ign.comThere isn’t much better than going head-to-head against my buddies in a good Madden game, talking trash, bragging about that big play, and flaunting my victories to the point of unsportsmanlike conduct. Madden NFL 17 couples all of that with elevated gameplay mechanics, improved on-field player interactions, and a long-awaited emphasis on franchise mode. It’s great to see that this series has finally found the sweet spot it hasn’t seen since Madden NFL 05.
Madden 17’s gameplay has risen above the last decade’s worth of iterations, and it starts with the feel I get when I grab the sticks. Madden 15 and Madden 16 focused gameplay tuning on defense and receiving, respectfully, due to the NFL’s shift towards the two play styles. It was EA’s reaction to the shift in the NFL. I was surprised to see the limelight on the running game this year, mainly because it’s EA with a proactive approach, a refreshing turn of events for the studio.
This year Madden continues to strengthen its gameplay by integrating the consistent button-pressing mini-game into the ground game. It gives you options to spin, juke, and stiff-arm, and it’s invigorating to scamper for a long gain thanks to a well-timed spin-break-spin combo. The new ground game is refreshing, keeping you honest on both offense and defense. It’s so easy to get caught up in pass after pass in today’s NFL, but with such a large emphasis in Madden NFL 17’s run game it encourages you to be patient and to run an offense the way it’s meant to be in the real sport.
For example, the Vikings run a ground-heavy attack with Adrian Peterson, as do the Titans with the newly acquired DeMarco Murray. Peterson and Murray bowl through opponents, shove them to the ground, and fight for the extra yards. That’s a great positive contrast to Madden 16, where each team felt so similar on the ground that it didn’t matter if you were using Peterson or Murray or some no-name rookie. Seeing these play styles come across so fluidly in Madden 17 creates the realism factor the game has been sorely missing.
Part of the reason the run game works so well with the Vikings and Titans is because of the above-average offensive line each team rosters. I was easily able to gain downhill momentum to carry Murray to extra yardage, and it was awesome using Peterson’s strength to keep pushing defenders to the ground thanks the holes created.
Meanwhile a team like the Seahawks, who have one of the highest team ratings, sports one of the lowest-rated lines around. Playing as them it’s tough to run between the tackles as the line gets pushed around. Even on pass plays, I found myself using Russell Wilson’s legs as an escape route to avoid pressure. Again, this tweak to the ground game balance makes a team play more like its real-life counterpart than ever before. In addition, broadcast camera angles during and between plays represent a lifelike television experience I’ve grown to love.
The improved realism doesn’t stop on one side of the ball. Newly introduced gap assignments have me focused more on the defensive front seven, giving me the opportunity to shut down any given play if executed properly. That’s a huge and important change, because in the past few Maddens the defensive gameplay has been so boring I felt like I could put the controller down and let the CPU play for me. Now I’m engaged on every single defensive play, because you have to be in order to succeed. It’s like there’s an entire half of the game that wasn’t there before. Plus, I can trust my AI teammates to make plays and stay where they need to. And as players crash through each other during play, slick and unobtrusive in-game overlays effectively convey essential stat information, such as rushing yards, tackles and pass completions.
At the same time there are a few new features that flounder. There was a lot of offseason jargon about letting special teams make an impact in Madden 17, and in the lead up to starting launching the game I enjoyed drills on how to block kicks, run trick plays, and strategically punt. They all worked surprisingly well in the training mode, and found myself smirking after a perfectly blocked field goal thinking about how I’d use these moves on the field. But once I entered real gameplay, special teams felt the same as it always has. After playing multiple games I didn’t once have a successful attempt at blocking a kick or punt. They should be few and far between to feel realistic – I get that – but after all of that training I expected to have at least one special teams play that truly shifted a game’s outcome. Their rarity is disappointing.
Each of these new gameplay mechanics can seem daunting, especially for a Madden newcomer. I would recommend trying out the Skill Trainer, which will teach you how to read formations and play the right coverages. It’s beginner mode, but it’s where champions are made. The instructions make the basics of Madden 17 simple and easy to learn. I’ve been playing since Madden 01, and I still jump in for a refresher every season.
The duo of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis taking over in the booth for commentary is a long overdue change, but despite EA’s promise that this would be a more conversational commentary team, I’m not convinced. The play-by-play from Gaudin sounds very similar to past versions. Davis’ commentary is okay, as he does have player-specific lines that tell stories of yesteryear, but that comes with the drawback that I was already hearing repeated lines in the second game I played. Where’s the banter? Where’s the chemistry? There is EA’s promise of updated and relevant commentary throughout the season, but as of now I’m unimpressed. This pair of wet blankets set the presentation back a few notches.
As expected from an annual update, popular modes such as Madden Ultimate Team and Draft Champions have returned largely unchanged. Ultimate Team has added additional customization options as well as a new chemistry feature, while Draft Champions is identical. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest fan of the collectible trading card modes, but this year’s game has such a huge focus on gameplay and franchise that most everything else is secondary.
Living The Dream
I love being able to take control of a franchise; it’s my favorite mode in any sports game. It’s that gratifying feeling of drafting a super stud in the fifth round and seeing him develop into a top-tier talent. In Madden’s upgraded Franchise mode, that concept is kicked into overdrive and gives me everything I want at a more rapid pace.
Franchise’s new Play the Moments super-sim mode places you into a game only during key moments, like third downs, red zones, and defensive stands. I’ve never been a super-sim fan before, but this new mode has me flying through each week of my franchise completing every single task. It’s great that Play the Moments gets me through a game with realistic statistics within 30 minutes, leaving ample time to complete weekly tasks.
In another very smart tweak, upgrading players now happens immediately following a game, with practice second on the list. I used to skip all of these tasks to get to the next week as quickly as possible, but now it keeps a constant flow of progression. All of them are now pieces that are vital for success. It reminds me of how immersed I used to get with EA’s old NCAA Football franchise, which is a sports gaming compliment of the highest order.