Annual sports games aren’t the shiniest piece of software on the market. They aren’t the go to games that show off the power of a new console, nor are they what validate most gamers’ expensive purchase. They are the tried and true, steadfast games that you pick up year in and year out, knowing exactly what to expect. They occasionally slip up here and there, or do something new once in a while to make you take notice, but for the most part, they are some of the sturdiest legs on the coffee table of the gaming industry.
This year Madden NFL 17, is no exception to this rule, as it falls nicely into the box that most sports franchises fall into. It’s not mind-blowing by any means, but it’s had it’s share of tweaks that even a casual fan might even notice from last year. Minor improvements and the addition of new modes and play styles are what make a yearly franchise refreshing, and this year’s Madden adds a lot of polish around the edges, without having too much junk to slow it down. That’s why the developers at EA Tiburon deserve credit for once again throwing in a few new spices to this time tested football recipe.
The biggest improvement comes in the form of the running game. In the constant balancing act between defense and offensive, EA Tiburon has made running much easier and more reliable than in years past. Defenses can no longer get away with a three man rush and hope to win the battle at the line. Blockers now form more open holes for you to hit, and the addition of a vision cone on lower difficulties can help new users get in the hang over busting through the middle for 15 yards. Running the ball has never felt better and it adds a new layer of strategy into every play.
Special teams has also been revamped quite a bit. Trick plays on kicks and punts are all new and much easier to execute when called at the perfect time. Defenders now actually having the ability to block kicks when timing the snap count, which adds more of a thrill to each field goal attempt. The all new kick meter is a thoughtful addition, which makes a 45 yard attempt not as automatic as in years past, adding some uncertainty to the decision making process. However, the small amount of input lag that’s inherent to online games makes timing it a bit of a problem, leading to more missed extra points and kickoffs flying out of bound than ever before. To an extent, it takes the control out of the player’s hands.
For Madden rookies, once again the skills trainer is back and it’s a great way to learn about the game’s basic mechanics. For someone who only watches a few NFL games a week, football can seem like a very dense sport to get into. With it’s complex rules and overwrought terminology, it can be a challenge. Aside from teaching you how to play the game, the skills trainer really dives deep into explaining what different defenses and formations mean, not to mention when to use them. This makes it one of the best ways to learn about football outside of watching a game, and really helps newcomers to the sport be able to understand and enjoy the nuance that comes with the game.
The commentary team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis are a much needed addition, as well, adding a new level of depth to the play-by-play and color commentary. EA Sports has publicized their involvement and how much time they spent locked away in the booth doing voice over work. By virtue of their relatively low profile, they can be brought back week after week for updates to add more insight in the booth as the real life season go on. This adds a amount of immersion that is usually broken a few weeks into Madden once you’ve heard the same audio cues dozens of times.
If you’ve played past games, you’ll be happy to know the online modes have retained most of its glory. Online head-to-heads remain mostly the same, with your rank moving up or down based on a win or defeat and the strength of your opponent, with Draft Champions serving as a new mode. This allows players to draft a whole team filled with legends and all-stars; it’s an fantastic way to try out ultimate team cards that are more rare without having to fork over all of your in-game coins.
The base Madden Ultimate Team mode, in which you build a fantasy team by collecting said cards, has however seen a big change to how it’s online head-to-head season work. No longer do you earn in-game-currency for each game you complete, but instead, at the end of a season, you receive special packs and items. This means that before earning any coins to buy players in the online mode, you’ll have to play ten full games. This might seem like a small inconvenience, but the only reason to take away the constant flow of coins from players, seemingly, is to incentivize the purchase of packs with real money. This change kind of ruins the mode for anyone who doesn’t want to pay up as you constantly face opponents with unstoppable teams. While you can still earn coins from offline games, hardcore players typically me up the ultimate team landscape, and the reward of taking on a AI opponents isn’t the same as playing another person.
As far as offline modes go, franchise mode hasn’t changed a lot. You can create your own or control a litany of players or coaches in order to take your team to a title. The light RPG elements throughout make going to practice and conditioning certain players worthwhile even if it does get a bit tedious at times. The new Play the Moments mode lets you sub in during a simulated game on big downs and key drives. This is a great way to keep new players engaged by having to to play through 3-and-outs in the middle of the second quarter. Play the Moments just fast forwards you to having to make a game saving stop, or get into field goal range at the end of a tied game, basically NFL Red Zone for Madden.
Madden NFL 17 isn’t leaps and bounds ahead of what EA Tiburon was able to accomplish last year, but it builds on a very solid foundation with only a few hiccups and annoyances to speak of. Hardcore fans will take kindly to the gameplay changes while newcomers will have a lot to learn in the tutorial sections as well. Regardless of your skill level, there’s something here for everyone. Football is a game of inches, and as the long running Madden franchise keeps inching forward each year, it leaves fans with hours of gridiron action to look forward to.