Review: Madden NFL 16 (PS4)

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Title: EA Sports Madden NFL 16
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (24 GB)
Release Date: August 25, 2015
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $69.99 (Deluxe Edition)
ESRB Rating: E10+
EA Sports Madden NFL 16 is also available on Xbox One.
The PlayStation 4 disc version 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 439 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
I’m only going to focus on the big changes in this review as they’re the most important to the overall game. To start off, last year’s emphasis was on Defense while this year it’s all about the Playmaker.

The game immediately launches you into an imagined Super Bowl 50 scenario with the Pittsburgh Steelers facing off against the Arizona Cardinals. You’re taught how to use some of the new passing tools by playing some key moments of the game. These are interspersed with “dramatic” cutscenes that tend to be hampered by flat line reads.

As a teaching tool, it’s nice to see all of this in a game scenario, but the far more useful tutorial is available in a more familiar setting after completing the Super Faux. Here, you’ll be dropped onto the practice field and you’ll get a better explanation of the new passing mechanics for quarterbacks, receivers, and defenders.

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It requires a few more button presses and some getting used to but once you do, it works pretty well and opens up a new level of offense. For the quarterbacks, you still have your bullet, lob, and touch passes but you can now easily execute high and low throws by holding L1 or L2 respectively while passing.

… jump in front of the receiver for an interception …
These modifiers make it easier to drop the ball in exactly where you need it, keeping the defenders from having a chance at knocking it away or intercepting it. It’s not a guaranteed reception though as the AI still takes into account the receiver’s skills, positioning, etc. To help your chances for success, you can quickly take control of the receiver while the ball is in the air and choose the type of catch your want to attempt.

You can try for a Possession Catch which has your receiver focus on getting hold of the ball and keeping possession by dropping down right where they are. It’s useful if they’re about to be hit or they’re right on the sidelines. Run After Catch will have the receiver catch and turn up field in stride, looking to maximize any gains, while the Aggressive Catch has you jockeying for position and leaping up to make the spectacular play while being covered.

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Each catch type comes with its own risk/reward of course. The Possession and Aggressive catches pretty much guarantee no extra yards on the play. Possession also gives defenders a better chance to jump in front of the receiver for an interception while Aggressive can lead to injury when they’re up in the air exposed. The Run After Catch leaves you open to fumbles since the receiver won’t always have full control of the ball as they turn up field.

… a simplified take on Fantasy Football …
In practice, they all work well in opening up the offense as long as you’re able to make the right decisions on field. Success hinges not only on what you decide to throw and catch but also on the receiver’s positioning, their catching abilities, and where the defenders are around them, much like a real game.

On defense, you can choose to play the ball or the receiver with the press of a button after the throw. The choices are good for holding receivers to little to no yards after a catch, knocking the ball down, or intercepting it. Making the wrong choice can lead to missed tackles or big plays by the offense.

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The defensive side tended to be a little more hit or miss for me as the AI wouldn’t always choose what I thought to be the best defender to break up the play. I often was switched to someone ten to twelve yards aways from the receiver and between them and the quarterback while there was another defender about three to four yards behind them with a better angle on the play.

… each round gives you only three players to choose from …
Either way, the tweaks to the defensive side of things along with the upgrades on offense have laid a good foundation for the future of the franchise.

Draft Champions makes its debut this year as a simplified take on Fantasy Football with an emphasis on one night of play rather than a whole season. You’ll start by choosing a coach that fits your play style from three randomly available. A base team is then generated and you’ll get to select fifteen more players to fill out your roster.

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There is an emphasis on speed and ease of use over depth and analysis in this mode as each round gives you only three players to choose from. They’re also from three randomly selected positions each round with no guarantee you’ll get another shot at any of them. This leads to some tough choices when you may see a highly skilled wide receiver and a great cornerback in the same round.

Choosing players that match the schemes favored by your coach will help you succeed but you’ll face several rounds where none of the three players fit the bill. Annoyingly the announcer following along with your draft and commenting on your moves will tell you “I don’t see how they’ll fit in on your team” as if any of the others would have made a difference. Keep in mind that the last round in the draft always includes three legendary players from the past at various positions.

