‘Madden 16’ delivers dynamic on-field experience
Football is the perfect mix of brain and brawn. Split-second smarts are needed to read and execute a play correctly, but superior physical skills determine what ultimately happens.
In the gaming world, despite the myriad controls and required stick skills, for me, playing offense – particularly in “Madden” games – used to be mainly about calling the right plays and recognizing defenses. But in the series’ latest, “Madden NFL 16” (Rated E; PS4 5/8 Xbox One 5/8 PS3 5/8 Xbox 360), the focus of gameplay changes to the passing game in particular, and requires both a sharp mind and quick fingers. These and other tweaks combine to bring the game to life like never before.
The optional catch buttons give you more choices as a receiver, and using them correctly often means the difference between a catch and an interception, or between a mere completion and a touchdown. Knowing which catch to initiate (aggressive, possession, or run after the catch) is key, but so is the timing. Pressing the button early can change the receiver’s route – and not always for the better. Pressing late won’t produce the full effect.
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Quarterbacks also have distinct high/low pass buttons to go along with the left stick aiming, offering even more control. The results aren’t always perfect, but they give each pass play a dynamism not previously seen.
Using the catch controls on defense is naturally harder since you’re reacting to the action, but the game does a good job not making the receiver’s aggressive catch, for instance, too powerful. The natural variance in gameplay outcomes is exciting. I saw just as many deep balls intercepted or punched out by a defender as I saw jump balls favoring receivers.
Apart from the interactions between receivers and defenders, you’ll see plenty of unexpected outcomes. Overthrows and more penalties are welcome mistakes that add to the realism, and “Madden 16” finally delivers gang tackles with satisfying physics.
The Artificial Intelligence is also better this year. I play on All Pro, and although quarterbacks have the same low stats when simulating, there is a bigger gap between good and bad/average passers on the field; the good ones can even pick you apart. For the first time ever, I actually had to call more than three defensive plays to keep offenses in check.
“Madden 16’s” gameplay is a great step forward for the series, but the progress of the game modes is less definitive. The franchise mode still needs more depth and tools to give you true control over your team. The landing screen received an unnecessary facelift, which only serves to hide the NFL news that gives you a flavor of the season as well as potential draft tidbits.
Speaking of which, during the draft you finally have all your scouting info handy while you make your pick, but I’m lukewarm on the new scouting itself. You get letter grades of a player’s top-three attributes, but you can’t scout specific attributes.
At least the confidence system is better balanced so there’s less chance of players bottoming out, and the drive goals addictively feed their confidence and growth via XP. The drive goals can be contextually smart during a game or season. They’re not a roadmap to winning, but rather an alluring secondary goal.
The rest of the modes are largely unchanged. The new Draft Champions mode is cool because it’s a relatively quick experience that exposes you to different types of team builds. On the downside, it’s hard to become attached to your team since the players you choose from are random and you might not even understand your team’s play style.
Changing “Madden’s” modes isn’t the priority this year, but you shouldn’t skip this latest game. After years of fitful progress, “Madden 16” finally puts its gameplay pieces together and delivers a truly dynamic on-the-field experience.
This review covers the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions.