It’s the most wonderful time of the year for many a sports fan. The MLB pennant race is really starting to stir, the NHL pre-season is less than a month away, and in just a few short weeks, 32 NFL teams will kick off another long road to the Super Bowl. For many, this is the marker for the beginning of another season of exciting team sports action, and the “New Year” always begins with EA Sports’ Madden series. Time to pop the champagne and dig out the party favours, Madden 16 is finally here.
Madden 16 is developed by EA Tiburon and published by EA Sports
Saying goodbye to Super Bowl XLIX
Nearly one year ago, when I was writing the introduction to my review of the latest Madden entry, I couldn’t have been happier. My Seahawks were Super Bowl Champions, our star cornerback Richard Sherman was on the cover, and I had the pleasure of tying it all together as I led into a look at the newest features of a much-loved gaming franchise.
This year? This year is different.
The final moments of Super Bowl XLIX are a nightmare branded in the hearts and minds of Seahawks fans everywhere, when in the dying seconds of the game, the ‘hawks threw away a huge opportunity to take the lead when a baffling pass play was called on 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line, leading to an interception and shortly thereafter an NFL title for the New England Patriots.
So of course, I wasn’t surprised when I fired up Madden 16 for the first time, and upon launching the “Ultimate Moments” feature – which allows you to relive and rewrite key moments from the 2014-2015 season – and found myself thrust right into that horrible memory. I was the Seahawks, it was 2nd and goal, and the Super Bowl was on the line. I choked back the initial feelings of pain and nausea that resurfaced like an old wound, focused my thoughts, and did the unthinkable – I actually ran the football. I ran it into the endzone like a mack truck, correcting history with every inch as I crossed the goal line. I felt like Scott Backula as Dr. Sam Beckett, finally correcting an past tragedy and hoping that the next Quantum Leap would be the leap home, and with that bit of catharsis out of the way, I let the bitter memory of that infamous moment go, and dug into the joy of a new season of football, starting with the newest features of Madden 16.
Taking your passing game to the next level
Far and away the most exciting new feature in Madden 16 is the new improvements to the passing game. This year, you can easily choose between 5 different types of throws every time you toss the pigskin, giving you unprecedented control over where you place the ball. See a height mismatch between one of your receivers and the defender? Use a “high throw” and let your man dominate the match-up by snagging the pass well above the defender’s reach. Need to drop a pass perfectly into a hole in zone coverage? The “touch pass” will ensure your toss goes just over the reach of the linebackers up from, but not far enough back to risk being grabbed by a swift safety in the backfield.
Lobs, bullet passes, and low throws are all at your disposal as well, and I found executing each type of throw on the fly to be a relatively simple feat. It’s as simple as tapping, double-tapping, or holding the pass button, or holding either left shoulder or trigger button while passing, so there are no really complicated controller mechanics involved. I definitely found these easy to adopt, and yet was surprised at the amount of depth the added to my passing game. I loved reading each play with the best types of pass in mind, and either executing as planned or often even changing it up last minute to hit an open receiver. There’s nothing like intending a low, bullet pass to your tight end in the flats for a short but guaranteed first down, only to realize that your wide receiver downfield has blown past his coverage, and lobbing him a deep bomb over the heads of everybody for a big touchdown.
Check it out as I win the battle with an aggressive catch and haul it in for a touchdown
Making the grab
It’s not just how you throw the ball in Madden 16 however, but how you catch it too. Much like passing, receiving has been given a variety of new options as well, giving you greater control over each reception. There are 3 types of catches – “Aggressive”, “Run after Catch” (RAC), and “Possession”. When making an aggressive catch, your receiver will risk life and limb to catch the ball at its highest point, leaving them vulnerable to hits and injuries, but gaining an edge on defenders, especially in close quarters. Possession catches are the best method for making sure you secure that ball, disregarding the potential for extra yards after the catch. These are ideal for must-convert situations or sideline catches, but your lack of aggression will leave the pass more open to interceptions, etc. Finally, run after catch receptions are just as the name implies, focused on gaining extra yards after the initial catch. While the lure of extra yards is always tempting, be wary of unnecessary incompletions and fumbles.
Making the tackle
You didn’t think the offense got to have all the fun though, did you? Only the other side of the coin, just as the offense can now tailor their intent to suit the play or the situation, so too can the guys that are out to stop them. When defending the pass, you can now choose to either “play the ball” or “play the receiver”. When playing the ball, your man will make his best effort to either intercept or break up the pass. This can lead to big plays both ways – you make come up with a big interception, or you may miss entirely, losing your opportunity to tackle as the receiver breaks down the field. Playing the receiver is the more conservative option, ensuring that a tackle is effectively in the books, ending a play at the point of reception.
