The day Madden fans have been waiting for since last year has finally arrived. Madden 15 released (albeit for six hours) via EA Access on the Xbox One on Thursday, and if you're a subscriber, you're likely chomping at the bit to play your first game, or to get in as many games as the preview will allow.
All the major announcements have been made, and that includes the player ratings that have been released for weeks.
For those who haven't had the opportunity to see them leading up to release, click here to see the ratings. Here's a hint, the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson and Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson are top the ratings for their positions:
Obviously, the ratings are just to start the season. There will be a steady stream of updates once the season begins. While Madden fans debate ratings on a regular basis, many don't know the man behind the numbers.
Recently, Bleacher Report sat down with ratings czar Donny Moore to discuss the ratings process and his path to his current position.
Some gamers may also be interested in seeing the list of achievements and awards available in the game. That list can be seen here.
With the PlayStation 4 version in hand for a few days now, I'm ready to talk about what's new, old, good, bad and in between. Online play wasn't available, so every reference to those aspects of the game will be conceptual and under the assumption that there won't be any catastrophic server issues.
Madden has always been one of—if not the best—performing sports video game online, so I'd be shocked if this year's version were any different.
That said, the evaluations should still have that disclaimer. Without further ado, here's an in-depth breakdown of the game.
Graphics and Animation
What I Liked
- Head coaches look human
- Slick receiver animations
- More real player faces
What I Didn't Like
- Snow and rain don't have enough of a visual impact
Football is a tough game to upgrade from a visual standpoint. We generally judge the visual excellence of our sports video games based on character models and lifelike faces.
Because virtual football players are the stars of Madden and they have have their helmets on 95 percent of the time, it's hard to see major improvements. Furthermore, the playable action genuinely takes place with a camera so far away from the action, many of the details might not be seen anyway.
That said, Madden 15 clearly improved from a graphical standpoint as it compares to Madden 25. Lighting, uniforms and body types look better. There are more real player faces in the game than before, and players who once had head-scratching complexions seem to have been corrected.
As a guy who primarily played with the Chicago Bears in Madden 25, I was left wondering why Lance Briggs was the same color as Blake Griffin in last year's game.
When you look at things like equipment placement and variety, those details appear to have more depth and specificity. Perhaps the best upgrade to the graphics is on the sidelines. Hello, normal looking coaches.
No longer will you see hunchback men with headsets and clipboards parading on the sidelines claiming to be the head coaches of your favorite teams. The sideline generals have never looked more real in Madden.
Also, the players that are on the sidelines look a lot more realistic. This improvement is driving home the living worlds concept that all EA Sports games have adopted. It's a solid initiative and the results certainly show up in Madden 15.
As animations go, the biggest improvements can be seen in the passing game. Receivers actually make an effort for poorly-thrown balls. There are a plethora of new receiver animations and all of them look pretty sweet.
Gameplay and Realism
What I Liked
- The passing game is the best it's ever been
- Skills trainer is excellent
- Defensive line play is simpler and more intuitive
What I Didn't Like
- Defensive players still drop too many passes
- Would still like to see receivers respect sidelines more
The game of football hasn't changed, and neither has Madden for the most part, but there are some key differences that make this year's version the most realistic yet in the series—at least from a gameplay standpoint.
It starts with the passing game.
Defenses finally conduct themselves like a unit with a brain against the pass. Zone coverages have far more integrity and good defensive backs make it tough to throw their way. You see and feel what it's like to throw at a guy who covers a lot of ground and one who can leap to contest jump balls.
In these situations, the ratings matter as much as they ever have, and it's not just about speed. Things like man coverage, zone coverage and press coverage ratings must be taken into account when assessing the proper matchup on defense and offense.
It might just be me, but even the trajectory of passes appear to be more realistic.
In previous versions of Madden, it was almost impossible to throw an incomplete pass that wasn't dropped, batted down or intercepted. This year, the game pays more attention to how you throw it (lobs vs. bullets), who the quarterback is and his accuracy rating for the throw and when the ball is released as it relates to the route.
That's the way it should have been all along.
At the line of scrimmage, you can cycle through the matchups between halfbacks, tight ends, fullbacks and wide receivers. A graphic appears on the screen that shows whether your player has an edge in several key categories such as speed, height, etc.
It's pretty slick.
If there's two gripes about the passing game, it's that receivers will still run toward the sidelines and out of bounds on routes a little too often. You can tell this has been tweaked and improved, but there are still times when I found myself saying, "Why would you keep running?"
Secondly, defensive players still bat down too many passes as opposed to picking them off. Interceptions have increased, but there are still times where you're left thinking, "I know he would have caught that in real life."
