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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Madden NFL 17 Reviews


With a new focus on team personality, Madden makes a return to form.
There 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.
Seeing play styles come across so fluidly creates realism.
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.
This new mode has me flying through each week of my franchise completing every single task.
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.

The already-awesome scouting system returns, but the biggest changes happen during the NFL Draft. The coolest part is how you will receive feedback immediately following your draft pick, showing the player’s overall True Talent ranking compared to his draft selection. Even better is the AI’s competency; teams actually draft based on need! My jaw dropped looking at the positional needs lining up with the teams in the draft. I was pumped to see the Bears take a quarterback at No. 1 overall; Seeing the 49ers trade up and reach for a quarterback at No. 6 was even better. Realism!
At offseason’s end you can move onto preseason, or you can sim ahead a full decade – an option that simulation nuts like myself love. When I tried it, to my surprise each team was balanced with only a few superstars scattered throughout the league, including the aforementioned Bears draft pick sitting pretty at 95 overall. The majority of the league was filled with EA’s created draft classes, but it was properly balanced throughout each roster - proof that the progression system is working.
Major community-requested features have been added as well. Full player editing and accurate equipment pieces add another level of customization that the franchise has been lacking for years. The score ticker has also been added, sharing scores and stats from across other games at the bottom of your screen. The ticker will highlight important updates, including divisional opponents. I found myself getting excited seeing my rivals fall as I was gaining them in the standings. My personal favorite, which had been absent from this series for far too long, is the return of formation subs. These seem like small details, but it’s all necessary to recreate a Sunday afternoon in loving detail.
I’m already itching to restart my franchise when the season begins.
The Verdict
Madden has finally found its comfort zone between the tackles, and offense and defense have reached a great balance. The community’s gameplay wishes were granted with a new focus on Franchise mode, led by the Play the Moments feature. Outside of its mood-killing commentators, Madden 17 is just about everything we’ve been waiting for since EA Sports took full control of the NFL license. Football is back, and it’s only a yard or two short of becoming an all-time great.
[Disclosure: Dustin Toms once worked with a colleague who is now an employee of EA Tiburon.]


Madden 17 Review
By Owen S. Good 
EAch edition of a sports video game poses and answers a question of the series preceding it, making its developers' choice of the question just as important as the reply. The makers of Madden NFL 17 have again chosen well, and responded earnestly, for the third straight year in EA Sports' glamour franchise.
A fleet of subtle inclusions and upgrades combine with a new highlight-reel mode on game day to make Madden's virtual NFL seasons more believable and exciting, and their off-the-field intrigue more accessible and less chore-like. On the gridiron, Madden continues to improve, particularly in a beefier running game and some smart choices on special teams to make that phase more meaningful.
Combined with an earnest focus on educating a user, whether it's about the sport in general, the coming week's opponent, or how to play effectively, Madden NFL 17is a rewarding experience that, counterintuitively, begins by asking you to play less of a game, not more.
Madden NFL 17's new mode of play, Play the Moments, is based on it simulating a Franchise game in the background, "watching" it for the user, and whistling them into the living room to take over when a key opportunity is at hand. The idea as it applies to the season mode is that time spent on monotony that even video game football can't avoid — three-and-out drives in a tied game's second quarter, or administering a huge lead in the fourth — is returned to the user for behind-the-scenes aspects of franchise management that are more varied and interesting.
Play the Moments is mostly successful, particularly in defense. There are big differences between defending a drive starting on the 20-yard line to begin the game, one in the final four minutes to try to win it, and one in the middle of the game after a team has scored to gain significant momentum. Play the Moments seems to understand these distinctions and is most judicious about asking for the user's attention when it involves the defense. Also, defensive moments frequently begin near start of a drive and rarely on a second or third down. That's also good; a defensive user needs live play to build up a context for decision-making and for the AI players to perform well. Offenses will routinely be called in on third down and other one-off situations to keep a drive going, but they're more able to complete those hotshot jobs.

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This means most of the moments surfaced are on the user's offensive side of the ball. Players with a taste for defense may feel robbed, and they should, because Madden NFL 17 provides its most enjoyable game of defense ever, particularly for novices, thanks to better AI and some truly educational drills available in the weekly practices of the career mode.
For example, "gap assignment" — where a defender either breaks through the offensive line or protects a running lane opened between it — is one of those ESPN-analyst terms I pretend to understand. But it's also a behavior that Madden NFL 17 incorporates better than its predecessors, and then shows its homework in the practice drills to the benefit of offense and defense alike. Controlling an edge defender whose team was trying to stop a run, or taking the guy whose job was to shut off a cutback, I felt like I was working more purposefully than just slamming full speed into the offensive line and trying to kill anyone on the other side of it. On offense, seeing linebackers play according to type, instead of both playing a running lane and then tracking the runner as I flee for the outside, helped me understand who was really involved in the play instead of just feeling swarmed.

