There is something about yearly franchises. They seem to encourage the thought that they have cut corners in some way, whether this is that the game has just had a coat of polish or a couple new players or maps have been added and nothing more. Whilst this accusation could be thrown at a few titles, is Madden NFL 16 one of them?
With a new mode called Draft Champions as well as “significant” improvements across the majority of areas, Madden NFL 16 is being billed as an upgrade on previous years iterations. These upgrades, we are told make Madden NFL 16 the best Madden in years. This is the sort of statements we come to expect from EA Sports titles, in fact the only thing more certain than these statements is that Madden NFL 17 will be released next year.
Madden has never really released a poor game, the technical expertise on display has always managed to win fans around in forgiving any shortcomings. This year the technical simulation aspect seems to have been cranked up a couple of gears rather than just one, not through the addition of overly complex controls which leave even the hardened veteran of the franchise exasperated at attempting to perform a 20 button combination just to throw the ball, but instead through improving the presentation aspect.
You may look at previous years Maddens and wonder what on earth I’m talking about as the visuals on Madden have always been good year on year. However the visuals are stellar in comparison and its little tweaks that cause this enhancement. Small camera adjustments make you feel more part of the game whether this be zooming out from your quarterback to watch an amazing one handed catch from your receiver in between two defenders or zooming into a rushing attacker, hindering your vision so a blindside hit comes as more of a surprise – it’s the little things. Stats now pop up on the main screen next to the players they relate to rather than scrolling across the bottom of the screen, the whole thing has much more of a TV feel to it than ever before.
One of the next big upgrades is to the passing game. The standard fare of where and who you are going to pass to remains, but the inclusion of a mini game-esque battle between the defenders and receivers is truly the icing on the cake. In previous years receiving passes was one of the most soul destroying and risky aspects that you could take on. Disrupt the receivers route slightly and you could guarantee the AI would intercept. This lead to a majority of people, myself included, to just let the route develop and launch the ball into the air and let the AI battle itself to make the catch.
This year you can take control of the receiver with the touch of a button whilst the ball is in the air and then make one of three choices in regards to which type of catch he will make. A Possession catch will make your receiver dig his feet into the ground and pulls the ball into his body; whilst the safest of the three catches it is also the least likely to gain you any additional yardage with the defenders quickly tackling you to the floor. Next up is the Run After Catch (RAC) option which is a less secure type of catch best played when the receiver is currently in motion with the defender slightly behind him. The receiver tends to drop the ball more often with this type of catch as his focus is also on where on the pitch he is running.
The most entertaining, although least realistic, is the aggressive catch where your receiver tries to outjump the surrounding defenders to catch the ball at a high point. These are absolutely spectacular and something you find a handful of on a season highlight reel not a handful per game as you tend to find here. Although I’m quite sure, with the consoles inbuilt game capture, the next 12 months will be full of amazing leaps and one handed catches. Once you tie the types of catches with the reverse of what type of interception you will attempt when defending – again aggressive, knock down and tackle – you end up with an almost chess type strategy beginning to develop.
The Franchise mode returns giving you the opportunity to take a team to the top as either a player, a coach, or an owner, and this is where your created players will develop over the course of many (game) years. As you begin initially you are the rookie and will be lucky to be the 2nd string quarterback, only coming on when the game is safe. This may mean you play a half or you may just take control for a single play, just remember to make the most of it because if you screw it up you could find yourself not playing at all.
The big upgrade for the Franchise mode is the addition of Goals which you work towards during the course of a game, a season and in some cases your entire career. These can be anything from throwing 30 passing yards in a game or making 50 touchdowns in a season to achieving 5000 completions over the course of your career. Fulfilling these objectives will result in a greater XP yield for your player and team, as well as boosting their Confidence ability.
Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) also returns this year and although it can easily be a money sink it is more than possible to have a good time without spending any money. We all know what the Fantasy Football, Trading Card hybrid is all about by now. The Panini sticker album “Gotta collect ‘em all” aspect remains strong however, for me personally, this isn’t as strong as FIFA Ultimate Team, but this could be more to do with my knowledge level of current and historic superstars on the American Football field is much more limited than with the Soccer styled football game. This isn’t helped when you start out with a team of awful players. The weekly challenges however will keep you coming back for more as you aim to build a better and better team.
The big new feature this year is Draft Champions. This is almost a quick pick up and play version of the Ultimate team as you are given a basic team before you enter a 15 round draft. As each round goes by you select a single player from a choice of three to help mould your team round your playstyle. The players you choose are some of the best in the game as well as the occasional legend (the card is emblazoned with their year of super success as well as the words Legend – pretty hard to ignore). Once the team is complete you can play the single player gauntlet where you aim to win three games in a row to earn a Madden Ultimate Team bonus or you can hop online to take on other people’s Draft Champions teams. Lose once however and you will be back to square one and creating another team with all new players, this is as close to a procedurally generated experience a sports title can get.
Overall, many people complain that sports titles don’t change enough year on year to warrant purchase after purchase. That is far from the truth with Madden NFL 16, with cleverly integrated new features and a new unique experience in Draft Champions which changes each time you lose is something not seen before in any other sports title. Simply put, the hype is true, this IS the best Madden in years.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 9/10 Format: Xbox One/PlayStation 4/PC Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Madden NFL 16 by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of five days. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.