… gain the bonus XP or ignore them entirely …
You’ll then take to the field with your team in an attempt to win three games in a row against opponents that become progressively more difficult to beat. One loss and you’re done. The rewards for winning, even one game, are packs of Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) cards so it becomes a fun and somewhat interesting way to grind out some cards if you’re a MUT player.

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The Connected Franchise mode has also been updated with a new way to earn XP for your players and team. Drive goals appear every time you take the field challenging you to complete tasks for XP bonuses. This had the potential to ruin the fun of the game but there’s no penalty for not completing the tasks laid out for you. So essentially you can try to do them and gain the bonus XP or ignore them entirely with no change in your experience.

Surprisingly, to me anyway, this is actually a really good addition. It makes the game more interesting and gives you something to strive for and a way to improve your team even if you’re losing a particular game. It definitely needs a little refinement but it’s a great start.

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Visuals:
Improvements have been made all over the game, from the grass to the way the players move and react on field. The cameramen on the sidelines now actually follow the action, for the most part anyway, but they still tend to be copy/paste.

The Aggressive Catch can lead to some moments where the game hitches just a bit while transitioning into whatever animation it’s decided to show on the play. It can lead to a lot of the catches feeling canned or even a little too spectacular.

… players won’t necessarily have their favorite teams or playbooks …
The tackling is still a little off in terms of how it feels. Players will go down with legs folded under them at odd angles. They’ll stay down as other players try to get up and step all over them. They’ll then pop up and move on as if nothing happened. You’ll see a lot of strange pileups. It’s getting a little better each year but there are still too many moments that break the illusion.

The Spectrum is still there in Philadelphia even though it was demolished in 2011, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

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Audio:
The overall audio is just as good as always with in-game sounds pulled from a library that’s been built up over the life of the franchise. It’s football, and it sounds like it.

Hearing the players speak is another story though as they never seem to be able to convey the right emotion and levels of excitement or disappointment you’d expect based on what’s happening on screen. Guys still get way too excited if they make a tackle while being blown out late in the Fourth Quarter.

I turned the menu music off entirely after hearing the same one or two songs over and over since they’re at the top of the playlist. The problem is, while playing the Skills Section, coming back to the menu after every drill started up the same song. It quickly became an annoyance.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Online works pretty much the same as it has in the past which is a good or a bad thing depending on the type of player you are. Matchmaking seems to be a bit better but you can still get matched up against someone much, much better than you and you’ll be forced to suffer through getting trounced or simply conceding the game. I did run into the odd bit of slowdown here and there but it usually only lasted for one play.

… a good first step at reaching out to the Fantasy crowd …
Playing Draft Champions online can be an interesting way of changing things up since players won’t necessarily have their favorite teams or playbooks which can level the playing field a bit. Like most games it’s usually better to get friends together to play against rather than randoms.

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Conclusion:
The underlying game is the same as it’s always been, a solid football experience, and we wouldn’t expect anything less. The additional options on offense and defense emphasizing the playmaker are, much like always, good incremental improvements to an already solid foundation. They feel less revolutionary and more, well duh, that’s the kind of control we should have.

The tweaks to Connected Franchise are handled in a pretty good way, allowing players to use or ignore them as they see fit. Use them to your advantage and there’s plenty of upside but ignoring won’t penalize or harm you in any way, which is how it should be.

While Draft Champions is a nice addition and a good first step at reaching out to the Fantasy crowd, many may find it too limiting for their tastes. It’s designed as a quick way to dip your toes in the Fantasy Draft waters and hopefully it can be expanded upon in next year’s version to be more inclusive of the hardcore players.

Score:
8.5

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

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  • Scoomp

    In last years version of the game, through one season. I believe I only had 2 or 3 passes that were truley 30 plus yards run after the catch scenario. I lived on 10 yard passes and tackled there. Plus running the ball for 5+ YPC pretty much made my Arizona Cardinals unstoppable. It was a decent game but will probably pass this years edition. EA really needs competition to up the gameplay. I understand that there will never be a perfect game. Because whats the point in ever buying another edition after “said” game. Great reveiw as always but not this year EA. looking forward to Taken King and have my deluxe version of Battlefron preorded.

  • Greg Tyson

    Thanks for the review! I am loving this years game. To me, the QB accuracy (or lack there of) is the biggest change….and I love it.

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