There is a fair bit of hate that surrounds yearly releases such as Madden. Many believe that these games end up too similar to each other, and do not warrant a $60 purchase every year. Luckily, Madden NFL 17 proves that there is still a lot of life and improvements to be had in this long running series, with some new gameplay tweaks and modes making this one of the most realistic and immersive sports games that I have ever played, even if it is not without a few problems.
There have been some gameplay tweaks in Madden NFL 17 that have improved the game immensely. Special teams have been reworked, making it easier to kick, but also easier to block kickers. Preventing the opposing team from getting the extra three points they need to get ahead in a game can be very satisfying. The ability to do things like this, along with other features such as more noticeable player gap assignments, adds more realism to the game and the immersion of managing your own team.
One caveat to the gameplay is that the sidelines have shoddy hit detection. Multiple times my receiver clearly landed inside the sidelines, but the game counted it as incomplete. This can stop the flow of a good drive, and takes a bit away from the believability of the game, which it otherwise does so well. Unless, of course, you are someone who regularly doesn’t trust referees — in which case, the flow is completely believable.
The ground game is also more involved. Small button pressing mini-games allow you to spin, stiff-arm, and juke to make the experience more immersive than before. Similar changes have also made defensive play more involved. In past Madden games, the player would barely have to control the defense, and while the AI is still very good, player input is key to success.
While all these improvements might seem overwhelming at first, there is a great Skill Trainer mode where you can practice everything and get better at the game. This mode even allows one to focus training on specific plays or players.
When the game is first booted up, players are able to partake in a mode called The Rams Return. The Rams are down towards the end of the fourth quarter in the playoffs, but are able to gain possession of the ball and strive for one more touchdown (and a two-point conversion) in order to win the game. This story is told through a mix of cinematic cutscenes and actual gameplay, making it a dynamic experience and engaging the player more than any sports game has done before.
This mode has multiple endings and different in-game scenarios depending on how the player does. I was shocked by how versatile the experience was, even if it was only five minutes long. It is worth replaying a few times to see the different cutscenes and scenarios that come up. In future series entries, I would love to see a collection of smaller experiences like this. They could be made-up scenarios or chronicle past games that were very memorable, and would add a more cinematic element to the game that is usually absent.
Franchise mode returns in Madden NFL 17. Players can choose to be an athlete, coach, or owner, and can play through as many seasons as they want. This modes functions as well as it has in past entries, and can be very fun. It has a few new features, such as setting season goals and more complex player editing.
My only problem with franchise, and to an extent the game in general, is that the menus are very cramped. Previous entries gave every option more space on the menu, but in Madden NFL 17, it is all cramped into a small scrolling menu that is not very big (making it more cumbersome to go through). This is only a minor hindrance, and veteran Madden player will most likely have no problem spending hours in this mode, as it is fun taking your favorite team (Go Bears!!) through an entire season.
Ultimate Team and Draft Champions also return, and are as great as ever. Even though I am not the biggest fan of card games, there is something invigorating about drafting your own team through trading cards. Sadly, Ultimate Team is full of microtransactions to help players in the form of buying points to purchase packs. The prices range from $1.50 for 150 points to $99.99 for 12,000 points. Those used to spending in these modes will not mind them, but there is always a constant feeling of being at a disadvantage if you don’t buy them, which is a horrible feeling to have in any game.
A few extra notable bulletpoints: Free play and training are available, allowing players to test their skills easier and quickly. Online play is also smooth; in the matches that I played, no lag was present, games ran smoothly, and Madden NFL 17 worked just as well as it does when one plays alone.
Madden NFL 17‘s graphics are also much better than they have been in previous entries. While a full upgrade to the new Frostbite engine would greatly benefit this series, one can tell a lot of effort was put into the current engine this time around it to make it look better than it has in the past.
The new commentators, Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis, do well with what they are given. While there still is a decent amount of repetition in what the commentators say, additional banter was added to make the experience feel more fresh and realistic. EA has promised to put out updates, so hopefully the commentary will not be as limited in the future.
While not without its flaws, Madden NFL 17 is still a very enjoyable experience. Enough changes have been made to the formula to make it a more interesting and realistic experience, which in turn makes it more enjoyable to play. While minor gameplay and menu problems do hold it back from greatness, most of the game is very well made. Fans of the series have no reason not to pick this up, and this is also a good starting point for those who want to jump into the series. It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here, as this game sets a high standard for future entries in the series.