The running game hasn't been touched much, but that's not a bad thing. It was one of Madden 25's strong points.
On defense, there's tons to talk about.
Let's start in the trenches. Gone are the potentially frustrating defensive line controls that made it a drag to control stud linemen. Now there's a very quick and football-like mini game that determines how well you get off the ball at the snap.
As soon as the ball is snapped, you have to press the R2 (RB button) to engage the offensive lineman. The quicker you do it, the better jump you'll get. From there, you press either the X (A) or square (X) buttons to perform a move to get into the backfield.
It's that simple, but there's still some cool complexity to the process. The secondary buttons are used to disengage from the O-lineman, but as you'll see in real football, that's not always something a defensive lineman wants to do immediately.
There are times when reading the direction of the running back or scrambling quarterback calls for the defensive lineman to try to guide the O-lineman into the ball carrier. You can do that in Madden 15 simply by moving the left stick in the direction you want to push the O-lineman.
Obviously, the ratings factor in here. If you're rushing the passer with a mediocre defensive end and you're locked up with the likes of the Cleveland Browns' Joe Thomas, you might find yourself on the ground before you get a chance to do much of anything.
To top off the enhancements on the defensive side of the ball, gamers can now play from the defensive camera and with the aid of the tackle cone.
Playing from the defensive side will take some hardcore getting used to for experienced Madden gamers, but thankfully you don't have to play that way if you don't want to.
There are a ton of camera views to choose from, so you aren't being forced to adopt this perspective—at least not yet.
The tackle cone is made to let you know when to go for an aggressive tackle (with the hit stick or square (X) button or to dive. In theory, it's a cool idea, but on the screen I found it very non-football. That's totally a personal preference. Others may love it.
This is also a setting you can turn on and off. Don't expect to see that being used in any of my YouTube videos of the game.
- Tip: Play through the Skills Trainer. Some may think they are beyond it, but it can be helpful. You get acquainted with the new wrinkles in gameplay with a guided tour.
Sound and Presentation
What I Liked
- Dynamic crowd noise is great
- Halftime show is welcomed step in the right direction
- Lifelike player reactions after plays
What I Didn't Like
- Commentary is still not top-notch
- A pre and postgame show sure would be nice
Commentary hasn't been a strong suit of the Madden franchise coming into this year's version. The conversational value that is present in games like NBA 2K just hasn't been there.
There's an effort to make Phil Simms and Jim Nantz converse more, but it's still not where it needs to be.
This might not sound like much to gamers who simply tune out the commentary, but many hardcore sports gamers pine for a commentary engine that doesn't become run of the mill within the first week.
There are a few more player-specific rants, but the commentary doesn't develop throughout the game the way it should.
One of the best aspects of the sound and presentation is the new dynamic crowd noise. The crowds in Madden 15 react as intelligently as any you'll find in a sports video game. They get loud on long passes. They boo or get silent when the road team is doing well.
It might not sound like much as you read this, but you'll definitely notice it while you're playing.
Another good addition to this aspect of the game is the halftime show. Finally, we get a proper look at the highlights at the half. This is something that was long overdue. You might remember this part of the game was shown months before release, and quite honestly, it wasn't very impressive.
I'm happy to say, it's much improved from that build. There's still some room for improvement, but we're at least moving in the right direction.
It would have been great to have an in-depth pre and postgame show, but it didn't happen this year. I guess it would be asking for too much to request a weekly preview and wrap-up show during your Connected Franchise, huh?
Game Modes and Options
What I Liked
- Unique draft classes in Connected Franchise
- Skills Trainer
- The Gauntlet
- Confidence and XP Balance
What I Didn't Like
- No upgrade to create-a-player faces
- Can't edit draft classes
- Can't create custom teams
- Can't create uniforms and logos in Ultimate Team
There are a lot of ways to play Madden 15. You can divide them into two sections: online and offline. Some of the game modes let you play both.
Most aren't new to the series, but may have a few new additions. Aside from exhibition mode, there's the aforementioned Skills Trainer, Practice, Connected Franchise, Never Say Never Moments, Ultimate Team, Online head to head and there's also creation and sharing options.
The two biggest modes are clearly CF and UT. Let's start off with UT.
The objective of this mode, which is a mixture of card collecting and fantasy football, is to build the strongest fantasy team possible.
You acquire uniforms, stadiums and players by playing the mode, earning coins or by spending actual cash to purchase virtual packs to improve your roster.
As EA Sports tries to recruit more and more players to the mode, this year's experience aims to teach you about UT from the moment you start. You'll be given objectives like opening a pack, selling an item and placing something on auction.
