Review: Madden NFL 15 (PS4)

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Title: Madden NFL 15
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (15.4 GB)
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $69.99 (Ultimate Edition)
ESRB Rating: E
Madden NFL 15 is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One and Xbox 360.
The PlayStation 4 disc based version (Standard Edition) was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 386 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
Defense, Defense, Defense. That’s the name of the game in this year’s Madden offering. For most players, myself included, defense in years past has been that chore you suffer through while trying to get back to the fun. EA listened to the complaints and made a comprehensive overhaul and it’s one of the best additions to the game in years.

The ability to lock in to a single player on Defense and watch the play unfold from their point of view is something Madden has been sorely lacking over the years. This is more than just a change in the camera angle, especially if you’re locked in to one of the Defensive Linemen. Time it correctly and you’ll get a good jump off the line with the snap of the ball. Contextual button icons will pop up helping you get past the Offensive Line. I haven’t felt this engaged in the Defensive scheme of a Football game in years. The old way of handling the Defense is still a part of the game so it’s nothing you’re locked in to if you don’t like it.

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Another big change is in the Training and Drills. The developers appear to have taken a huge step towards realizing the vision John Madden originally had for the game which was a teaching tool. With more than fifty training scenarios and drills, you’ll be able to put together an incredible set of skills while peeling back the mysteries of beating Defensive sets with the Passing game.

You’re given step-by-step instructions on how to recognize and beat different Defensive schemes. You’ll be focusing on the Safeties and Cornerbacks to help read coverage and spotting Key Defenders so you can adjust strategies depending on how they react.

It was amazing to go through the entire Skills Trainer and then take that knowledge directly into a game. In doing so, I felt more comfortable and in control of the Offense than I ever have.

The last piece of the Skills Trainer section is called The Gauntlet. Essentially a series of mini-games with a “Boss” at every fifth level. It’s actually a fun way to brush up on your skills and challenge yourself with a number of different game situations.

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Making all of this work also depends heavily on calling the right plays and that has been overhauled this year as well. You’ll have all of the familiar ways to call plays, by Formation, Play Type, etc. but the new Suggestion area will change the game dramatically for many players. Based on data compiled by EA during the Alpha and Beta of the game and updating live throughout the lifespan of the game with every single play that every connected player makes, it’s nothing short of revolutionary.

You’ll be given a few choices based on the historical preferences of the team you’re playing. When I’m playing against the Steelers for example, I’m told that 62% of the time, the Steelers will run a curl pattern on Second and Long and I’ll be offered a Defensive choice that counters that type of play specifically. Another choice will include the Defensive scheme chosen by the majority of Madden players from around the Globe when facing the same situation along with its effectiveness.

Obviously you don’t have to follow any of these choices, but in seeing what other people are doing and how effective it is, it becomes much easier to uncover flaws or weaknesses in your own game and it can make you a much better player overall.

You’ll also notice a lot more hints on screen designed to help novice players and veterans alike with gentle reminders about which buttons to push and when. They’re small and brief enough that they’re not really distracting, but a welcome addition if you need them.

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The Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) cash cow has been given a number of additions to help new players get their feet wet. If you want, you’ll be taken through the mode step-by-step to help you gain a thorough understanding of how it all works and I actually found it to be very useful.

When you get into MUT, you’ll be given a set of tasks to complete which help you learn how it all works. You can skip them if you want and go straight into a game, but completing them unlock MUT Card packs making them a worthwhile endeavor. The changes here are enough that it actually got my interest this year and I’ll probably actually play it rather than completely ignore it as I have in years past.

Sounds great so far, right? It is, it really is. However… the longer you play, the more the cracks in the foundation become apparent. Clipping begins to rear its ugly head as body parts will pass through each other. Granted, it’s with much less frequency than in years past, but it’s there. Scooby Doo movement and players pivoting on one foot mid-run also make an appearance. When tackling, it seems to be 50/50 as to whether the players will react fairly realistically or whether they’ll go into a kind of “body lock” mode and fall down in a rigor mortis like state.

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If you play casually you may never notice these issues, but if you play multiple games back-to-back for several hours at a time it slowly becomes apparent and is a bit of a letdown. I get it, it’s a new platform and the first one built in the new engine but these are the same issues that have been plaguing the franchise for years so I think it’s important that they’re mentioned here.

