Review: Madden NFL 15 – American Football 101
In two weeks the NFL will kick off its 95th season, and just in for kickoff we get EA Sports’ annual celebration of the sport: Madden NFL 15. The game marks the true arrival of the franchise on the current-gen PlayStation 4 and Xbox One platforms, as last year’s iteration was nothing more than a higher resolution port from last generation systems.
With the upgrade we’re introduced to a whole new presentation, improved defensive gameplay and whole way new way to understand the sport. Unfortunately at times NFL 15 still shows signs of its age. So is it worth the upgrade? Read on to find out.
The Madden franchise has been far behind in the presentation department as games like MLB the Show and NBA 2K have not only blown past them but pretty much set the standard of what a sports simulation franchise should look, feel and sound like. But this year, the team at Madden is doubling down on two front: visuals and how they are presented.
With visuals, finally the team has (taking a page out of the NBA 2K book) gone around the league to scan many of the marquee players. So while a third-string guard on the Cleveland Browns will still be modeled based on photos, you can be rest assured that Colin Kapernick, Cam Newton, and Richard Sherman (of course) all look spot on.
For the game’s presentation, the team brought in Brian Murray, who is a former NFL Films Senior Cinematographer from NFL Films and award winning director of HBO’s Hard Knocks to spice of the games camera angles better than any dev could. And it shows.
The overall presentation package is certainly keyed on on what one would expect not just watching the big game but seeing the little details in between plays. Also included are little pre and half-time shows but unfortunately both leave something to be desired.
The not so good portion of the game’s presentation is the commentary. It’s still old and still bad. If you’re playing a connected franchise with one team in particular, in no time you’ll encounter repeated lines of dialogue to the point you’ll be able to predict what will be said in a given situation. There’s no excuse for this game to have so much polish in other aspects and feature such a dated commentary system. It almost invalidates the improvements made to presentation otherwise.
Among the biggest gameplay changes comes on the defensive side of the ball and in the form of “jumping the snap.” No matter what position you’re playing in the tackle box, the game now allows you to to get a jump on a would be defender on the offensive line. Hitting the L2 button as soon as the ball moves put your defender in a position to make a play. The game even mentions whether your jump was too slow, okay, or perfect.
Once you’re engaged with a defender is when things get interesting. Both the power and finesse move make their return, but are instead remapped to the face buttons on the controller rather than the right stick. The right stick now becomes your way to navigate the offensive line player either into the running lane, or outside of a gap for your linebacker to come in a make a play. Remember in football, you’re not chasing a quarterback on every down. This new found mechanic allows you to play gap responsibilities and really put the brakes on an opposing team’s running game.
Another defensive highlight comes in the form of the addition of a tackling cone. Now when players compete on either rookie, pro, or all-pro this visual tool will show them when a tackle is within arms reach. The cones goes from dark to light from its widest to its narrowest point.
The closer the ball carrier is, the higher the chances are you can go for a successful big hit; ball carriers further away (or in the darker, wider area of the cone) are within reach of a more conservative and more consistent arm tackle. While its inclusion is cool, it doesn’t guarantee every tackle is made either, so to increase your chances against more agile ball carriers you should break down and square up before attempting a game saving tackle.
This year’s iteration they brought back the skills trainer but in a much more in depth fashion. Skills trainer not only goes over the very basics of playing Madden but into the depths of football concepts, which brought me back to my varsity high school football days. Sure, you like playing a Cover 2 on defense but can you recognize one when you step up to the line of scrimmage? After working up all the way through skills trainer not only will you be able to recognize all the various defensive fronts and coverages, you’ll be able to attack them accordingly.
Once you’ve completed all of the skill trainer exercises you can move on top something that’s a little more fun in “Gauntlet.” The mode consists of 40 “levels” or challenges that take a more fun approach of applying all of your Madden skills. You’re given 5 “lives” and every 5 levels or challenges completed you’re introduced to the “boss” which is an over the top drill.
Play-calling in game has also been… changed. Gone is the box style play selection and in its absence we are introduced to a more connected, data-based system. You can still call plays the more traditional way you’re used to, you just won’t have the familiar layout.
The play-calling system now also includes information compiled from the community, including suggested plays worth running, the percentage in which they are effective and the average outcome in yardage. It can seem like information overload at times on screen but it’s nice in the way that it lets you turn off your brain while calling plays and still remain effective and competitive.
Gamers looking for a more in depth experience will still be turning to the game’s connected franchise feature. Think of it as the game’s RPG mode, as players will seek experience points (XP) to improve player performance. New to this year’s mode is confidence and game prep. Player confidence is based on a scale from 0-99 (very much like a rating) and can be affected by everything going on from on the field, to back in the office with trades, etc. Game prep, just like in real life, can directly affected a player’s confidence. A good week of practice through skills trainer-like scenarios can lead to a boost in performance in the upcoming game.
Madden Ultimate team also makes its return in a big way. While the team at Madden touts it as it’s fastest growing part of the franchise, the experience can be a bit overwhelming to newcomers. Upon booting the game the first time, you’ll find it right on the main screen.
And for the first time that I can remember it is (finally) designed to ease players into the whole player card collecting experience. Cards are earned through playing the mode and earning coins that can redeemed for packs of cards. They can also be obtained another way.
In the end, Madden NFL 15 improves on parts of the Madden experience that have needed to be addressed for sometime now. The presentation inches it closer to its sports simulation counterparts. The skills trainer is bringing football to a whole new generation, which is arguably one of the most important contribution the series brings to the sport.
The focus on defense this year is a welcome change to what has historically been an offense focused affair. If you picked up Madden last year, there is arguably just enough new content and gameplay to merit the upgrade.