Madden NFL 16 Review – Down, Set, Hut!
The NFL season is rapidly approaching and that means another Madden game is also upon us. Annual sports franchises tend to have a decent fan base, as long as the sport is actually popular, so it’s no surprise that Madden sales do well every year. EA could just sit back, add a little spit and polish, throw in the new names and player movements for the roster updates, slap a shiny new cover on the case, and rake in the dough. Luckily for us sports fans, EA didn’t.
Keeping in mind that I have been playing Madden since its inception, I’ve seen it grow and mature to the beast that is Madden 16. As a game reviewer, it’s not easy to look at a game as a separate entity, completely apart from previous versions. Sports franchises like Madden or MLB: The Show have to be weighed against their previous releases in order to determine if they are more than just a simple roster update and, most importantly, if they are worthy of YOUR hard earned money. After all, it is you, our faithful readers, that we review games for. With that being said, let’s kick this off.
When you first start the game you are thrown into Super Bowl 50 where EA has determined it will be the Pittsburgh Steelers, looking for ring number seven, against the Arizona Cardinals who just happen to be oldest continuously run professional football team in the United States. Not exactly sure how they picked this match-up, but it’s your goal to make sure the Cardinals’ 67-year championship drought continues. The majority of the game is scripted, but you’ll take control on several key situations that will introduce you to some of the new game mechanics and also determine the story arch of the game. I played through it a couple times, making some bad plays just to see how the alternate scenarios played out.
For the Madden rookies out there, and even for you long time veterans of the series, heading to the Gatorade Skills Trainer should be your first stop once you make it to the main menu. Rookies can jump into the “Help! I am new to Madden” mode to learn the basics of American Football while you veterans need to head to the Basic Offense and Defense sections. The new mechanics of passing, catching and defending should be at least learned, if not mastered, if one really wants to rule the Madden world.
Let’s say it’s third and goal from the eight, Eli is in the Shotgun and Odell Beckham Jr. is double teamed on the outside by two corner backs and there’s a safety in the end zone lined up to help cover him. In the past you would probably forget about him and maybe try to hit a receiver on the other side or someone over the middle for a decent gain and try to rush the last yard or two into the end zone. With Madden 16 you now have a new option that will allow receivers like Beckham or Dez Bryant to do what they do in real life: Make a spectacular catch, over the top of multiple defenders, by using a jump ball mechanic that gives these tall receivers a true-to-life advantage. As a quarterback you now have more options when it comes to passing that allows this jump ball to happen, and as a receiver there’s new catching mechanics that finishes the method.
As a QB you have three basic passing methods: lobbing it, throwing a bullet, or a nice little touch pass. You can also throw it high, low or in the chest depending on what the situation calls for. If you’re tight end is cutting across the middle, a nice low touch pass works great with little worry of him missing it and it ending up in a free safety’s hands. Keep in mind that low passes don’t work too well for a QB with low accuracy, so don’t expect every QB in the league to be overly successful at it. The high lob is perfect for the jump ball scenario, just as long as you have a guy that can go up and get it. That’s just half of the new method though as the receiver now has multiple options for catching the ball.
Your receivers now have three reception options that are available once the ball is thrown. The Run After Catch reception will have him ready to run as soon as he makes the catch, but beware of taking a hit as the ball is much more easily jarred loose than if you use the Possession Catch, which is great for short yardage pick-ups and taking hits. Don’t expect any extra yards, though, as this is designed to make sure your guy holds onto the ball and pick-up whatever yardage the defense gave you on the play. The jump ball scenario uses the Aggressive Catch method, but like the RAC, it can leave your receiver open to a big hit and possible injury, with little to no yards after the catch. I’ve had a few passes where my receiver went up after a ball down the field, and then ran for a TD after the catch using the aggressive approach, so it’s not exactly a given that he won’t be able to run after the catch, just don’t expect it often.
Something New to the Game
Also new this year is the concept of a “Shot” play, where one or two receivers run deep routes down the field while the tight ends and running back stay in to block. QBs are then free to “take a shot” down the field to try and exploit a defensive mismatch or punish a secondary that’s cheating up. If it seems like an AI quarterback is nickel-and-diming the ball down the field stay on your toes, when you start to creep up to take away the short routes he may attempt a deep throw to make the big play.
With all these new features on Offense, the Defense needed some new tools to try to offset them and EA obliged. When a pass is thrown holding Triangle will cause the defender to attempt to take the optimal path to the ball in an attempt to make an interception or, at the very least, break up the pass. Playing the ball is also likely to trigger a two-man interaction if the receiver is making an aggressive play. There is risk to playing the ball though, because if you’re out of position or the receiver snaps up the ball you may miss out on an opportunity to make a tackle. For that reason, it’s best to play the ball only if there is defensive help in the area.