I also ran into a handful of nasty bugs while playing including one where everyone walked away from the ball at the end of the play and I wasn’t able to do anything as the Play Call clock counted down to one second and then froze. After hitting every button on the controller I tried a Time Out which worked but also worked heavily against me having to burn it at the start of the Third Quarter for no reason than to get the game working again.

As I said before, these issues are much less prevalent than in previous installments of the game but they were enough to be noticeable and detract from the game that I had to mention them.

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Visuals:
I’ll just say this right up front, this is clearly the best looking Madden ever made. With more detail in the stadiums and crowds, more realistic uniforms and textures and lighting like you’ve never seen in a sports game, Madden NFL 15 has raised the bar for visuals.

With a new “NFL Films style presentation”, the goal is to bring you into the game in a more personal way than ever before. It’s kind of a mixed bag here as well unfortunately but a step in the right direction. At the start of the game a computer generated version of the stadium is built and the camera swoops in as the full stadium textures, crowds, players and all are overlaid. We get a number of new animations and looks which help beef up the presentation a bit.

Fortunately, we’re no longer subjected to the handful of fans and their canned animations. On the down side though, they appear to have been replaced by canned animations of the Coach and Quarterback, the first Huddle and other major events. We see the same exact events and movements performed over and over with different teams.

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But like everything else in the game, it comes with a few caveats. Many of the players still have that ‘dead eyes’ kind of look, the three cameraman models are back and once again copy-pasted around the sidelines and, as Glenn pointed out on the podcast, the Lambeau Leap is missing from Packers home game touchdowns. The Philadelphia Spectrum, which was torn down in 2011, is still visible through a corner of Lincoln Financial Field three years later.

Audio:
Twenty-six years in and we still have issues with the commentary. At this point it’s become somewhat of a joke. The recent addition of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms hasn’t done much as they seem like they’re reading off the same old script we’ve been hearing for years.

I’m sure a lot of dialogue has been added, but when you score the first touchdown in a game and Simms dutifully recites the mind numbingly dopey line about how “It’s important to get the lead, especially in the NFL. Playing with the lead allows teams to relax and play better.”, I just want to punch someone.

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While they seem to follow the play on the field for the most part repetition creeps in a bit too early and often. There’s also the issue of the commentary being completely oblivious as to what’s happening a few times per game. For instance, in my first season game as Philly playing against Jacksonville, I was on Defense with the Jaguars in the Red Zone and Nance commented on how the Jaguars Defense was desperately trying to keep the ball out of the End Zone. Alright, teams mixed up. But how about when I spiked the ball to stop the clock late in another game and Simms rambled on about how “He throws for an incomplete pass against Cover 2 and in that situation you really wanna get the ball down the field”.

The rest of the audio is a bit lacking as well. The NFL Films music plays while in the menus and any licensed music you’ll hear is obscured as it blares through stadium speakers for brief snippets during games. The rest of the sound on field tend to sound more or less the same as they have the past few years.

Online/Multiplayer:
While MUT has a single player component, much of it is dependent on multiplayer. When I tried to connect for that and other multiplayer games before release I was greeted by six to eight players already engaged in games so I never had the chance to connect and actually play online.

Being online and connected to the EA servers even while playing a single player game is important if you want to take advantage of the new playcalling options as information and stats are updated constantly.

In my experience, the Madden franchise has been generally solid as far as online goes over the past few years so I don’t expect any major issues here. If any become apparent as the game releases I’ll update the review accordingly.

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Conclusion:
Madden NFL 15 looks and plays with a slickness to it that we haven’t seen in a long time. The upgrades on the Defensive side of the ball really make you feel more effective than ever before. There’s enough depth to keep you busy long after Super Bowl XLIX has ended.

This isn’t a clean break from the past, as many of the nagging issues that have been hanging around this franchise are still present in this year’s edition. They’re certainly fewer in number, but playing a lot of games back-to-back over a short period of time tends to make them stand out.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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  • jason

    You can trust Josh with Madden reviews. I’ll be getting this one.

  • JustJohn

    The thing with me when it comes to Madden games is I seem to get bored easily and I play for a bit and never get back to them, but the new changes in the practice and drills seems interesting and could be fun and really add to the overall game play.

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