Overall I found these new receiving and defensive tactics very appealing. Since the choice is made on the fly while the ball is still in the air, it’s easy to change up your tactics at the last minute based on how the play develops. The AI is generally tasked with determining the path of both receiver and defender prior to the reception, which leaves you completely free to play this game of receiving strategy. Frankly I found this to be a huge improvement, and it genuinely gives a fresh look on pass offense and defense in the Madden franchise.
On the last play and with the game on the line, Buffalo makes a play for the comeback, but I lock in and wrap the receiver up with a sure tackle to maintain the victory.
So many ways to play
As always, Madden 16 has a number of interesting game modes, including a very extensive skills training regiment and accompanying “Gauntlet” challenge, season after season of full simulation gameplay in “Connected Franchise”, local co-op and online play, and many more. I’m going to focus on two of my favourite modes, the first of which is the brand new “Draft Champions” mode.
Draft champions is Madden 16‘s version of fantasy football. Here you’ll get to draft your own unique team made up of both current NFL players and even some past legends and take them on either a 3 or 4 games series versus either the CPU, or other user’s drafted teams. Each team starts out with a coaching style and a playbook, as well as a limited number of picks at each round, and for each position, so the keen strategy that goes along with fantasy drafting is definitely a big part of the game. The best pick in each round isn’t necessarily the highest rated player or the biggest name. You’ll want to be clever in drafting towards your team’s play style, filling gaps that better assist your team overall, as opposed to just choosing every elite name that comes across the board.
Since a Draft Champion series is so short, it’s a fun way to spend a couple hours in Madden 16 and feel like you’ve accomplished something, compared to the daunting undertaking of simulating an entire season in franchise mode, for example. And the best part about Draft Champion mode? It crosses over and provides rewards in Madden Ultimate Team!
…And what about that Madden Ultimate Team mode?
As always, Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) mode is where I spend most of my time in Madden. The allure of opening packs of cards, filling out my roster, and competing in a wide variety of matches and challenges to unlock more packs and rewards is difficult for me to resist. Of course the downside with Ultimate Team mode with any EA Sports title is always the micro-transactions (yes, you can grind away on reward packs alone, but it’s so easy and so tempting to throw a few bucks in and open some new cards), so approach MUT with caution. Outside of the micro-transaction dilemma however, there are plenty of fun things to do in MUT while playing around with your carefully crafted squad. There are tons of bite size challenges and solo matches will keep you interested while you work towards your collection, or you can test your team head to head against a friend’s. Once you feel like you’re ready to take on anybody, try entering a head to head season for a chance at winning a MUT Super Bowl Championship!
Ok honestly, did the booth make the right call?!?! You decide.
Sights and sounds
Madden 16 remains as visually stunning as it was in last year’s iteration. I actually played my first couple hours on a lower resolution monitor via the Playstation TV before heading over to my main home theatre, and I was surprised to see just how staggering the difference was in contrast to my high end setup. This game just looks magnificent. Another neat new touch are augmented broadcast graphics, which show up at key times to overlay replays and cutscenes with milestones, statistical information, and the like. Realistic game sounds and crowd noise really add to the overall experience as well, although I did seem to have some oddly repeating issues with the voice-over tracks, as the announcers seem to have difficulty understanding certain basic situations. For example, on multiple occasions, an announcer would remark that the scoring team had “added to their lead” with a touchdown, when in reality they had been trailing in the score, and only just taken the lead instead. Very confusing.
2015 marks a strong year for the annualized Madden franchise. The updated passing game makes it one of the most enjoyable experiences on offense in recent memory, and the addition of Draft Champion as a game mode adds a new level to the already dense amount of gameplay. Madden Ultimate Team is as addictive as I expected it to be – it strives to welcome newer players into the fold with intuitive beginner objectives, and keep them there with tons of challenges and features. The game is as visually appealing as ever, and remains in the upper echelon of titles that I truly appreciate playing on the largest screen in my house. All in all, Madden 16 kicks of the 2015 – 2016 season on a very high note.
+ New pass mechanics
+ Draft Champion mode
+ Exceptional graphics and interface
– Occasionally off-point commentator audio
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5
Overall Rating 4.5/5 (90%)