Genre: Sports game
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
I know what you’re thinking: Madden NFL 16 is just Madden as its always been – throw the ball, catch the ball, stop the other guys from doing the same, win. Along the way EA looks on greedily like the troll under the bridge as it waits to barrage you with micro-transactions just to use half the game that, might I add, you already paid for. I know because that’s what all of us think as we wonder if it’s truly worth it to put down another $60 for the latest installment in this series. In a normal year, everything that I said would have been true, and your skepticism is certainly earned as a result. But this is far from a normal year, and Madden NFL 16 really is improving on the formula, not just replicating it.
As some of you may recall, Madden NFL 15‘ added big improvements to the defensive game such as the new defensive camera and the ability to actually control your tackles instead of just vaguely running at the QB. This time around, the big game play improvement focus was on the passing game. On top of last year’s upgrade, now you can choose how receivers catch the ball to achieve maximum yardage on the play. Is your receiver being smothered by a pressuring defender? Then try “aggressive catch” to rip the ball out of the air and dive to protect it. Maybe your target is out in the open, and you want to catch the ball in stride. Then use “run after catch” to get as much distance out of the play as possible. Also there is a “possession” catch, which is a quick tuck and roll/dive catch if you are in tough spot and need a safe completion. If you can’t decide which catch would be best, no worries. A button prompt will flash over your receivers head with the suggested catch, so you can get into using the useful new features immediately.
Also, there are natural drawbacks to each style which creates a risk vs. reward mentality somewhat new to the series. The “aggressive catch” may be big and flashy, but use it too often and your receivers can become more susceptible to fumbles and big hits. Equally, “run after catch” is good if you have a wide open path to run through, but if you try it while under coverage, there is a great chance that your receiver will either miss or drop the ball entirely. Finally, “possession” catches may seem to be the safest, but if you want to gain yards in any sort of timely manner, then I wouldn’t recommend relying on them too heavily.
Catches aren’t the only game play improvement Madden NFL 16 makes though. In keeping with the theme of improving the passing game, QBs now have the option to attempt a touch pass by double tapping the intended receiver’s icon as well as the choice of a high or low pass by holding the shoulder button while selecting your intended target. All of this is on top of the new, in-depth play-calling system introduced in Madden 15.
However, don’t for a second think that only the offensive side of the ball has seen improvement; defense too has been given new tools. For instance, defensive backs can choose to either play the ball or the receiver which, like the new catching system, comes with its own risks and rewards. Playing the ball will give you an opportunity to break up a big pass or even get an interception but, if you are out of position you will miss your chance. Playing the receiver has the opposite effect; instead of going for an interception you can just try for taking the ball outright and, though it may not make headlines, it will almost certainly get you the tackle. These new features take time getting used to but, once you get the hang of it, using them together is immensely gratifying.
Beyond gameplay, there is even an entirely new mode to play: Draft Champions. Pick your team and your coaching scheme, then begin the 15-round draft. Each round you are given a choice of 3 players with a different rating at a position you most likely need filled,. Once the draft is over, you can organize your improved team by position and either play against the computer or against other players online in a single-elimination tournament. Think of it as all of the fantasy football feeling of Ultimate Team without the long term commitment.
Everything else returns mostly unchanged. Though Ultimate Team is still riddled with infuriating micro-transactions, now there are “ultimate moments,” which are challenges designed around notable moments in football history that you get to play through and see if you can change the outcome. As for Connected Franchise (my personal favorite game mode), there are now “drive goals” which change dynamically as the season goes on to give team XP and confidence a more realistic feeling of changing momentum as time passes.
Madden NFL 16 looks and sounds sharp and, thanks to the new game play mechanics, feels more gratifying than ever to play. Now you can execute big plays just as you want them and no longer feel like you are a backseat driver when on offense. Not to mention Draft Champions may be the game mode many of us were waiting for – a middle ground between Connected Franchise and Ultimate Team while also adding whole new way to experience the series. Whether your last Madden title was last year or ten years ago, there is an improvement in this game that you will almost certainly appreciate. So, the verdict on Madden NFL 16: Just another roster update? No. Most enjoyable sports game of the year? Possibly. Huge step forward and foundation for the future of the franchise? Absolutely.