Football is back and more dramatic than ever, folks. Thanks to a bevy of retirements, injuries and suspensions, several of the NFL’s top teams will be without their top superstars to start the season. Talk about excitement!
Thankfully, “Madden NFL 17” is here to give you a virtual space to pretend everything is alright and that your favourite team actually has a chance this year. Here’s how this year’s game improves and expands upon the series:
'Madden NFL 17' offers a new way to play through a season with any team in Franchise Mode. 'Big Moments' condenses each game into a 15- to 20-minute chunk where the player only takes control on big third downs, two-minute drills and in the red zone (on both offence and defence).
This fixes the problem from previous games where the only way to feel like you were really in control was to play every snap of the game on offence and defence, a tedious and lengthy process.
This way, you can get that crucial first down to run down the clock, throw the game-winning touchdown pass or sack the opposing quarterback on fourth down without worrying about the boring stuff.
As you'd expect of any significant new feature, the 'Big Moments' system is far from perfect. Mainly, it could stand to defer control to the player a bit more often.
As I guided the Kansas City Chiefs to a 15-1 season and a Super Bowl championship, there were a few moments of frustration. On a couple of occasions, I had to sit and watch as my simulated offence stalled on three consecutive drives, or as my defence gave up a few touchdowns without my intervention.
Those are things my wonderful boys would never do in real life.
I think they could alter the system to let the player intervene at least once on every possession (while the game is still close) without making the games feel too long. As it stands, 'Big Moments' changes the game for the better, but it needs work.
Thankfully, playing football is as good as it's been in years in 'Madden NFL 17.' This is all thanks to a few small but welcome improvements.
If you set up a running play on offence, holding the right trigger will draw a green box on screen to show you a soft spot in the defence, if one exists at all. This way, you can change to a run that exploits the soft spot, or stick with the one you had dialed up if it already did.
Once you're actually controlling someone with the ball in their hands, the game helpfully gives you on-screen button prompts to perform jukes, stiff-arms or spin moves when necessary. If you think that sounds like 'Madden' for babies, you can turn it off.
Also, before each game in Franchise Mode, you can take part in practice sessions that teach you how to execute certain plays that will work against the team you're about to play. This isn't necessarily new, but it does a much better job of explaining arcane football concepts than before.
One more thing: The commentary has been massively improved, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms' staleness replaced by newcomers Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis. You can read more about that here.
It's not especially flashy or dramatic, but kicking field goals and punting has been improved in this year's game. It's now a process of three button presses: once to start the kick, once to set the power, and then once to set the accuracy.
It's cleanly illustrated on-screen so you're never confused about how your kick is going to go. It's much better than previous games, where it was more confusing and the player was more detached from the process.
I consider it a rousing endorsement of the new system that I've actually managed to pin the opponents back with punts a few times, something I didn't quite understand how to do in older games.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the 'Madden' games in recent years has been just how long it takes to get to the part where you play football.
'Madden NFL 17' alleviates this a little bit, but the job isn't done yet. You can now quickly skip through replay reviews, time outs and the two-minute warning, but the amount of time spent in menus is still just ridiculous.
The menus, as always, are jerky and unresponsive at times, which doesn't help. At one point, I felt like my console was going to explode because the game was hitching up repeatedly as I tried to scout college players for the upcoming draft.
These things might not seem important in the big picture, but a smooth interface can often be the difference between a game that's fun to play and one that's headache-inducing. This has been a problem with the series for years, and it doesn't stop with this year's game.
Thankfully, 'Madden NFL 17' doesn't introduce any huge new problems to the series that I've found. It had one job: make last year's game better. It succeeded.
It isn't going to revolutionise the genre, but it didn't set out to do that. It isn't suddenly going to be a great time for people who don't care about football, but it didn't set out to be one.
Instead, it smartly improves upon its foundation with 'Big Moments' and a slew of little gameplay enhancements. It's the most fun I've had playing a 'Madden' game since I started about five years ago.
Now, they need to just fix those menus.
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