Completing the objectives will get you a reward, and EA Sports hopes this is enough to hook anyone who isn't already an UT addict.
This year, there's a virtual binder that contains all of the items you've acquired on your UT journey. In previous versions, the menu system could be a little confusing. The binder was created to put these things in order for the gamer.
From a presentation standpoint, pack openings will have a little more flair added. Suspense is part of the appeal for pack openings, so the new look is designed to add more excitement as gamers open their rewards.
This mode is already one of the most popular options in the game, but it could really take off if it allowed gamers to create their own logos and uniforms. Something similar to the Team Builder option that was in NCAA Football would be ideal.
I traveled to EA's headquarters in June for the NFL draft and talked to Kolbe Launchbaugh, the lead designer for the mode. He said something like that might be possible for the future, but it hasn't made it into the game as of yet.
Franchise modes are still the pulse of sports video games. That's why improvements to CF were high on my list. The mode can still be played online or offline, which is excellent. You can also still choose to play as a single player, a coach or as an owner with full control of every aspect of your team.
- Tip: To get the most out of a CF experience, control three teams, manning a different role with each one.
The biggest additions are the inclusion of confidence ratings for each player. Each guy is given a rating of 1-99 with all players set at an even keel 50 to start the season. As the year progresses, the confidence rating will fluctuate depending on the events of the season.
On-field performance, trades, teammates being signed or released, tough losses, big wins and more can bring a player's confidence down or up.
As the confidence rating increases or decreases, it will affect a player's ratings. For example, a player with high confidence may perform a little above his ratings, while one with low confidence may underachieve.
This is an outstanding idea and it helps to give your CF experience a life of its own, which is the whole point of a franchise mode.
During the virtual week, you must choose whether to bolster your player's confidence or their XP. Catering to their confidence will assure they perform to their capabilities, while adding XP will develop players and allow them to improve their base attributes.
- Tip: Veteran teams should almost always have their confidence maintained over their XP. A young team should concentrate on improving through the additions of XP.
One of the most important aspects of a franchise mode is the offseason. Madden 15 has implemented one important addition to CF, and that's random and unique draft classes for every season.
In Madden 25, the same draft classes were generated for everyone. In online CFs, cheaters could simulate seasons and get the info on upcoming rookies because there would be no difference between any of the draft classes.
This year, each draft class will be different. Producer Josh Looman talks about that and more in the video below.
One bummer is that you can't edit draft classes. With the absence of the NCAA Football franchise, gamers can no longer import named draft classes. Thus, trying to have real-life college rookies is out of the question.
The branching rookie storylines are cool, but in all honesty, I'd trade that in a heartbeat to have the option to edit draft classes.
Which do you like the most?
Free agency has been given a nice tune-up. Now players have realistic agendas they stick to when choosing a team to sign with. A free agent may be concerned only with money, or he may want to play in a specific scheme. There are a good number of factors, which adds some spice to the free-agent signing period.
Just like in Madden 25, gamers can relocate their franchise, but this year, there are more uniform and logo options available for your new virtual brand. While the new tool offers more customization, it's still a ways off from where it could be.
This is just another reason why adding Team Builder to the game makes so much sense.
It's great that Madden share is back. It allows gamers to share sliders, rosters and other customizable aspects of the game with the community. If you create a roster with custom players, you can share that with anyone in the Madden universe.
Sadly, the create-a-player option is still a bit bland. The same generic faces are all you have to choose from when picking your player or coach. This part of the game is in need of a face lift. Utilizing the PlayStation or Kinect camera is a logical next step.
As far as mini-modes go, the Gauntlet is a fun extension of Skills Trainer. It allows gamers to attempt to perform over-the-top tasks like kicking 110-yard field goals in hurricane-force winds.
There are levels and bosses to each stage, and there are 40 stages in all.
I consider myself a hardcore football fan, but I must say this unrealistic mode was a fun diversion from the simulation portion of the game.
Lastly, the Never Say Never Moments return. For those who are unaware, this mode lets you replay exciting moments from the previous season.
The Bottom Line
- Graphics and Animation: 8.5
- Gameplay and Realism: 9.5
- Sound and Presentation: 7.5
- Modes and Options: 7.5
- Overall: 8.25
From a gameplay standpoint, this is how video game football should be. It's the most balanced the series has ever been in that respect.
That said, there are some areas of improvement from a customization and presentation standpoint that prevent it from being a crowning achievement on every level.
Follow Brian Mazique, the Sports Video Game Journalist on Twitter.