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Passing, which got plenty of attention last year thanks to new receiving controls, is largely the same experience, but I did notice plenty more drops and balls knocked free, seemingly in compensation for the overpowered "aggressive catch" button introduced in Madden 16. Still, it too is helped by the ball carrying upgrades, meaning a stiff-arm at the end of a big catch and run not only feels great in the extra yardage gained, it looks awesome as receiver and defensive back tumble out of bounds together.
In special teams, there are a ton of new trick plays, and jumping the snap on a block attempt helps make that a more reasonable possibility. The most important thing, however, is the ability to put backspin on a punt to deaden the ball. Without this choice, players were aiming for the sidelines and hoping for the best; punting now feels more productive even while giving over possession. There is, once again, a new kicking meter but the three-button press makes longer field goals more missable.
Madden NFL 17 also helps out runners with some wonderful on-field visual cues to perform a move, or even making them contextual altogether and letting a lesser-skilled user focus on steering the runner. The moves are also more useful, the stiff arm and spins in particular. These are available by default at lower global difficulty (Rookie or Pro) and not at All-Pro (the difficulty of a ranked online match) or higher. Assists and overall difficulty settings can be mixed and matched, though the game doesn't make it obvious. New or lapsed players might want to go through the options to tweak assists to their taste — it's fun to meet a challenge like All-Pro with a thumb on the scale only where needed, instead of dumbing down the entire game or going through the trial-and-error of gameplay sliders.

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Games played with Play the Moments in Franchise mode can be finished in less than 30 minutes, even watching all of the broadcast cutscenes and commentary from the new announcing team. The fresh-faced booth pairing of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis, obscure to real-life NFL broadcasts, is more natural and conversational than the establishment talkers Madden has used in the past. I heard Davis and Gaudin argue over why a play succeeded, which gave them a meaningful rapport I remembered in later games. That said, their chemistry can be dissolved by games that have large portions simulated, so users who take Madden NFL 17 up on its Play-the-Moment offer will often feel like they're hearing the same let's-pick-up-the-action phrase.
Gaudin and Davis were hired because they live near the studio and can make commentary updates throughout the season, much like rosters are updated weekly. Indeed, one came in that added a line about the Baltimore Ravens watching hometown swimmer Michael Phelps in the Olympics. However, this is really only heard in one-off games, rather than modes that are creating their own realities.


Ultimate Team and Draft Champions, Madden's online fantasy football suite, doesn't make as big a splash this year but it's not neglected. The auction house and trade block return to Ultimate Team, which should please diehards. Also, in challenges, once a player meets the statistical or play outcome goal, there's no need to play to the end of the game. It seems like a no-brainer, but that helps out the grinding, high-volume player a lot. "Chemistry" replaces the playing and coaching styles system of last year in a way that doesn't force users to sacrifice a highly rated player simply because he can't supply the style bonus. This makes the overall roster decision-making less rigid and more fun while still delivering attribute boosts to everyone.
Players are more aware of the unique narrative behind their leagues in a couple of subtle but key ways. One is a new score ticker that runs during a game, contemporaneous to the user's. This is really interesting as the league winds up and the playoff order is sorting out, but on the whole, it improves an awareness of league events that had seemed detached in the past. The game's fake Twitter feed doesn't assume the user will go read it, either; informative tweets are surfaced after a week advances or other events take place, giving the user a better idea of players available for trade or, in my case, one I should get rid of, and did.
Among the many wrinkles of team management is a 10-man practice squad that highlights how much stuff there is to do. (It also enlightened me about how the squad works in real life.) Squad players can be signed by any other team to their game day roster though, so users need to keep an eye on how good these guys might be getting.
Also fun are things like negotiating with players whose contracts are expiring, or and scouting players for the draft. Scouting in particular helped me get a better awareness of my team's shortcomings in the current season as it guided me on a plan for the draft. Haggling with a player in his contract year seems gratuitous unless a user is really committed to the financial game; it's more likely to piss off the player, leading to some hard choices in the off-season about getting value for him in a trade, or saying sorry with dollars.
All of this combines to make Franchise the closest it has ever been to a have-it-your-way sports fantasy supported by plausible chapters of conflict and resolution. Play the Moments removes the perfectionist urge to restart or punch off the machine when the user fumbles or trails by a lot. The results were very close, very exciting games where defeat was gut-wrenching but not unfair. I played as the Rams and, uh, mighta restarted a couple of games but still finished 9-7 to make the goal I set for coach Jeff Fisher in pre-season.
I picked the Rams because I wanted to see what the Los Angeles Coliseum looked like in a current football video game. It's not called that, probably because of licensing, but it's gorgeous and a great showpiece for a game that's a joy to watch. It's not just the way Cam Newton's fashion-model good looks are delivered in cutscenes; animations are lively and fluid even when going to hurdle a defender at the very last second.


After three years of improvement, and two of them improving without having to fix major shortcomings, it feels like the Madden NFL franchise has returned to the glory days of a dozen years ago. Features that are added to the game justify their existence and the result is very little dead weight, exemplified by the serious, long-term crack EA Tiburon has taken at improving the commentary. There are still smudged areas on Madden NFL 17's shine — trades are often tedious, for example, and the game could provide more means to prepare for an opponent. There is so much to do in Madden NFL 17 that it's hard to speak to all of its appeals and improvements. The best I can say is it's the most fulfilling experience one can have with the NFL, short of being one of its players or coaches.
Madden NFL 17 was reviewed using a pre-release Xbox One code provided by EA on retail multiplayer servers, including with EA Access customers. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.
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