Madden NFL 16 Review
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Oh yay, another roster update.” However, while I admit such a dismissive stance was probably warranted during the 11-14 years, I don’t believe it’s viable when talking about the last two Madden entries. Last year’s solid effort fell a little shy of simulated football greatness but worked hard to amp up the defensive side of the ball, which didn’t go unnoticed. And this year, the developers at EA Tiburon have taken another step forward, this time simultaneously increasing the accessibility and realism (no mean feat) and providing pigskin lovers with a very satisfying game. Welcome to Madden NFL 16, where you will be justly rewarded and entertained.
To be honest, I haven’t been especially impressed with the visual presentations of Madden titles in recent years. It just seems like the sports games are lagging behind other genres in the category of ultra-realistic graphics, you know? However, I must say that this year’s football entry looks fantastic: The many many animations are smooth (not counting the occasionally jerky sideline shots), the stadiums are meticulously created, and the players have never looked more authentic. This is the most dynamic, engaging visual display we’ve seen yet, as the developers combine the glitz and flash of a TV production with the appeal of finely honed gameplay. No corners have been cut, despite the fact that some players still look funny.
The sound is about what you’d expect, with one unfortunate downside: They let the players talk too much. Granted, you really only experience this during the introduction and tutorials, but Ben Roethlisberger is not a voice actor and this much is painfully obvious. Also, when you eliminate the swearing from the sideline chatter, it just sounds forced and awkward (a depressing sports commentary but it’s true). Aside from that, the in-game effects are almost picture perfect – with a few minor balancing issues – and there’s a surprisingly diverse soundtrack to accompany your menu surfing. The good news is that you will, of course, spend most of your time on the field, where the audio shines.
Upon first diving into Madden NFL 16, I was immediately conflicted. As was the case with Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, the game drops you into a high-pressure situation that acts as a tutorial. In the latter title, you played a few important holes at the PGA Championship, which were basically scripted. It’s not a bad plan, because tutorials are usually bland and boring but this way, you can learn the basics while being involved in what appears to be a major contest. In the case of the new Madden, it’s Super Bowl 50, where the Pittsburgh Steelers are facing the Arizona Cardinals. At certain critical points in the game, you will take control of the Steelers and attempt to come back and win the championship.
Like I said, it’s a great idea, but there are a few problems with this one: Firstly, nobody really cared much about this match-up when it happened in reality 7 years ago. Secondly, as I said above, having to listen to Roethlisberger rally the troops is so forced it’s laughable. Thirdly, you’re not really learning much; you’re just being told which button to press, for the most part. Now, the good news is that you can indeed fail and there are multiple endings to this particular scripted event. When done, you can actually go back and see different outcomes, although I can’t imagine why you’d bother. At any rate, this whole intro idea was sound but it just fell flat in my estimation, and made me leery of what lay ahead.
But thankfully, everything got a lot better once I started learning and experimenting. With the always popular Ultimate Team, hardcore fans can immerse themselves in a mode that is fully customizable, in that you can choose your team style and go above and beyond the standard call of duty. While at the same time, even those who aren’t die-hard fans might notice the distinct balancing alteration, in that defense doesn’t entirely rule the day, as it did in last year’s entry. Plus, with a bunch of tutorials and drills to get you accustomed to the new gameplay features and general flow of the game, the latest Madden effectively caters to a very wide audience. In fact, one could argue it satisfies the widest demographic since the old-school SNES days.
Perhaps most critical are the extra offensive options. Now, you have three choices when catching a ball: Press the X button for a possession catch, which ensures the best possible chance to secure the ball; press Square to focus on yards after the catch (which means your chances of a drop are slightly increased); press Triangle for a leaping catch, ideal when in traffic and you’re trying to make a highlight reel. As the QB, you can use the triggers to dictate the path of the ball – high or low – and when running with the ball, you have the standard assortment of moves. You can spin, plow forward, side-step, stutter-step, and get a burst of speed by using a combination of the trigger and face buttons and the analog stick.
All of this may sound a tad overwhelming but once you’ve played for an hour or so, you really start to get into the swing of things. On top of which, you start to notice a bevy of improvements and additions. I especially like the fact that adjusting sliders seems to make a bigger difference this time around; with over 40 conditions to customize, you can tailor-make the gameplay to fit your personal style. Want a more arcade-y style, which results in higher scores and crowd-pleasing offensive explosions? You can make that happen, as the more sensitive sliders allow for a truly customized gameplay experience that, again, seeks to satisfy as many different kinds of fans as possible. Almost no matter where you are on the football follower scale, there’s a setting for you.
One of the new modes is called Draft Champions, which is similar to Madden Ultimate Team. The goal for both modes is to create the best possible team but the big difference with Draft Champions is that fantasy football plays a much bigger role. I have never understood the worldwide fascination with fantasy sports (I’ve done it a few times and I still don’t get it), but it’s unsurprising to see its influence in a sports video game. The cool part about Draft Champions is that because it’s a random selection for each position, you’ll get a completely different team every time you indulge in this mode. This keeps the mode fresh and attractive throughout, although I’m willing to bet the hardcore fantasy football aficionados will still spend more time with their fantasy teams at work. Right?
What I like most of all is that practice does indeed make perfect. EA Tiburon has worked to eliminate the cheap plays and balancing issues that have often plagued the series, and your diligent efforts are rewarded. The drills will get your feet wet and experimenting with your newfound knowledge in games is lots of fun. It gives the game a more progressive, fulfilling trait that unfolds the more you play. When you combine this with the overall more accessible style and the clean, authentic gameplay physics, you’ve got a well-rounded sports simulator that ticks almost all the boxes without sacrificing much realism. We also don’t get those throwaway or poorly established modes that some sports developers have tried over the years.
Madden NFL 16 represents a logical step in the history of the franchise. Rather than restricting the experience to the die-hard few, why not make a game that satisfies both the latter group and the more casual fans? It may seem a little intimidating at first but this well-appointed simulator is amazingly flexible, and gives you the chance to play exactly the way you wish. The intro is poorly conceived, I believe, the loading times are still pretty ridiculous, and there are a few lingering gameplay issues (wacky occurrences can be prevalent) but aside from that, this is the best Madden entry we’ve seen in years. “Help! I Am New To Madden” for the newbies and the in-depth season modes for those who live and breath football, and just about everything in between.
The Good: Dynamic visual presentation with realistic animations and solid detail. Excellent gameplay effects. Additional offensive features add strategy and flair. More sensitive sliders results in wonderfully tailor-made experiences. Has a wide reach, appealing to both casual and hardcore fans. Practice makes perfect!
The Bad: Athletes are athletes, not voice actors. Introduction sequence falls flat. Loading times are pretty crazy. Lingering gameplay flaws.
The Ugly: “With such great customization, you should be able to avoid any ‘ugly’ situations.”
8/25/2015 Ben Dutka