Review: Madden NFL 17 (PS4)

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Title: Madden NFL 17
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (30.08 GB)
Release Date: August 23, 2016
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $79.99 (Deluxe Edition)
ESRB Rating: E
Madden NFL 17 is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.
The PlayStation 4 download 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 489 of the podcast at 106:30.
489

Gameplay:
Franchise mode and the commentary are the areas receiving the most attention this time around but really, almost everything was noticeably tweaked in some way or another. The nice thing is that just about every change worked out for the better, making this year’s Madden just about the best it’s ever been.

One of the biggest changes for Franchise is called “Play the Moments”. Here you’ll be watching most of the game with a slick, updated presentation that allows you to know exactly what’s going on and who’s involved in the play.

You’ll then be pulled in to take control of either the Offense or Defense during the most important moments of the game. This can be anything from a critical Third Down to a game winning kick. You’ll often find yourself with Red Zone opportunities as well.

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The nice thing about this is how much control you have over everything. Are you terrible on Defense? You can set it to Offense only and that’s all you’ll be tasked to play. You can also speed up or slow down the simulation or take full control and jump right into the game at any time.

As an option, it’s really nice to have for people who want to get through less meaningful games as quickly as possible. With the speed of the simulation you can get through several seasons in the time it would take to complete a single season under your full control.

… a ten man practice squad …
This will definitely appeal to a number of players but for me, I didn’t like the performance on the field being so out of my hands. When I was dropped in on a critical Third and Long, I felt like the backup goalie being thrown into a 1-0 game late in the Third Period with no warm up. Yeah, I just found a way to work a hockey reference into a Football review. Wanna fight about it?

Other additions include a ten man practice squad for you to fill with rookies and free agents who you can then groom to take over roster spots. These players can also be signed away by another team from right under your nose the same way the NFL operates. Full player editing is also available so you’re no longer at the mercy of the developer’s rankings.

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The running game has seen some tweaks as well with Skill Moves now being based on player ratings. The ball carriers are no longer generally same-y with a few being stronger and a few weaker. Now, if your player is strong with the stiff arm or better with a spin move, it’ll show.

There’s also the opportunity to pull off a stronger move when coming into contact with an opposing player whether you’re playing Offense or Defense. Every now and then, a button icon may appear large over the head of two players that have hit each other, time the button press right and you’ll pull off the move.

… a legitimate shot at blocking kicks and punts …
It’s great in theory but I often find myself jamming on buttons as I’m running or blocking and when the icon appears I don’t have time to switch up. It really requires more patience than I tend to have.

The Kicking game has seen its most significant changes in years, oddly bringing it back in time to an old-style three-click kick meter. I actually laughed when I first saw it because I felt I’d been sent back about twenty years but I’ve come to appreciate the change.

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You now have the ability to add backspin to the kick so you can drop one inside the Five Yard Line and keep it from rolling into the End Zone. This also changes things on the other side of the ball making it possible, for the first time in literally decades, to have a legitimate shot at blocking kicks and punts.

I say this because if I ever blocked a kick, it was probably on the SEGA Genesis, but really, I can’t remember ever blocking one in a Madden game. Can you? Over the past few weeks with the game, I’ve successfully blocked a punt and a Field Goal attempt, and I should have had at least two more.

… make better moves towards the gaps …
That’s not to say that this is a regular occurrence. Most times it’ll feel like business as usual. But every now and then, you’ll have a legitimate shot at getting a block which is a lot more like the real NFL and it makes for a much more satisfying experience. Loose ball physics are entirely calculated in real-time this year and it makes for some interesting plays for better or worse.

The Offense sounds great, but what about the Defense? Some very important changes have been made here and they make the game much better overall. Defensive Gap Play is a big thing this time around, allowing you to see and actually make better moves towards the gaps in the Offensive Line.

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Zone coverage has also received a complete overhaul allowing Defensive AI players to adjust their coverage much better based on the Offensive formation, all without any interference from the player. You can also take advantage of the automatic Defensive coverage shift which is on by default. If you choose a Defensive play strong to the right side but the Offense lines up three receivers on the left, the Defense automatically adjusts coming out of the huddle. It’s brilliant.

Draft Champions and of course Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) are back with a little more focus on the single player experience this time around. Solo Challenges in MUT allow you to build your team and gain experience in a much quicker fashion. A challenge could be as simple as “Pass for a Touchdown”, and completing that ends the experience instead of having to play a full game. Much like “Play the Moments” in Franchise, Solo Challenges allow you to build your team at a quicker pace.

… a spotlight on the little problem areas …
Visuals:
While the game looks as good as, if not better than, it ever has, there are still a number of little niggling issues that keep it from taking that huge leap forward. Veterans of the series will notice a number of the same pre-play animations carried over, particularly with the Quarterback conferring with the Coach at the start of the game.

While The Spectrum still exists in Philadelphia even though it was demolished five years ago, the addition of the new stadiums for the LA Rams and Minnesota Vikings are really sweet. Lighting in general is excellent which ironically puts a spotlight on the little problem areas.

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Every camera lens for every single photographer on the sideline has the exact same pre-rendered image used as the glass. This really isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s noticeable, even more so with the great lighting throughout the rest of the game.

Little windows appear above players at the end of a play highlighting stats and such, but more often than not they’re placed behind a mess of players on the field rendering them useless. They need to be brought forward on the z-axis which, I would hope, may be a relatively easy fix.

It’s the little things that up the realism and while the cameras and stat windows are a jarringly bad example of said things, the lighting, field of focus, and weather are areas where the game shines.

… the way commentary in all sports games should be handled …
Audio:
Perhaps the biggest addition to this year’s game, a new commentary team consisting of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis injects some much needed life into the proceedings. Not content to have a bunch of dialogue recorded and move on, the development team has kept the pair involved since early production.

Every time you turn on the game you’ll get the option to (quickly) download an update to the dialogue. This is because Gaudin and Davis are still recording new lines weekly and from what I’ve heard so far, this is clearly the way commentary in all sports games should be handled from here on out.

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While playing a Draft Champions game, the pair started to comment on my starting Quarterback’s struggles in his last preseason game and the interceptions he threw. I quickly paused the game and checked the internet to find out that they were actually referencing a real life game that had just happened days before.

This changes everything. For fans of the game, the level of immersion and realism is unparallelled. The banter is much more natural and indicative of a real live game rather than a bunch of canned phrases strung together.

It’s not perfect though. It took a handful of games, but I did start to hear some repetition, especially when coming out of halftime. Overall though, this is an amazing thing that’s happening here and I hope it continues across the other EA Sports titles.

… a noticeable improvement over last year’s game …
Online/Multiplayer:
With almost every mode in the game available for online play, you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied. One of the coolest additions to Online Franchise mode is the in-game real-time ticker. Now, when you’re playing an Online Franchise game, the ticker on screen is feeding games from around your league as they happen rather than after completion as it used to be.

The games I played online were smooth and for the most part lag-free. I do have a great connection speed on my end but I can’t necessarily say the same for anyone I may connect with so it was nice to see it work out well overall.

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Conclusion:
A host of minor improvements and a major upgrade in the commentary brings us a noticeable improvement over last year’s game. The changes across the board with Offense, Defense, and Special Teams make a big difference in how each game plays out.

While it’s still not quite perfect, the overhauled commentary is truly a game changer. It’ll be even more interesting to see where it is by the end of the season, with all the accumulated updates and a vast ocean of dialogue choices to work with for each game and situation.

If you were considering skipping this year’s Madden you might want to reconsider. This is a better game in every way and it’s almost definitely the best version of the game yet.

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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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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