People should flip their hater switch from automatic to manual when it comes to Madden. For years, hating Madden is what the "smart" gamers seemed to do as a reflex. There have been some rough seasons for the long-running virtual football series, but this year isn't one of them.
Madden 15 went a long way toward establishing some new and more realistic gameplay concepts. The presentation was slightly beefed up, and the return of successful modes like Madden Ultimate Team bolstered the package. I rated last year's game an 8.25.
In comparison, Alex Rubens of IGN scored it an 8.7. Overall, most publications were pleased with the product, and you can expect an even more positive response this year.
In Madden 16, the momentum has been sustained, but there's still room for growth.
Graphics and Animation
What I Liked
- Awesome Player Models
- Lively and Diverse Cloud
- Increased Amount of Scanned Player Faces
What I Didn't Like
- Limited Player Tattoos
- Slight and Occasional Morphing
In almost every instance, Madden 16 is on par with the best visuals available in the sports video game universe. The best in the genre are NBA 2K, EA Sports UFC and EA Sports' NHL series. With the awesomely rendered players, equipment, stadiums and environments, Madden 16 deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.
There's a solid variety of body types that accurately represent the different size classes in the NFL. Small, but immersive details like dirtied uniforms and scuffed helmets augment the visual performance.
The best part of the graphics are the increased amount of scanned player faces. Because football players have their helmets on, their faces aren't normally visible. This could have, and has seemingly, created the rationale that scanning player faces isn't necessary.
While Madden 16 doesn't feature man-to-man facial scans like NBA 2K, there is a significant spike in the amount of players with near-photo-realistic faces in the game. The detail may not be as sharp as NBA 2K and other sports titles, but the effort to make more players look like themselves is there.
Scanning the entire NFL would be a much bigger undertaking than it is for the NBA because of the size of the rosters, but I'm not sure we can cut Madden 16 any slack on that front. Still, having parts of the roster scanned is better than having none.
Another drawback of the visual authenticity is the lack of tattoos. Cover athlete Odell Beckham Jr. is the only player with a seemingly full compliment of tattoos. There are legalities involved in the re-creation of a person's tattoos, but having only one or two players' tats represented is a little odd.
It might be better to create something that looks like the original work of art on the arms of the players who have ink, or to simply leave it out altogether. Uniformity would be the best direction, in my opinion.
An area where Madden 16 excels without concession is in the crowd. This is by far the most lifelike crowd the series has ever had. The fans are dressed in authentic NFL gear, their clothes are appropriate for the weather of the day and there's a good variety of models—women included.
Tackling and overall player contact looks as realistic as it ever has. We'll get into more of that in the gameplay section, but from a pure visual standpoint, once the action is flowing, this is the most realistic-looking football simulation you've seen.
There were a few instances of warping that slightly stained the otherwise solid animation. Most notably, I saw Aaron Rodgers look to throw the ball to his left, only to have the ball fly out to the right and seemingly skip a frame as the pass made its way to the receiver.
This was a one-time occurrence in several hours of play, but it happened. It was pointed out to a developer, and it could very well be addressed in the game's first patch. Even still, it was worth mentioning. Overall, the issues with graphics and animation are few in Madden 16. Most should enjoy the eye candy the game presents.
Gameplay and Realism
What I Liked
- Passing Game is Vastly Improved
- Running Game is More Realistic
- Gang Tackling
What I Didn't Like
- Way Too Many One-Handed Catches
- Some Inexplicable Penalties
The graphics are shiny, and there are some new additions, but the biggest improvements to Madden 16 have come in its more realistic gameplay. That being said, not every component stays true to the game.
First and foremost, the passing game has improved so much, it's easily the best it's ever been. Balance is a key, and that reference relates to the way offense and defense affects the action, as well as the way various quarterbacks and receivers perform in the new system.
For example, the ability to choose to play the ball or the man in pass coverage is excellent. The best defensive backs and linebackers are able to make well-timed moves for interceptions, deflections and/or hits on receivers.
On the other side, receivers have a new set of options they can explore once the ball is in the air. As a receiver, you can choose if you will attempt to make a RAC (run after catch), possession or aggressive catch.
Success depends on the position of the ball, the receiver, the defender and both players' ratings. It functions like a logical and appropriate game within a game. That said, there are a couple of issues in this aspect of the gameplay.
EA Sports went Odell Beckham Jr.-crazy as it pertains to the aggressive catch. The New York Giants receiver wowed the football world with one of the greatest catches in history. The popularity he gained from the feat undoubtedly helped him land the Madden 16 cover.
Obviously, Madden developers felt compelled to put the catch in the game. Unfortunately, they overdid it a bit.
