The first time I played “Madden NFL 15” (Xbox One, PS4; $59.99; Rated E) against another human being, the very first offensive play my opponent ran was a halfback screen. I stuffed it for a three-yard loss.
That’s when I knew that “Madden” and I were going to get along.
Last year’s “Madden NFL 25” (for the 25th anniversary) was a fine entry in the long-running franchise, but it was still a transitional one. The turning of a console generation was a fine time for a retrospective take on the “Madden” brand of football. The nostalgia was enough to distract from the fact that – in terms of gameplay – “Madden 25” was largely a retread on the old consoles and half-baked on the new ones.
“Madden NFL 15” feels, in every conceivable way, like the true introduction to football in the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 era.
Of course, the first thing you notice is the way it shines. Graphically, “Madden NFL 15” is incredible, bringing you into the game like no other sports game to date. The facial features of the more recognizable stars are beautifully rendered, and the field, for perhaps the first time ever, feels like more than a glorified hundred-yard ping pong table.
Panthers in the game
The game introduces you to all of this shine by way of an intro sequence that plays as a “preview” of this year’s NFC Championship game. Carolina fans will be happy to know that “Madden” has put the Panthers in the game against Seattle, and the player’s job is to step into Cam Newton’s shoes and engineer a game-winning drive. There’s drama, there’s glory, there’s confetti, and there’s cover athlete Richard Sherman doing Richard Sherman things. It looks and sounds as close to the real thing as you could imagine.
Such over-the-top presentation means that “Madden NFL 15” is nearly as entertaining to watch as it is to play.
That said, it’s in the nitty-gritty that the game truly excels – particularly its approach to defense. The hit-stick function has been expanded, vision cones improve the ability to gauge the probability of a successful tackle, and a line-jumping mechanic has been added.
Even better, the game’s AI has improved to the point where it rarely feels as though the game is being exploited. Every game, even the blowouts against clearly superior opponents, feels like a fair fight.
More specifically, there isn’t (yet) a single play type that gets run into the ground the way that halfback screen pass did in last year’s edition.
Maybe it’s only a matter of time before such a play emerges, but it’s great to fire up an online head-to-head match-up and not have to wonder if your opponent is going to spend the entire time spamming one play.
Glitches are few
As game modes go, “Madden NFL 15” doesn’t add anything new. The Ultimate Team, Connected Franchise and Ranked Online modes are back. They’re tweaked a bit from previous versions, but nothing mind-blowing or out of the ordinary has been added or changed. The Skills Trainer makes a return as well, with more emphasis on the strategy of the game rather than simply the controls themselves.
“Madden NFL 15” isn’t perfect. Glitches that sent fumbles back 50 yards made an appearance more than once in my play testing, and the servers are overloaded enough to introduce lag into online play all too often.
Still, “Madden NFL 15” is by a pretty wide margin the best football experience you can enjoy in the comfort of your living room. Even if you haven’t played “Madden” in years, it’s worth a look.
New this week: “Rock Band” developer Harmonix begins a busy holiday season with “Dance Central Spotlight” (XOne), the latest in their celebrated Kinect-aided dance series. If you’d rather be blowing stuff up than dancing, “Warframe” (XOne, PS4) looks like a slick little free-to-play third-person shooter.