Okay, let’s be real for just a second. Most likely this is far from the first Madden review that you’ve ever read. Lord knows that this isn’t the first Madden review I’ve ever written. To put it bluntly, I think I’m fresh out of original ways to introduce this series. Honest. This is what total mental bankruptcy looks like.
What do you say I do us both a solid and cut out the cliché hyperbole and fast forward to the part that you actually care about: THE ACTUAL GAME. So where were we? Oh, right! Remember back last season when the good folks at EA Sports decided that it was time to turn their focus towards ratcheting up the quality of the passing and receiving mechanics? Well this time the pendulum has swung rather dramatically into the backfield. If there were a theme for Madden NFL 17, it would have to be “The Year of the Run.”
Ground and Pound
The evolution to the ground game does a great job catering to the varying different styles of halfback present in the game today. For the finesse backs that earn their keep utilizing quick feet and up field acceleration, there are a series of new quick-time-like sequences that significantly change up the action. When quick-time presses are successfully strung together, legions of defensemen will be left munching on Astroturf. However, for an entirely different collection of runners, the mere concept of juking and jiving is hilarious. These smash-mouth, straight-ahead sloggers will be able to take better advantage of the enhanced effectiveness of the right stick, when powering forward through a defensive front.
Regardless of the specific skillsets of the backs, the main tweak is more about how the physics of each run feed into the momentum of the player’s movements. Lowering the head and diving forward will rarely result in the old, “hitting a brick wall,” experience that was so prevalent in prior outings. In addition, quick sidesteps seem to carry more weight and as a result lead to more glancing blows and slipped tackles. All of these changes are very welcome refinements to an already comprehensive on-field simulation.
For those of you that tend to lean more on a west-coast style offense, don’t worry. Receivers will also be able to take advantage of these enhanced running mechanics. However, these will mainly be applicable to yards being accrued after the catch. If nothing else, this return to the fundamentals of the sport should hopefully help level the playing field a bit. Those that complained in previous years had become far too passing reliant will finally get the chance to lead an offense onto the gridiron that would make Lloyd Carr smile. Just as the prophecy had foretold, Madden 17 has finally restored balance to the force.
Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary
As with every other iteration in the Madden franchise, the on-the-field tweaks are just the tip of the iceberg. Virtually every mode in the game has seen at least some additions, many of which were driven by community feedback. This is one of the advantages of having a yearly series. There is just enough turn-around time for fans to see their request come to fruition in a matter of months.
One of the areas that received special attention was the venerable franchise mode. My personal favorite addition to franchise is the new, “Play the Moments,” feature. Taking a page from the MLB: The Show’s “Road to the Show,” this method of fast-simming through the season allows the player to fast-forward through a majority of the digital chaff and intervene in the action at key junctures. On both offense and defense, every time the player is in control, they are making a dramatic impact on the outcome of a game. Another added benefit is that the task of burning though a season has suddenly become far more feasible and attainable. As a busy husband and father with a full time job, I can appreciate the chance to burn through a couple of games and their respective pre-game training, in a matter of an hour. It is worth noting that “Play the Moments,” is a purely optional mode. Players can still choose be as hands-on or hands-off as they want. It is just a welcome change of pace to be able to complete an entire season in a week, as opposed to a month of continuous nightly gameplay.
Another rather interesting evolution over last season’s version is the entirely new team in the announcer’s booth. You may not know the names of Charles Davis or Brandon Gaudin, but this new pairing plans to bring the sport to life on a week-by-week basis. Despite the commentary seeming rather pedestrian at launch, this year’s voice-over track will evolve over the course of the season. Based off of the events of each week, the announcer crew will be recording new dialog that will be pushed out to the console through incremental updates. Though this plan sounds crazy and ambitious on paper, it genuinely has the potential to change the way that modern sports titles approach play-by-play. Let’s just hope that Gaudin and Davis jell a bit more as the campaign goes along, because the duo has a long way to go to match the gravitas and insight brought by greats like Phil Sims and Jim Nantz.
The other notable modes, Ultimate Team and last year’s new addition, Draft Champions, appear to have been given the least amount of attention this off-season. Not to say that they necessarily needed much refining, but compared to the franchise mode, the lack of progress is slightly disappointing. That said, both offerings are still supremely entertaining and go a long way towards fleshing out an already insanely robust 2017 offering.
The Good, The Bad and the Exploitive
For everything that is good about Madden 17, there are still plenty of areas that could use refinement. The first area is in the way that player models interact with each other, especially post-play. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to hear a play be whistled dead, only to see a gang pile of a half dozen opposing players all stand up in unison, using painfully similar animations. I mean, how is it possible for models to have essentially stacked themselves like digital Lincoln logs? And don’t even get me started on limbs that stretch at odd points of articulation or joints that bend in ways that would land a normal athlete on the disabled list for the rest of eternity. Also, occurrences of model clipping are prevalent throughout the post-play interstitials. While these aren’t showstoppers by any stretch of the imagination, it is just immersion-breaking enough to detract from what would otherwise be considered a fantastically authentic presentation. Hell, they even went as far as to have Gatorade and Snickers commercials between quarters! If that isn’t attention to detail, (albeit shameless product placement) then I don’t know what is!
As was mentioned earlier, there have been dramatic improvements to the overall running game this year. While that has been a gigantic step in the right direction, this does tend to lead to some rather far-fetched running scenarios. It may not be out of the ordinary to see someone like Adrian Peterson break a dozen tackles when busting off an 80-yard run, but when you are playing as the Detroit Lions’ Theo Riddick, that probably shouldn’t be happening anywhere near as frequently. This isn’t any worse than the boost that receivers were anointed with last season, but it does inject an air of implausibility on a semi-frequent basis.
The last major complaint associated with Madden 17 comes down to the excessive grinding necessary to be successful in Ultimate Team. Yes, this has been an issue with the mode since its inception, but for some reason, this time around seems far more offensive than in prior iterations. The rate at which gold is accrued is terrible at best and exploitive at worst. Players will need to grind for days in order to earn enough currency to unlock a single new pack of player cards. Unfortunately, these packs are a necessary evil in order to improve your squad enough to even pretend to be competitive. It is almost as if EA is not so subtly trying to urge their audience to dig into their wallets and spend even more money on a title that already costs $60 at retail. If they wanted to cut us a break and sell the base game for $25, I would be more than happy to invest money into making my Ultimate Team, well, the ultimate team. However, as I alluded to earlier, I am a busy person that doesn’t have enough hours in my life to grind my way to success. This unfortunately renders what should be an immensely compelling experience, a benchwarmer.
A Strong Finish
At the risk of sounding too cliché, Madden 17 was the next necessary and logical progression that the series needed to make. The evolution of mechanics, both on and off the gridiron are a staple of what keeps fans coming back each season. With the offensive balance now restored, games will be more true to what the audience consumes weekly on television, while still keeping things at least moderately approachable. Additionally, spending the past nine months focusing on what the fans deemed to be most important is just one of many eye opening steps in the right direction. This may not be the best Madden title ever, but it is definitely the most promising entry this console generation.
Review code for Madden NFL 17 provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.