Not only does Beckham Jr. make the catch too regularly, just about every high-level receiver/tight end has it in their repeirtoire, and they make one-handed grabs too much. This type of catch should be an "OMG" moment, but instead it becomes commonplace and thus loses its impact.
In 10 games, you'll probably see that catch about five times. That's way too much. I'd love it if you saw it once every two seasons, but I'd settle for once every 10 games because this is a video game.
The good news is that this can easily be patched and tweaked with tuning and possibly even an in-game adjustment of the sliders. Another issue in the passing game is the way pass interference and blocking penalties work on passing plays.
Defensive players get away with taking out intended receivers if it's done early enough in the play, and, yes, the contact is sometimes beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage. There have also been a few instances where I've had an offensive player called for a block in the back on an incomplete pass.
It looks as if the recognition of change of possession is slightly off and thus throwing the penalty system partially out of whack. Again, there's no doubt in my mind these things could possibly be fixed in a very early patch. The EA Access trial run that began in August has probably provided EA Sports with the necessary data to address these issues.
Even with the few missteps, the passing game is still a joy. You really get an opportunity to see the difference between the good and mediocre quarterbacks in the NFL. Attempting to make difficult throws with guys who are not accurate throwers is a risky proposition, as it is in the NFL.
Try throwing on the run with a guy who doesn't have the best marksmanship with his feet moving, and you'll see how difficult it is to complete a pass in this scenario.
An awesome aspect of the game's passing mechanic is the new controlled scrambling command. To help maintain some accuracy with a moving quarterback, you now have the ability to roll out with your shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. This allows you to throw it more accurately, though you won't be running as fast as you would if you were scrambling the way you traditionally would in Madden. It's cool to have both options.
The defensive line play was great last year with the new get-off-the-ball approach. That has been augmented this year with the ability to automatically have the closest defensive player chase the quarterback at any time during a play. Mastering all the tools takes some time, but if and when you do, you'll be a beast passing or defending an aerial attack.
The running game in last year's version was a little too easy. This year that has been tweaked, and it's a little more difficult to break off the big runs or to continuously pound it between the tackles. Powerful backs are still a load to pull down and usually fall forward, but the inclusion of true gang tackling helps the defense, and it looks really cool.
You might think this area of the game is bound to have some glitches, but thankfully, I haven't seen any. The blocking makes sense. It isn't overpowered, and the suction blocking that has plagued the series for years appears to be gone. That in itself is cause for celebration.
Sound and Presentation
What I Liked
- Connected Franchise Stat Overlays
- Ultimate Team Cards
What I Didn't Like
- Mediocre Commentary
- No Pregame or Post-Game Show
Conceptually, Madden still needs to overhaul its approach to presentation. The commentary is a little more spicy, but it still lacks the overall personality you find in a game like NBA 2K.
Phil Simms and Jim Nantz still don't sound as if the two men are recording together, thus you don't get the organic conversation that would make the game better. The halftime show returns, but it's still not as detailed and compelling as it could be.
Larry Ridley has an awesome voice, but the drama doesn't often match the play being described. That said, it is still nice to have some semblance of a halftime show when for years there was none.
On the total positive side, Madden 16 uses stat overlays as well as any sports video game I've ever played. The jazzy monoliths for each starting quarterback look really cool. During games, the stats that populate to keep you abreast of player performance are awesome and timely.
In Connected Franchise, these stats start to reflect a player and team's season-long performance. Also in CF, the constant updates on season and game goals are exceptional.
It does wonders to help keep you engaged with the CF experience. One thing that would be welcomed—and seemingly easy to implement—would be a more realistic injury information delivery system.
When a player is injured in Madden—and almost every other sports video game in existence—within five minutes you're told the full diagnosis and the length of time the player will miss. This never happens in real sports.
For the sake of authentic presentation, it would be much cooler if we were simply told the player is first either probable, questionable, doubtful or not returning. Perhaps later in the game, we might receive another update that says it's believed to be minor or major injury and an MRI is scheduled.
We should have to wait until after the game to hear the news on the injury. In CF, this system would create the type of drama and uneasiness a fanbase and organization experience when a player gets injured. Unfortunately, neither Madden nor its peers have gotten to that point just yet.
Likewise, it seems to be time for some sort of show that offers CF players a weekly preview show, pregame, post-game and weekly wrap-up. Those presentations would put Madden even or ahead of other sports video game series in this area.
In Ultimate Team and the new Draft Champions mode, the player card overlays serve two purposes: they look cool and help to inform you of player ratings in MUT that may not be on your team.