A more conservative option of defense is to opt to play the receiver by pressing X, and going for the big hit/tackle as he catches the ball. While you won’t attempt to intercept the pass, you can practically guarantee a tackle, or possible break up the pass by hitting an exposed player who’s making an aggressive catch. Playing the receiver is a great option on third down if a catch is going to be made short of the first down marker, and is also useful if you’re over-matched in the open field and are better off trying to bring the receiver down rather than potentially giving up a big gain or a TD.
While a lot of emphasis was put on the new passing and defending system, the running game got reworked a little as well and felt a little more fluid overall. Running through the Skills Trainer is a great way to see the polished system. Understanding things like Hat Count may help you understand the defensive scheme your facing and allow your running game to complement your passing game better. Having a running game is still based on the effectiveness of your Offensive Line, so don’t expect a miraculous running game with a mediocre O Line. Learning to use the precision modifier with a burst of speed can get you some extra yards if your O Line fails you though.
I was invited to EA Redwood Studio offices in Redwood Shores, CA. last week to be introduced to the newest mode for the Madden Series called Draft Champions. As a football fan, I’ve played in the same ESPN fantasy football league with the same group of guys for going on six years now (my fantasy football career goes back decades and started out on paper-only leagues) and the most exciting part of every season is usually our draft day (draft day for this upcoming season is coming up in a couple weeks so I’m already stoked for it). EA has taken that concept and built it into their new Draft Champions mode where you select one of three head coaches, get a base team built around the philosophy of your selected coach, and then have 15 rounds of selections to help build a better team. Coaches like Jason Garret are known for their speed running game, and you’ll have options to upgrade his staff accordingly, but you’ll also have guys that don’t quite fit his schemes but might be too good to pass up. Don’t get too used to your line-up, because once you finish an event you’ll start all over again with a new draft.
EA put together a custom Draft Champions mode, single elimination tournament for those of us in the press that were invited to their studios, and had us face off in a LAN party to show us how the mode worked. I fared pretty well, even though we were playing on Xbox Ones, and I even came out victorious in a double OT victory in my quarter-final match. Not so much in my semi-final as I hit what I thought was the X button (yeah Xbox controllers are not my forte as the A button resides where my PlayStation X would be) and I was picked off to end the game down by three. It was still and awesome day chatting with other members of the press and the developers and playing the game. Big thanks to EA for having me and hosting the event.
Connected Franchise Mode also got a new feature this year with in-game drive goals that dynamically update every time you switch between offense and defense. Starting out you may be challenged to pick up two first downs in your first drive in order to build momentum, or get your quarterback in rhythm by completing three passes in a row. Drive goals also appear on defense, and consist of actions such as getting a sack with a certain player, holding the opposition below a certain number of yards or forcing the opposing team to punt. Goals also take the game situation into account, so late in a game where you are leading you may be given tasks runs the clock, or in a tight game you’ll strive to keep the opposition out of field goal range. Achieving these goals give your players boosts in XP and confidence, and can be used later to upgrade them.
Madden Ultimate Team has returned and has some new bells and whistles for you to play with (pro tip: Play through the skills trainer to unlock Ultimate Team Packs for better players). Ultimate Moments are bite-sized challenges that drop you into specific situations and challenge you to claim victory with a limited amount of time. Real world situations from past games will be added as they happen throughout the season, so this mode can be revisited weekly. Thankfully Solo Challenges will now remember where you left off and provide a continue option right up front. No more hunting through a long list of challenges to find where you stopped. Solo Challenges also have greater variety in location, time of day and more, making them feel more dynamic and varied.
EA took Madden NFL 15 and did quite a bit more than just add a roster update for Madden NFL 16. While the graphics for ’15 were already top notch, adding in a bunch of new HD scans improved on the appearances of just about every player in the game for ’16. This is a gorgeous game with lifelike animations for everything from diving for a touchdown to a spectacular catch. Stadiums are true to life with crowds that look alive and are varied enough that they don’t look like cardboard cut outs filling the stands, with time and weather variations that add to the overall look and feel of the game.
Madden NFL 16 truly is more than just a roster update as EA added enough new features to kick the game up a notch to another level. The question now is: what can they do for Madden 17?
Madden NFL 16 reviewed at EA review event for press, with EA also providing a copy of the game for the reviewer. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.