It can’t be easy for EA Sports. They are tasked each year with coming up with something new and exciting for a simulation of a game that itself rarely changes — extra-point distances not withstanding. No matter how much tweaking and roster updates that EA and developer Tiburon Studios does, it seems to never be enough for NFL fans.
So, to combat this built-in stagnation, Tiburon has started working on different modes to make the Madden NFL experience unique and fun, and in this year’s game, they’ve truly scored a touchdown.
Madden NFL 16 is the usual visual masterpiece. Tiburon added some new in-game, on field graphics, much like the TV networks do each year. The player models look great on the Ignite engine, and the inclusion of real NFL film soundbites makes the game presentation that much more authentic. The minor gameplay tweaks this year include many new player and coach animations and organic gang tackles, among others. The gang tackles are nice, as I’ve seen some things in my short time playing the game that made me smile. A DB swarming to the ballcarrier and diving on him, arms outstretched, encompassing the linebacker who already had the carrier in his grasp is just one example of the new animations.
Also new in Madden NFL 16 are a revamped pass and catch mechanism. Players can now dictate what kind of catch the receiver will make, based on a button press. Triangle/Y represents an aggressive catch, Square/X allows the WR to run after the catch, and Circle/B is a possession catch. The aggressive catch utilizes the one-handed, Odell Beckham, Jr.-style of play too often for my tastes, but it is nice to have competent WRs actually fight to make the catch. The possession catch ensures that the ball will be caught at all costs, which helps in third-and-long scenarios. But my favorite may actually be the run after the catch move. I’ve never been able to truly hit a streaking WR in stride in a Madden game before, and now I can do it with ease, especially with a speedster like DeSean Jackson on my team.
On the flip side of these reception upgrades, Tiburon has also shown love to the other side of the ball, with DBs and safeties getting the option to select whether to play the ball (Triangle/Y) or play the receiver (X/A). This actually works as advertised, though but does take some getting used to, as my default has always been to hit Triangle/Y to defend a WR and now I have to think about what I’m doing.
Quarterbacks also have more control in how they throw the ball with better contextual bullet, lob, and touch passing, and even the ability to dictate a high throw or low throw. EA has tried this before in the Madden franchise, but touch passing and leading the WR was always a little difficult to pull off. Here, using the L and R buttons in conjunction with the receivers button helps the QB (if he be capable) to complete the perfect pass for the perfect situation.
While the new gameplay tweaks are nice, the true bread and butter of Madden NFL 16 comes in the new modes — particularly the Draft Champions mode. I can probably write 1,000 words on this new mode alone. Players start each DC session by partaking in a 15 round draft. The game offers the player one of three NFL stars, past and present, to choose from, per round. Once the team has been drafted (and a coach/play style selected, usually in round one), that team can now play a fast mini-season/tournament of three to four games against the CPU or head-to-head with rewards given out for success. One loss and you start all over.
The entire mode can take just short of two hours and if you hate your team, don’t worry, you get to redraft after the DC “season” ends. Draft Champions is addictive as the team will never be the same, as you never know who the game will offer up to be drafted. This new mode is a welcome break from Play Now exhibition games and the revamped/tweaked Connected Franchise Mode.
In Connected Franchise, the player starts a franchise and has to build and maintain a winner. The options of controlling a player, the coach, or the GM returns, and can be switched without penalty at will. Each game — heck, every action, it seems — earns the team XP and upgrade points to be used to make everyone better. Weekly goals are provided, and whichever option the player chooses to play as has their own goals as well. In the actual games, goals are assigned per drives, both on offense and defense, and hitting those goals awards XP and confidence points. It creates a whole new and exciting way to play a season/career in a Madden game.
The best part of the new Connected Franchise mode is how the clutter has been reduced and more streamlined. I don’t feel like I have to juggle a million different things when I play now, as I can choose to skip it, or have the CPU do it all for me. If I want to micromanage a player that I like, I can do that and let the CPU handle the rest. This streamlined approach really helps make CFM a unique and fun experience.
Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) returns with new tweaks as well, with new players to unlock in packs and it is designed to keep players playing even after the last cheers of the Super Bowl have died out in February. Ultimate moments allow players to relive or change historical outcomes on big games, and there are new solo challenges for players to try and overcome. Both help keep MUT a viable alternate game mode.
Madden NFL 16 does just enough to make the experience of playing NFL football unique and fun, while still introducing new ways to enjoy the game of football. The new tweaks are welcome and do actually make a difference (even if one-handed catches are way too common), and controlling the team on the field has never felt more in my control. The true big winner here in Madden NFL 16 is the Draft Champions mode, and I can see EA and Tiburon expanding this and making it more inclusive for both the veteran NFL fans and a new generation of players who want a fast, and fun experience. It caters so well to both now, and I can only imagine what the future will bring.
Madden NFL 16 is a winner this year, and football fans and sports game junkies will truly love and appreciate the care and love that EA Sports and Tiburon were able to create. This is so much more than a roster update and mode polish. Madden NFL 16 scores early and often, and it’s nice to see that even after 27 years, there is still something new to do — and enjoy — in a Madden NFL game.
Madden NFL 16 is available now. This review is based off a PS4 review copy provided by the publisher.
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