The annual release of EA Sports’ Madden NFL is often met with a mix of emotions. As one of the most popular series in its medium, there are many gamers who look forward to playing Madden, and only Madden, for the next several months. Contrastingly, there are nearly as many gamers who dismiss the long-standing football simulation based on the fact that changes between iterations in recent years have been minimal. Reviews of the latest Madden game often contain unnecessary claims such as, “This is the best Madden ever”, despite the fact that often times the biggest change from one year to the next is an updated roster. All things being considered, please allow me to say that Madden NFL 15 is not just the best Madden ever, it is the best simulation of NFL football ever made.
From the moment the game starts, this year’s focus on making Madden NFL 15 more of a well-rounded video game than a football simulator is evident. You are immediately thrust into a playable intro, and while I will avoid spoiling the scenario, it is incredibly entertaining; I found myself replaying it just to enjoy the experience all over again. One of the major points of this intro is that it serves to show off the extra level of polish that has been put on this year’s edition. Madden detractors often mention that the game’s former competition, Visual Concepts’ NFL 2K5, had better production values and was a more authentic representation of an NFL television broadcast. Many will be surprised to see the leaps forward that EA Sports has taken with Madden NFL 15. Games feel like a CBS broadcast, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms’ opening has been improved, and the halftime run-down has been improved as well. But that is not where it ends — timeouts FEEL like timeouts, injuries on the field are handled in a similar fashion to how they are on television, and the constant celebrations and trash talk that have become commonplace in NFL games are both here, with many of the players, including defensive players, doing the celebrations they are known for.
Speaking of defense, Madden NFL 15 truly focuses on improving this side of the ball. Not since the inclusion of the “hit stick” have there been any noteworthy changes for the defense. With a press of the d-pad, players can change the camera perspective to see their defense from a better vantage point; locking onto defensive players has been possible for years, but due to changes in the available techniques while being blocked, locking onto a defensive player is actually fun. As a defensive linemen, or anyone else on a blitz, players can attempt to time the snap with the press of a button and have the option of using power or finesse moves once engaged by a blocker. If these options sound similar to those previously available, it is because they are not new concepts to the Madden NFL franchise. The difference is, these abilities are better implemented this year by being assigned to the face buttons, and they work properly. Put simply, getting a jump on the snap and over-powering an offensive lineman due to leverage in order to land a big hit on a running back is now one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game.
In addition to the revamped power and finesse moves, tackling has now been improved. In previous years, “improving tackling” meant better animations; while the animations have definitely been improved, this aspect of the game has been simplified with one button assigned to basic tackling and another for a more aggressive form. The Hit Stick is also still an option, and while the aggressive and Hit Stick options are more difficult to pull off, there are definite rewards for using them effectively. Additionally, using the right analog stick allows gamers to lock onto an opponent and make a directed tackle. Surprisingly, even learning about how these defensive changes are implemented is fun as well. Drills are another aspect of the game which is not new, but it has been greatly improved. Having success in an Oklahoma drill and laying a hit on the ball-carrier feels more engaging with teammates watching and getting excited by the action. Also, the drills are included in a new aspect of the skills trainer mode referred to as The Gauntlet, which includes “Boss battles”.
Play-calling is one of the most effective changes in the game. The gameflow system and the traditional system have been merged for a tremendous improvement. Madden NFL 15 suggests plays based not only on situations like 1st & Long or 3rd & Short, but also based on the most common plays chosen by other players. The average results of these choices are often provided as well. It is the information overload you would expect an offensive or defensive coordinator to have in front of them when choosing a play. This change is extremely well-executed, but will take veteran Madden players some time to get accustomed to. But if the change is not well received, players can change to the traditional play-call method.
On the field, Madden NFL 15 moves better than any football game ever has; every player seems to have more weight to them, and it allows players to move in a more realistic fashion. But while all the aforementioned improvements are certainly worth getting excited about, Madden NFL 15 still leaves a lot to be desired anytime gamers are off the football field. Connected Franchise, a mode which melded the single-player-focused Career mode with the league wide Franchise mode a few years ago, still is in desperate need of improvement. For instance, gamers can choose to select to play the entire career of a starting Quarterback, but unfortunately the Quarterback cannot control when his receivers go in motion, which is something a Quarterback should be able to do! Also, playing as the Running Back alone can often leave you watching the QB throw strange passes, despite the fact said QB is a perennial All-Pro. This proves that there are still some of the same old bugs in the game. Also, at this point, the Madden NFL series should have an exciting way to draft new players instead of looking at a ticker that does not come with an intelligible method for skipping to your team’s draft spot. The lack of improvements in Connected Franchise means that the experience often feels stifling and other times disappointing, particularly when compared with similar modes in both the NBA 2K and MLB: Road to the Show franchises.
On a positive note, Connected Franchise has changed its XP system to a smartly segmented method which allows gamers to upgrade a player’s skills through Game Prep; which replaces the practice mode. Using Game Prep, gamers can make a short-term impact on each individual’s abilities by improving their Confidence. Every player starts with a standard confidence rating and this increases or decreases based on factors such as wins/losses and on-the-field performance. Game prep can also be used to improve XP which will enhance a player’s skills long term. While some stat-crunchers will be completely engaged in this new system, others will want to skip it all together; fortunately, Game Prep can be simulated, and the improvements will be made automatically.
Despite the improvements that need to be made in Connected Franchise mode, Madden NFL 15 is a huge step forward in the series. It’s safe to say that EA Sports now has a solid building block to revamp all aspects of the game, now that the on-the-field action has been greatly improved. Whether you are a huge fan of the series or have casual interest, Madden NFL 15 represents the first time the series has lived up to the hype in years.
+ Beautiful Graphics
+ Defensive Improvements
+ Smart Play calling
– No major upgrade to Connected Franchise
– Old bugs die hard