It’s an age-old tale in the world of sports video games: Every year we get a new version of an old game that makes small changes from the previous year to get less fake and closer to the actual game.
One of the biggest sports games on the planet is undoubtedly EA Sports’ annual “Madden” offering. I’ve been playing “Madden NFL 16” for a few days now, the latest of the bunch, and for once I have to admit that everyone who is into sports games should pick this up.
I don’t normally say this about sports video games.
Usually the changes from year to year are so incremental that it’s hard to see a huge reason to upgrade. You can usually get away with buying a new version every two or three years, especially since many of the games started allowing players to create and share rosters seamlessly online. For me personally, updated rosters used to be the biggest reason I would update year to year. That concern is now, mostly, gone.
A long-awaited overhaul
“Madden NFL 16” is different than its previous iterations because, despite all the new heralded features, the main change is an overhaul to the menu screens and out-of-game experience. And that has been the single most frustrating thing about “Madden” games over the past five years or so.
This upgrade alone is so good that it should convince everyone to buy it.
Generally the menus are clunky, slow, and hard to get around. And year after year we’ve had to deal with the same thing, but EA has finally revamped them and they look great.
Here are the main menus in action:
Here’s the main menu for Connected Franchise mode:
It may seem like a small change, but it’s actually a huge step in user functionality.
This change alone is why I suggest all “Madden” lovers update to this version of the game and buy “Madden 16.” The experience feels streamlined, attractive, easy to use, and simple to understand and navigate. Finally!
On the field
What most people want to know, of course, is what to expect on the field. That is where the action is after all. And in “Madden NFL 16,” it’s as great as always. But don’t expect any groundbreaking improvements.
When the “Madden” games launched on next generation consoles Xbox One and PlayStation 4 a couple of years ago, the overhaul was massive. Physics were reimagined, player models became incredibly lifelike, and gameplay became much more nuanced.
This year’s “Madden” looks a lot like last year’s game, and that’s OK. It’s gorgeous.
The franchise took huge strides when it moved to the latest consoles. It’s a beautiful game that really makes you feel like you’re there. If you watch a lot of NFL football, as I do, it’s always daunting to go back to these newer “Madden” games after a while and remember again how close to reality they are getting aesthetically.
As with each year, the physics of “Madden 16” feel just slightly more organic than the previous year. This especially comes into play during big hits, gang tackles, and Cornerback and Wide Receiver duels.
The biggest changes you’re going to see on the field are in presentation.
For example, introduction of the QB when he first walks onto the field now features an augmented reality kind of feel we’re used to seeing from Fox Sports NFL broadcasts:
But even more noticeably, it’s the in-game stats like this that really change the experience:
I love this change. I am obsessed with in-game statistics while I’m playing simulation sports games, and often find myself so grateful when the game weaves them in seamlessly. Usually you have to wait a while for another stat to come up, mostly because these games are often trying to mimic the broadcast style. When you’re watching an NFL game on television, you aren’t getting constantly updated on stats throughout. They pick their spots.
“Madden 16” has foregone that for an experience which feeds you in-game stats all the time. It’s awesome.
And you’ll see it throughout. That little marker and arrow shows up all the time. It will tell you a quarterback’s completion percentage, how many yards a running back has, how many tackles a linebacker has so far, and everything in between. It really enriches the experience on the field and helps the story of the game extend out and become more interesting than who wins and who loses.
Another mostly new feature is receiver and defensive back controls. You could always control the actual catch of the ball, and the defence of a receiver on a ball, but this year the controls are made simpler and a bigger part of the game.
I love the new receiver controls. And they serve the purpose of giving you more control over the game which, in turn, brings it closer and closer to an actual game experience.
Once the quarterback throws the ball you can immediately tell the receiver to catch it in a certain way. You can choose to aggressively try to catch it so the defender can’t get it, catch it in a way that allows you to run afterwards, or safely catch it to minimise risk.
This control is awesome and adds another layer of fun to the game.
You can also take more control over the defensive back by switching to the player covering a receiver and trying to snatch it away. Given that I tend to take less control on defence rather than more, this is not my thing. But I can see how others would like it. Also, this feature is mostly only new in presentation, as previous “Madden” game’s have had it before in a similar form.
Modes and Menus
For the most part you can expect the same experiences in “Madden NFL 16” as past games. The one major addition is a “Draft Champions” mode which is kind of a riff on fantasy football. You go through multiple rounds of re-drafting the NFL to make your own fantasy team. Then you take them onto the field to compete against the CPU or other players.
EA Sports says the mode is specifically designed to be quick and repeatable.
And I get that: It seems like a good way to keep people engaged in the game even when it’s not football season. I have yet to try this feature, but it sounds like a solid edition and more fun than Madden Ultimate Team — a classic mode that I’ve never been particularly fond of.
The skills trainer is way better this year, benefiting from the organisation that the new menu system brings to the whole game. It’s just easier to pinpoint the specific aspects you want to improve on and quickly train. “Madden” is hard, so this is important.
The big season mode, dubbed “Connected Franchise,” is largely the same, although the menus, again, are so much more streamlined this year.
It keeps you focused on getting to the next game and playing football instead of toiling in the muck of managing a team, which is a much less fun aspect of the game. That stuff’s all there, it’s just not front and center.
Worth your money
New iterations of sports games change so little usually that buying every single game year to year isn’t worth unless you’re a superfan. “Madden NFL 16” is just one of those sports games that you should get because it fixes a lot of previous problems, and it’s much more fun to play as a result of that.
“Madden NFL 16” comes out August 25th for Xbox One and PS4.
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