With the return of the NFL season comes the return of fantasy football and the return of Madden. Each year, game reviews claim “this is the best Madden ever”, without explaining what is new, what has improved, what is disappointing, and most importantly, whether this year’s Madden is worth buying. Focusing on these points, let’s take a look at Madden NFL 16.
Madden NFL 15 attempted to focus on the running game, particularly the offensive line’s ability to open up holes for the running back. This year, Madden NFL 16 focuses on the passing game, and makes changes to both the quarterback and receiver mechanics. In addition to these changes on the field, Madden adds a new mode called Draft Champions, which combines the appeal of single-week fantasy football leagues with tournament-style gameplay. The result feels similar to a card game in terms of using what you have either chosen or have been given, along with your own wit, to win the game.
In Draft Champions, you draft everything from coaches, who define your playbook, to the players on your team, with an additional number of players being given to you. This setup means gamers are best suited to pick the players who fit the coaches system, not just their favorite players. For example, if you draft Chip Kelly, whose offense includes a number of zone read running plays, it might not be the best idea to draft a pocket passer like Peyton Manning. Post-draft all the participants, whether player-controlled or managed by the CPU, enter into a tournament. Win four games in a row and you will be crowned the draft champion. Draft Champions will be an interesting mode for Madden players, especially those who do not want to commit time to connected franchise mode.
As mentioned above, Madden NFL 16 focuses on the passing game by making changes to both the quarterback and receiver mechanics, with each player being able to modify the play on the fly. For years, quarterbacks have been able to lead receivers by using the analog stick to pass the ball a little further left, right, up, or down in an effort to keep the ball away from the defender and place it in the best place to be caught. This has not changed, but there are nuances added to the quarterback’s ability that might make leading an afterthought, or, when combined with a pass that leads the receiver, can make an offense even more potent. By pressing the Left Trigger/L2, the quarterback can throw the ball towards the ground and create opportunities for the receiver to catch the ball going to the ground. This comes with very realistic animation that we often see the best possession receivers use to pick up tough third downs. By pressing the Left Bumper/L1 the quarterback will throw a high pass in an attempt to create those thrilling jump ball catches. In addition to these changes, the quarterback, who could always bullet lob a pass based on how the player pressed a face button, can now add touch on the ball and fit it in between defenders.
After the quarterback has thrown a pass, the receivers now have an overlay near them that defines what type of catch they are going to attempt. The three types of catches are RAC or run after catch, possession, and aggressive. Players can switch to the receiver and instantaneously alter the style of catch based on the position of the receiver, nearby defenders, and the speed of the ball. A tight end with a lot of space around him that might have been set for a possession catch can be switched to a RAC simply by pressing the corresponding button. This change will allow the tight end to catch the ball in stride and keep running down field in an attempt at gaining more yards. The same can be said for the other types of catches, with possession catches having a higher chance of being more successful than the other two, and aggressive catches are less likely to be caught, but a skilled receiver can potentially position himself to snatch the ball out of the air or win a battle for the ball with a defender.
The combination of the changes for the quarterback and receiver are nuanced but add a layer of strategy that was missing from Madden NFL football games. Particularly considering that defenders have a choice of playing the man or playing the ball when it is in the air. Perhaps the most notable thing about these changes is that it takes away the need to “rocket catch” or user control the receiver and take him out of his route and back into it in order to pull off deep ball passes. While this still may be a strategy online players use, it means gamers who did not know how to pull this off can still stretch the field by throwing a deep pass. This represents an improvement in Madden football because whether gamers think rocket catching is cheap or not, it certainly involves manipulating the game to achieve an unexpected result.
Beyond these passing game changes, the game is a visual improvement when compared to the last year’s version; the colors look sharper and the player facial models are more detailed. The inclusion of television styled overlays that show how many yards a running back is averaging after contact and other statistics is impressive. Gang tackling, which EA claims is improved every year, is obviously better in Madden NFL 16. You notice running back and receivers being piled on by multiple players, especially when being brought down in the middle of the field.
While Madden NFL 16 definitely features some visual improvements over its predecessors, there are still some disappointing issues in terms of animation. Runners still get caught behind offensive linemen far too often, some tackling animations do not play out well and result in two players colliding and falling down awkwardly. Frequently, players lay on the grass for too long after a play without reason. Additionally, nano-blitzes and fake-blitzes, which are schemes players use to manipulate the offensive line by either unexpected combinations of coverage and audibles or holding certain buttons on the controller prior to the play starting, are still effective.
Just as disappointing is Madden’s Connected Franchise Mode, which still combines the team-based gameplay of franchise mode with the single-player focused gameplay of a career mode. While the inclusion of drive-based goals gives gamers more opportunities to upgrade player attributes, the mode just feels soulless. Connected Franchise Mode should include some story-based gameplay for players similar to NBA 2K’s career mode and/or allow gamers to carry over progress from year to year like MLB: The Show’s similar modes. NFL football is entertaining beyond the field; whether it is in ESPN highlights, the annual awards ceremonies and hall of fame inductions, or the draft, the character of the NFL has substance. In Madden NFL 16, the NFL Draft feels like drafting a fantasy football team on your phone app: it’s just a list of panels and names. Additionally, the single player aspect of connected franchise still is not well thought out. Players can choose to be a team’s quarterback, but doing so means you sacrifice the ability to put a receiver in motion, which for some reason is an action that only a receiver can do on his own, which is not realistic.
Is Madden NFL 16 worth buying?
Just like previous games in the Madden series, there a few things that excite gamers enough to get them to purchase the newest version. The new features and improvements over the previous game are certainly there, but along with those improvements and new features are the head-scratching issues that seem to remain year after year without being addressed. While EA Sports and developer Tiburon deserve credit for being able to release a new game on schedule every year, the publisher and developer are also capitalizing on gamers’ love for NFL football and the need to keep up with the new rosters. All that being considered, Madden NFL 16 is a big enough step forward in the series that those who regularly buy the game annually will be comfortable with their purchase. Those gamers who usually wait for a price drop in the game will not be missing out on a revolutionary experience. But for those gamers who only pick up a Madden game every few years, or perhaps enjoy football but never purchased a Madden game, it is worth picking up this year.
+ Draft Champions mode is a welcome addition
+ Improved visuals including overlays
– Connected Franchise mode needs to be revamped
– Nano blitzes and other cheap manipulations still work
– Some old animations still work poorly