops and find a way to carve up the Cardinals’ D.
Dropping straight into gameplay mode isn’t a bad idea, especially for a game with many new features. But the inability to opt out is frustrating, and it occurs throughout the game. Madden 16 is gorgeous, there's no doubt about that. But if you don’t want sit through the opener or the bevy of cinematic cut scenes that litter the game, you should be able to skip through them. In a game with few flaws, this one stood out to me.
Kim: Not being able to skip cut scenes.While it’s not exactly a feature, it’s too annoying to not point out. The graphics are better than ever before, and the presentation, as usual, is top notch. However, I'm with Ben in saying that I typically just want to get to the next play instead of being forced to sit through replays and cut scenes.
The cut scenes generally only last a few seconds, but they add up over the course of a full game. Why not give players the option to watch it if we want and to skip it if we don’t? I can only hope that EA Tiburon decides to change that in a future update.
Should you buy it?
Eagle: Definitely. It’s telling that the only thing I can complain about is a feature that keeps me from playing more of the game.
Madden 16 is a beautiful game with even prettier gameplay. Offense rules, but what would you expect from a game with Odell Beckham Jr. on the cover? Ultimately, my decision comes down to this: Can I see myself playing this game into 2016 and beyond? With the improvements to the passing game adding to an already refined game flow, the answer is an emphatic yes. Madden is a joy to play and watch, and it's a must-add for all sports gaming fans.
Kim: Yes. The hardcore Madden faithful will go out and get this game no matter what, but for casual fans on the fence about buying the latest version, the Madden 16 is a strong buy. The new passing and catching mechanics have a major impact on gameplay, and ultimately, that’s what will drive people to play this game. While the controls are easy enough for casual fans to pick up and play, hardcore fans that have been clamoring for changes for years will really appreciate the new additions.
EA Tiburon has now had some time to really polish the next-gen versions of Madden, and this year seems to be a culmination of everything they’ve been building throughout the years. This is easily the best Madden to come out since next-gen consoles were first released, and it deserves a place in your game collection.