Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
We played on: PlayStation 4
The dangers of maintaining a yearly video game release are lessened when you don’t have any competition. That’s exactly what EA has with the Madden franchise. Every so often, the Madden NFL series takes a big enough step forward that it can pull in new and even jaded previous players. Madden NFL 16 is one of those leaps.
In line with accurately representing the cover player Odel Beckham Jr, who’s responsible for one of the most spectacular catches in football, EA has overhauled the Wide Receiver position with different types of catches. “Run After the Catch” has the receiver quickly looking up field for more yards. “Possession” sacrifices additional field position for a secure catch. And “Aggressive” has the receiver seek the best position at a high point in order to take advantage of height and strength. Each type of catch is mapped to specific buttons so players’ intentions are accurately reflected. This is something previous Maddens haven’t done so well.
But don’t worry. Defenders aren’t hung out to dry with the new changes. Players can focus on the receiver and attempt to jar the ball loose in the event of a reception or even take advantage of their better position and go for the ball. Both sides present significant risk, with the defenders often getting the short end of the stick versus top-tier receivers. At launch, the scales were tipped very heavily toward “Aggressive” catches. So much so that you could toss up a deep bomb to your best receiver and be confident they’d come down with it every time. Updates have changed that a bit, but it can still be a bit over-powered.
All around, gameplay has improved enough not to leave other positions weakened. Quarterbacks have more control over ball placement. The intelligence of computer-controlled defenders has been overhauled. And the physical animations enhance runners’ performance. Even the offensive/defensive linemen have improved actions, mainly benefiting from having more explicit button presses mapped to different moves.
Franchise mode, the meat of the Madden experience, is fairly robust when it boils down to managing players. You can choose three different ways to participate, tailored to how much control you want and where you wish to spend most of your time. As an owner, you manage the complete organization from staff all the way to ticket prices and team relocation (if desired). As coach, you focus on the makeup of your team and the scheme you enter each game with. Choosing to be a player takes away all of the micromanagement and just gets you on the field—if you’re a starter at least.
Ultimate Team mode is a welcome change of pace from the norm of team management. This mode gives users sets of NFL players in a trading card manner using legends and the stars of today. EA has also moved to capture the infectious energy of fantasy football with the Draft Champions mode. In this mode you choose players in a swift 15-round draft and then play with your choices in a handful of quick matchups. These two modes increase the pick-up-and-play appeal of Madden
While Madden 2016 is a step forward for the franchise, there are a couple of missteps. For instance, the coin toss has been removed from the game entirely. Instead players pre-select their desired decision to kick or receive and which side of the field they want via a menu selection. Unfortunately this menu item can be easily missed right before the game. It’s not a game-breaking exclusion, but very questionable.
In line with this weird change, the immersion into the sport itself is lost in a sea of menus in Franchise mode There’s a faux social network presence and weekly news updates tucked away, almost as an afterthought. Even the in-game presentation can get repetitive, focusing on the same players with not much diversity in the recorded commentary. Speaking of commentary, the contextual statements very often miss the mark. The player names, results of the play, or even the happenings during a play can spark very poor commentary that can be comical.
ESRB Rating for Madden NFL 16
Courtesy of the ESRB, Madden 2016 is rated E for Everyone with no warning descriptors for the offline game. However, it does includes online features that may expose players to unrated user-generated content and user language.
The Takeaway on Madden NFL 16
EA has made solid strides forward with the Madden franchise. The base gameplay has grown, and the connected experience continues to evolve. Overall, the collection of new features bodes well for the series, even if no competition arises.