Around this time, every year, I find myself counting down to another football season. Part of the process of my personal countdown is picking up the newest edition of Madden and every year I make the same mistake. I go to the store and pick up a copy of Madden (insert year here), only to be met with the sense of mediocrity time and time again. Modes I once liked disappear, features I once enjoyed have been modified, and the primary focus of the game is almost always drawn towards microtransactions.
Let’s begin digging into a franchise that practically prints money and doesn’t have to change, even though it should. Starting off, Madden 17, is much like its predecessors in the series. We start off with a glamorous opening segment, where we see our beloved cover athlete destroy his competition. In the case of Madden 17, we see cover athlete Rob Gronkowski overpower the New York Jets secondary and score some quick touchdowns. Original right? Next, we see a Madden Moment unfold in front of our eyes. The setting is the L.A Rams and the Washington Redskins facing off in an NFC wild-card match-up. Usually, these before-the-game style moments are designed to be used as mini tutorials, allowing EA to show off new elements of the game. In this case, we get to see our defense block a field goal attempt and set us up to take the number one pick Jared Goff of the NFL’s newly relocated L.A Rams on a two-minute drill, which you are guaranteed to be successful. Again, sound familiar?
It wouldn’t be a Madden game without familiarity, however, when it comes to gameplay, I’ll be the first to admit that some of the changes made were more than welcome. Gameplay was much more fluent, as realistic movements became a heavy focus for the development team. Users now have the ability to have playing prompts appear above their avatar as they run down the field, allowing unique options and control for the circumstances. An example of this feature being used at its full potential is with a team like the New England Patriots. In a first down situation, the team would use their star running back, giving you a more versatile and quicker attack to an opposing team’s defensive line. Flip that to a third down or short yardage situation where they would use a much stronger, brute force type running back, allowing the user to plow through an opposing line with ease. This made running plays both fun and strategic as users now have a reason to have more than one running back on their team.
EA wasn’t done there, they also did another major overhaul on receivers. Players of the franchise should remember how last year’s game allowed players to make ridiculous, circus-like catches with anyone on the field. This infuriated many users in the online community as many users were figuring out ways to exploit this feature by using players with higher speed rankings; even if they weren’t high-level players. Fear no more, as of now only players with “highlight making” abilities with an high catcher rating are able to make these catches.
Flipping our attention to defense, EA has once again worked incredibly hard on making the task of defense, less of a chore and more of an experience when it comes to playing Madden by implementing a similar timing system that is used in the NHL games for blocking shots. Players now have the improved ability to dive for balls; both while defending players and trying to block kicks. I’d like to consider myself an avid player of the franchise and I personally have only seen one kick block in the last two years. Over the course of the first five hours playing Madden 17, I saw seven field goal blocks. SEVEN (yes, you read that right). While it has become a focus in the gameplay mechanics, even in ALL PRO and ALL MADDEN this element was far too easy. Hopefully, after some patches and updates it will get a little bit harder.
Speaking of updates, the all new kicking system is by far my favourite addition to the game. By going from the stick kicking mechanic to a three-button system, Madden now challenges players to use timing to their advantage as they have to battle both wind and a kicking window to blast the ball through the uprights. Punting and kickoffs were both affected by the changes as well. While trying to complete a kickoff the player is now responsible for fully aiming the kick while also judging the power. One advantage to this is that the frequency of a ball flying through the end zone has been greatly reduced, however, this has also severely underpowered the squib kick, rendering it useless.
Where Madden 17 excels year after year is the presentation of the game. Once again I sat in front of my monitor in awe. The sheer beauty and detail that goes into this franchise time and time again is what keeps me coming back. From the moment you start the game, you will immediately notice that there have been changes to the game’s main menu. While some users are quick to comment on Madden’s “windows” style menu interface, its elegance, and flow are provide the quick access into the game that users are looking for.
When looking deeper into the game, both the Madden Ultimate Team mode and Franchise modes underwent major facelifts. Starting with MUT, you can tell that streamlined gameplay was the on the minds of the developers. The menus have become easier to navigate, online auctions are the easiest they have ever been, and setting lineups is super quick and intuitive. Not once did I feel like I wasn’t fielding the best team available. MUT continues to deliver an experience where you can only field the best team possible based on the rate you earn coins. While playing games is a great way to grind and increase your coin total, MUT also still relies on the user’s thirst to get better, faster while using their wallet as opposed to skill. Franchise mode has probably become one of the most entertaining modes in recent memory. This mode gives users freedom of choice for everything team related. Every decision counts as you make your way through each season. Users have the ability to manipulate everything from weekly practice choices to the cost of team merchandise in this fully immersive game mode. One feature that really made things interesting was the ability to play the game using the “play the moment” simulator. This mode allowed you to jump into games by deciding the moments you want to play. Not feeling so confident on defense? No problem, wait until the offense hits the field for a two-minute drill and hop into the action. I found this playstyle really fun when I wanted to get in a quick game or two while toying around with the chemistry of my team.
Madden 17 also brought back the very popular draft champions mode, allowing users to draft 15 players in a fantasy styled setting. Making each pick is important, as they could influence which type of player pops up in a later round. I drafted three teams to see if I could uncover a pattern and learned the hard way that nothing is the same in this mode. If you see that 90 rated WR you might want to take him as you may not see him again. However, if you do take him you may just miss out on a high-level RB since you have altered the how the game will generate players. In three attempts to draft the perfect team, I managed to draft pretty well considering the game changed so frequently.
Lastly, when talking about presentation it’s hard to ignore the fact that Phil Simms and Jim Nantz have been replaced by the likes of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis. These guys have made the commentary both fresh and fun. Paired with the all quotes live feature, Madden 17 promises to always have fresh content being uploaded to their servers. Essentially quotes live will bring real world events into the game that are being recorded weekly. An example of this is the commentators talking about how the Baltimore Ravens stopped a preseason game to show the fans a race of Olympian Michael Phelps going for gold. An event which only happened a few weeks ago.
Visually, the game pleases the masses as each year games get better graphics. The players look good and, as said before, move in a much more fluent way. The overhead display has been cleaned up and has included an ingame ticker to give you the feel of any NFL Sunday. It was slightly surreal to be lining up for a snap and seeing that the Broncos had just scored a touchdown and are up five on your division rival.
The value of the game is exactly what you would expect it is. If you are a fan of the franchise, you’re going to buy Madden 17, simple as that. I know it and EA knows it. While the game can and will give you hours upon hours of fun; whether it be playing with your buddies locally or jumping online to prove your supremacy to the Madden community. The game comes with everything you need out of the box to enjoy another year of Madden gaming. For those who want to spend their money on the game, the microtransactions are there for you to help improve your team and drive up auction prices for everyday users.
While Madden 17 is another addition to the wildly popular franchise, it’s hard not to compare this addition against those in the past. With improvements made to the overall gameplay and control, this year’s edition hit the mark. However, with no new modes introduced and the game being simplified and streamlined to increase playability, Madden 17 definitely took a step backward when it came to original and new content. Overall the game is presented with a fresher look and newer feel to make you forget that the game is practically a roster update. With this being said, as a franchise fan, I get the game for what it is and not what it could be. A mediocre game with a high replay value.
This review is based on a copy of Madden 17 for the Xbox One.