The annual release of Madden NFL is always one of the main sign posts that the NFL football season is upon us. It’s a time to rejoice that Sundays (and Mondays, and I guess Thursdays) will now be dominated by the sound of helmets clashing, QBs calling out signals, and of whistles and cheers. And Madden NFL 17 serves as the perfect warm up act to the grueling football season to come.
In Madden NFL 17, EA Tiburon has rolled out some massive changes to the title, a title that usually gets a nominal polish, some new minor features or revamped older modes, and a roster update. New announcers, new presentations, and a new emphasis on the ground game highlight the new in M17, but are those changes like hitting a hole for a 40-yard run to the promised land, or do they stumble off the line ending with loss of yards? Sadly, it’s a little of both.
First, we’ll highlight the good here. Phil Simms and Jim Nance are gone, replaced by Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis — both men who’ve made careers broadcasting college football games. And Davis played the game, which adds some insight. Their banter is freakishly realistic, and they even talk over one another like real life booth guys. If Davis says something odd, Gaudin calls him on it and they laugh over it. It’s refreshing, though lines do tend to get repeated after a few games, and when exchanges like this are repeated, the whole bit is repeated — including the talking over each other and the laughing over it — which is a little discouraging.
Still, it is 100 percent better than Simms and Nance, who after a few years of the same lines over and over (I’m not even sure they ever recorded new lines after Madden NFL 13), caused me to turn off announcing and led to me using field-level sounds. It may happen here too, soon. But for now, it’s still refreshing. Also, EA has said that Gaudin and Davis will continue to record dialogue throughout the season and their new content will come via content updates. Hopefully, this will alleviate some of the stagnation that comes with hearing the same lines over and over and over.
Franchise has also been revamped. We still have connected careers, but the layout and how the team is ran between Sundays has been streamlined, with new practices, player development, and XP upgrading. Running a franchise in Madden NFL 17 is like a an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord to a fat guy. There is so much to do (or can be simulated), and the player decides just how hands-on they want to be in running the day-to-day. Some seasons, I just like to play the games. Others, I like to wheel and deal in the free agent market, building a team from scratch and letting it bring glory to my organization.
Playing the Moments gives the player the option to only play some of the bigger moments of each game. If it’s third-and-four with the game on the line, the player can choose to play the play that may extend the drive, or screw it up and face a punt. This speeds up the game by 60 percent, but it does take away from the ins and outs of the flow of a usual game. Plus, you are forced to perform in scenarios that the CPU has decided are “big moments,” and may not actually be the big moments in a full game, especially if a player can easily put points on the board. Luckily, Tiburon added the option to take over the game at any time, speed up the simulation part, or to even skip playing the CPU generated “big moment.” Players also have the option of solely playing just the offense or the defense. In short, playing a franchise game now has so many options that an entire NFL season can be played in under a week.
Madden NFL 17 tries to bring some of changes that made Madden NFL 16 such a great title. Whereas M16 added emphasis on the passing/receiving game and defense, Madden NFL 17 puts most of that focus on the running game. Each run now comes with button-pressing mini game to pull off even the most simple runs. Madden NFL has always had the option for a player to use various button presses to juke, hurdle, dive, and of course, sprint, but now those button presses are essentially mandatory to be a success.
This is to the point that I’ve seen my running backs halted, and sucked back into a potential tackle, even though I had already blown past the defender. I’ve seen holes that were wide open on a short run play suddenly either close up (magically), or my RB was mysteriously pushed by the invisible god-like hand of John Madden himself (completely out of my control) to the left or right to be forced to hit the Triangle/Y button to ensure that I leap the line/defender. It is, by far, one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever dealt with in a Madden NFL game, and I survived Madden NFL 06.
I can see what developer Tiburon was going for here, but by coding in the forced battles between RBs and defenders, it takes me completely out of the immersion of the game — and Madden NFL has always been about trying to capture that realism. Even EA Sports’ slogan is still, “It’s in the game.” Except, here, it’s not. The Redskins’ Matt Jones may not be the greatest running back in the league, but if he has hit a hole and is free and clear to run for a big gain, he should not mysteriously be sucked backwards by invisible forces allowing the DBs to catch up and force me to press the Square/X button to juke, or the X/A button to stiff arm. This is a nearly broken system, and it detracts from the good that Madden NFL 17 has going for it this year. Luckily, this can be turned off in the menus, so the nightmare scenarios I’ve just described can be avoided, but then all of the tweaking that EA Tiburon was going for would be for naught. The game can still be played, but with the new feature turned off, it essentially reverts the game back to Madden NFL 16, and that is troubling.
This mini game button presses also extend to WRs and defenders, as the perfect button press is essential to collect a pass, or to bat it away on defense. In fact, Madden NFL 17 celebrates that these button presses as a battle between the player and CPU, or player versus player in head-to-head games (both local or online). The person (or CPU) who executes the button press first wins the battle. The problem here is that too much emphasis is placed on those button presses, and anyone who has grown accustomed to the QB pressing the WR-designated button and then once again hitting the Triangle/Y button at the right time to aggressively go after the ball, now sees more dropped passes than ever before. At least, that’s what I’ve experienced.
In fact, I played a season game in Franchise where I dropped every single pass to every single WR, save for one — a 1-yard gain on an out pass. These were balls that were thrown to wide open players and the ball hit them in the hands each time. Is Madden trying to say that DeSean Jackson can’t catch a simple pass? Pierre Garcon has been known to fumble, but the man can catch a ball — except in Madden NFL 17, he can’t.
Adding button pressing mini games to the simple act of throw and catch is a big misstep for Madden NFL 17 and it hurts the end product. Again, this can also be turned off, but by this point, if all of the new features are turned off in the menus, why would anyone stop playing Madden NFL 16, a game I truly enjoyed?
On the defensive line, players can now stack the box and hit the gaps, dictating assignments to each in-game player to rule on defense before each snap. The option has always been there, using the L2 and R2 buttons, but now Tiburon has streamlined it to make it easier. I’m not sure which way I prefer, but if a team gets more than 50 years rushing against me in a game, I consider it a fail. I don’t fail often.
The last major change comes to special teams. The kicking game is now done with a three point meter, which is nice (it is a throwback to Madden NFL games in the past), and now players can opt for more trick plays on both field goals and punts. Also, blocking a kick has been made easier, and my biggest fear — that every kick could and would be blocked — has not come to fruition, though I’ve had my fair share of kicks blocked, whereas I’ve yet to actually do it myself in a game time scenario. Also, as we first reported in our preview story for the game, the option to call a timeout to freeze the kicker seconds before the ball is snapped has been included here. The ultimate dick move is now in Madden, god help us all.
Draft Champions and Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) both return, and other than some new tweaks to team and player chemistry, both remain relatively unchanged. Since Draft Champions was an amazing addition last year, this is a good thing.
Madden NFL 17 is truly a hit or miss game. Strides were made in the announcing and Franchise mode, which sets the long-running game series on a good path going forward, but the tweaks to the most simple things — like a running a ball, or a pass to a wide open wide receiver — have made the game a frustrating mess, and all but forces the player to turn off those features in the menu to even enjoy the game. As always, Madden NFL looks great and sounds great, and there is some good here, but with the highly-touted new features now turned off, there may not be enough here to warrant switching from Madden NFL 16.
Madden NFL 17 is available now for the PS4, PS3, Xbox One,and Xbox 360. This review was based off a review code for the PS4 version, provided by the publisher.
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