Published on September 23rd, 2015 | by Tony Odett0
Madden NFL 16 Review
Summary: This is the culmination of the series' development. The star of the show is the reborn franchise mode, which is more addictive than ever.
I haven’t played as many games this year as usual. I certainly haven’t written as many reviews. It’s tough when one of your kids is seriously ill. Things seem a lot more work than they used to, and when you do get that moment away with a controller or mouse in your hand, your brain is mush. Plus, you seek solace. You look for that thing you can lose yourself in. So, despite the fact that I’ve always treated games as a sort of intellectual exercise, I found myself looking less for stimulation, and more for escapism.
Madden has always been that sort of pursuit for me. When you can measure your time with a franchise in decades, you can take from it a certain measure of comfort. Every year, when a new Madden hits the shelves, and I put it in my console, I know how to play without any sort of tutorial. I snap the ball, read the coverage, and throw the pass, with no instruction. Sure, there are changes, but the core of the formula hasn’t changed in years. While some would call that complacency, and denigrate Madden for a “lack of innovation,” I’ve always appreciated that, unlike a lot of games, you always had a general sense of what Madden offered, and, since I liked that, I knew I’d be pleased (even with “bad” Maddens).
Madden NFL 16 rounds off the rough edges from previous efforts, leaving an insanely polished, wonderful experience of football. But this year’s Madden is not simply sandpaper- some key changes to the franchise experience make it more addicting and fun, adding a distinct RPG element to that mode in a visceral way not done in any sports game I’ve yet experienced.
The actual on-field gameplay hasn’t changed significantly. There are tweaks, however, subtle differences that make running the ball and playing defense feel better and more controlled than previous years. In Madden NFL 15, I often brushed my lineman on running plays (and by brushed, I mean I would run flat into their back with no effect). Madden NFL 16 encourages slower movement until the right moment in the hole, because clipping a guard will result in you tripping and falling. Players move and hit more realistically than ever (though the game does seem to have an obsession with slamming running backs repeated with defenders until it looks like they should be dead). The game looks and feels like real football.
The only real mechanical change in this year’s Madden is to the receiver/defensive back game play. When a player’s QB launches the pass, the option is there now to tell the receiver to catch the ball with an eye toward maintaining possession (meaning he’ll probably fall down), toward running with the ball after the catch (be prepared for some drops here) or with an all out effort in tight situations (the leaping, awesome one handed catch attempt). The same control applied to the defense, who can either concentrate on making the tackle or making a play on the ball. I found myself using the offensive controls frequently (it solves some issues Madden has had with receiver behavior for years). The defensive option, however, I shied away from, as it often led to me accidentally pulling my defender away from the play and causing some rather embarrassing long touchdowns.
My favorite addition this year is the new franchise mode. Yes, we’ve gone from franchise mode to connected careers mode and back to franchise mode again, but this year’s effort offers substantial changes, ones that have caused me to play Madden obsessively since launch (and actually delayed my review- I couldn’t stop playing to write about it). Madden now assigns goals to all players prior to each game. As these players make plays and achieve these goals, the experience and confidence gains pop up right on the screen, a la Borderlands. It’s an excellent change that provides overt ownership over player development. As I played games, I found myself game planning around these XP gains and using my pregame planning hours to develop key younger players. Goals (both individual and teamwide) appear dynamically during each drive of the game as well. There were moments when I was starting offensive linemen who were actually worse than their backups for the first time in the history of my Madden play, because they were younger, and the XP they gained by actually playing helped them develop and actually become better. Even the draft, with the long scouting process, and the player by player analysis, is a fun and exciting process. There’s nothing like drafting in the fifth round and discovering that you’ve gotten the 5th overall ranked player. The focus on the franchise mode is a welcome one, and give me a degree of Madden obsessiveness I haven’t felt in years.
I spent a lot of time in Madden Ultimate Team, earning my card packs, completing challenges and building my squad. But the most interesting element to me was the Draft Champions Mode. You, and either 3 AI or 3 real players, draft your way through 15 rounds of randomly selected players, trying to build the best group. After the draft, you play a mini-tournament to figure out who was the champions. It’s a really fun mode, boosted by the inclusion of legendary players. Doing well earns you even more packs for Ultimate Team, so there is real incentive for doing well.
This was supposed to be the part of the review where I listed my reservations. Well, early in my play of the game, I intercepted a pass, and then my team committed a penalty. I should have kept the ball, but the game gave it back to the other team. Additionally, defenders often kept accidentally straying into the offense right after each team had called their plays, and getting called for encroachment. Unfortunately for my complaints, both of these issues have already been patched out of the game. There were also some issues at launch where receivers seemed to too often win one-on-one battles with defenders, even when it was the Patriots’ number 4 guy against Darelle Revis. This has also been rebalanced after launch, and makes a lot more sense.
This is the best Madden ever. I can’t stop playing this game, even after big release after big release hits the market. For someone who really gets around when it comes to games, the fact that I keep playing says that EA Sports has built, not just a great football game, but a game that’s great for anyone.
Madden NFL 16 was reviewed on Xbox One using a copy provided by the publisher.