Outside of the in-game action, the menu presentation has improved on almost every level. In MUT, pack openings are exciting and rewarding. In DC, the draft—which we'll talk about in the next section—is handled with suspense and perspective. I enjoyed hearing Adam Schefter's take on my picks. In CF, the bigger, bolder font was strong and aggressive in a way that says modern-day American football.
Game Modes and Options
What I Liked
- Draft Champions
- MUT Rewards
- CF Scouting
- CF Goal Progression
What I Didn’t Like
- No Creating or Editing Draft Classes
Quite honestly, DC is the only addition to the game modes. Luckily, it's pretty fun and addictive.
For those who may not have heard, DC is a new mode that is designed with fantasy football fans in mind. Per EA Sports, the primary objective is to offer a fast and challenging virtual football experience that has variety and keeps gamers coming back for more. DC largely accomplishes its goals.
You are charged with drafting a team capable of winning four games in a row against CPU opponents or other human-controlled DC teams.
It begins with the all-important draft. Picking a coach is first on the docket. This choice is important. It goes beyond picking your favorite coach. The selection of the man on the sidelines also dictates the offensive and defensive playbook your team will use. If you want to run a 3-4 defense, you'll need to select a coach who also carries that philosophy.
Once you've chosen your coach, you will then be given a lineup of base players who fit the chosen scheme but aren't rated any higher than the mid-70s in most cases.
To give you an idea of what to expect, the Baltimore Ravens' Matt Schaub and Philadelphia Eagles' Mark Sanchez are two examples of quarterbacks I've received at the base level.
Don't worry, you will have 15 quick rounds (five minutes for the entire draft, tops) to upgrade your roster.
In each round, you'll be given three choices of good-to-great players to draft. You'll need to keep in mind who your base players are, who you've already drafted, what your team’s scheme is and what style of play you enjoy and excel at. The players available range from solid players and stars of today's game to legends of the sport. The 15th and final round will always give three legends to choose from.
The challenge comes in knowing when to draft a player. Do you allow a player like Cam Newton to pass in hopes of getting Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers or even a legend in the final round?
These are the challenges that await, and they're pretty fun to navigate. After the draft, it's business as usual with traditional Madden-tournament-style gameplay.
DC is great because it gives gamers an opportunity to experience the fantasy football and draft experience all in one. Unlike MUT, gamers don't need to log insane hours or plop down cash to improve their teams. The quick access and level playing field are a major plus.
It would be great if DC evolves into a mode that allows full-season play like MUT. That may be too much to ask the inaugural year for the mode.
We have talked a lot about MUT, and rightfully so. Per EA Sports, the mode across the publisher's catalog of titles has driven the sales of digital purchases up 96 percent in 2014.
The biggest addition to MUT is the inclusion of rewards. MUT gives gamers who played the mode in Madden 15 an opening boost. Per the mode's official Twitter account, the more you played, the more you'll get to start.
It's nice to see loyal fans of the sports video game series rewarded. We should see more of this across the board. That brings me to CF.
There are some really cool things with CF on Madden 16 and some things that should've been added. Let's start with the good news.
The aforementioned game and season goals are not totally new, but the way they are implemented is fresh and engaging.
Instead of giving goals once at the beginning of the week, you'll instead have a constant ticker and tracker at the bottom of the screen during games.
If Matt Forte's single-game goal is 100 yards rushing, every carry is treated like a countdown. The statistical injections aren't intrusive and are easily ignored if you do not care to keep track of them. You can upgrade your players during the season by obtaining these long- and short-term goals. For years it has seemed as if EA Sports has struggled to find a way to get gamers to care about this aspect of CF. This feels like a large step in the right direction.
Scouting is the other aspect of CF that has seen major improvements. Watching the combine numbers and balancing them with a prospect's collegiate production is key to success. The information is presented in a bold and attractive format.
On the negative side, gamers still can't create their own draft classes. EA Sports is married to its concept of prospect storylines, but that apparently is limiting the functionality that CF players can enjoy. Prospects can be created in every other professional team sports video game series, and it's time for Madden to get on board.
Many gamers also play two or more seasons in CF each year, but when the next version of Madden is released, all that virtual history goes off the boards. Carryover saves in CF would be the perfect way to reward those who play one or more seasons year after year.
From a gameplay standpoint, Madden 16 shines as much as the series ever has. Because this is the most important aspect of a game, that fact makes this year's game a success. The addition of DC drives the positives even more. The few negatives are predominantly small legacy issues that most have learned to look past. With excellent gameplay and a fun new mode, the missing pieces are even easier to ignore.
- Graphics and animation: 8.75
- Gameplay and Realism: 8.75
- Sound and Presentation: 8
- Modes and Options: 8.25
- Overall: 8.4
All images from EA Sports
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