As always, the release of Madden is one of the most anticipated dates on the calendar for any sports gamer. That was certainly the case ahead of Madden NFL 15, which raised hopes about major strides being made after a sluggish debut on the new consoles last fall.
The latest edition of the video game was released on Tuesday in North America and will hit shelves in Europe on Friday. Although there's still room for improvement in the years ahead, the overall tone of the early reviews are positive.
Ben Silverman of Yahoo Tech notes most of the major improvements come on the defensive side of the ball, which didn't always get equal billing in the past. An effort was made, starting with a revamped style of tackling, to make that side of the ball equally fun to play:
It's fitting that Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is on the game's cover, because Madden NFL 15 is all about defense. Tackling is much more intuitive, for instance, thanks to a little cone that pops up when you take control of a defensive player. It makes it significantly easier to time tackles, leading to fewer cases of diving randomly in the wrong direction.
Any longtime Madden player knows exactly what he's talking about in that last sentence. Tackling was often a frustrating aspect of the gameplay, which led to a lot of unforced errors. The new cone should cut down on that significantly.
Another upgrade on defense deals with the players not being manually controlled. Brett Molina of USA Today points out the computer players have a better understanding of playing together, and the star players, such as cover athlete Richard Sherman, shine through more often.
Molina writes: "Defenders not under player control have improved intelligence, regardless of whether they play man-to-man or zone defense. The best defensive players in the NFL shine more brightly—such as Sherman, who is very tough to pass against (unless you have difficulty settings dialed down)."
Too often in the past, the defensive players didn't seem to work within the scheme but rather as individuals. Upgrades in that area should make the game more playable for a longer period of time both online and offline.
Though the focus was on defense, there were also some changes on the offensive side. The most promising, as highlighted by Brian Mazique of Bleacher Report, is more realistic accuracy from the quarterbacks depending on their ability level:
Along those same lines, quarterbacks simply aren't as accurate as they were before. In previous versions, about the only way a quarterback could throw an incomplete pass was if his receiver dropped it or if a defensive player batted it down or picked it off.
The fact is, sometimes balls are thrown poorly. Madden 15 simulates that fairly well, though I advise turning down the sliders on QB accuracy from the default 50 to at least 45 for a more realistic experience.
While that may not sound like a huge change, it is. Quarterbacks don't always deliver passes with pinpoint accuracy. So it adds to the realism of the gameplay and should also help further differentiate Peyton Manning and his fellow top QBs from the rest of the pack.
One other facet of the game that's changed is the play-calling features. Alex Rubens of IGN thinks the developers finally found a system that will work by suggesting plays rather than just listing them all to choose from:
Say you're sitting at First-and-10; it'll take statistics for your opponent's typical defense in this situation and pair that with your common moves to provide you with the best play options. You can modify these based on what you're looking to accomplish with the play as well, so if you want to take it strategically and not go for the big yards, it'll suggest different plays on the fly to help you accomplish that.
It will take a couple weeks of playing to see how it actually works, but on the surface it sounds like something that should help accelerate and improve play selection.
Finally, the graphics. With another year of work on the new consoles, it doesn't come as a surprise that everything looks more pristine. Alex Gelhar of NFL.com was impressed with the overall presentation of this year's game:
On the surface, the game looks beautiful. Running on an Xbox One the graphics were breathtaking. Player movements were photorealistic, especially when running backs were fighting for extra yards, or defensive linemen were trying to shed blocks. The field and player jerseys show great wear and tear over the course of a game better than I can ever remember.
He goes on to note further cosmetic improvements, including a more realistic crowd at the games, are still needed in the future. But it's another area where the pros outweigh the cons.
All told, the reviews provide a brief glimpse into what sounds like an improved game. The upgrades are always the first thing to stand out, but only after a couple weeks of intense play will gamers find out how they hold up.
After mixed feedback following the initial offering on next-gen platforms last year, it seems the hype was warranted this time around. That's good news for EA Sports, which must continue to take that next step in order for people to buy the new version each year.