In his rookie year, Odell Beckham, Jr., made waves with one play. Despite his natural sportsmanship, he’s known for his one spectacular backwards catch. While he’s spoken time and again that he wants to be remembered for more than that, his iconic play has brought about a major enhancement to this year’s Madden installment. This new mechanic is the frontrunner to another year of enhancements in EA’s Madden NFL 16.
The opening moments of Madden 16 place me at the helm of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. The influence of the NFL Network video crew is showcased here, as Super Bowl 50 is enacted against the Arizona Cardinals. Sequences are delivered through video to put the offense into crucial points of the drive, which is when control of the game is given back to me. After Ben “Big Ben” Roethlisberger gives a motivational speech about the feeling of winning the biggest game in football, he called to Antonio Brown, last year’s leading receiver for the Steelers, and says the play’s going to him. There, I toss a high lob over the Cardinals’ cornerback Patrick Peterson for the game-winning touchdown, and the cinematography takes over.
From there, I follow along with a tour of the general interface at the main menu, and I immediately notice how much quicker I can navigate the menu itself as well as in and out of submenus. Input lag from R2/L2-trigger pull-downs is all but gone, making player searches through teams and navigating during drafts far from cumbersome.
The look and feel of Madden this year hasn’t changed a great deal, despite the visual enhancements. Player faces are much more accurate and distinct and even tattoos are correct for each player, but since the camera is so far away from each individual, those distinctions only benefit instant replay and taking screenshots. On the topic of visuals, animations themselves are diversified in a big way. The ball carrier will attempt to roll away from teammates if they move into each other, shedding and breaking tackles no longer look the same each time, and players being tackled more reflect how they’re hit when tackled by more than one player.
Quarterbacks now have the ability to make more specific passes, as well. With the L1 and L2 buttons, QBs can throw the ball at higher or lower positions, respectively, to the receiver. Touch passes are now varied. A single tap gives a touch pass with a lot of height while a double tap gives a pass with less height, so it drops right into the receiver’s hands quicker.
These gameplay changes all reflect how the game of football has changed over the last few years. Players are making bigger plays and teams are all playing very differently than in years past, and it’s important that EA Sports has taken this to heart when constructing Madden this year. Each and every player is a reflection of his statistics, allowing players with 50 overall to be good half the time, for instance. While that’s a strong positive, I believe there is a latent negative in it as well. Certain players will have obvious advantages built into their statistics, such as the running and trucking abilities of running backs like Marshawn Lynch as well as the spectacular catching of wide receivers like cover player Odell Beckham, Jr. However, the newest offensive mechanic, Aggressive Catch, has made its own waves, and players like Beckham, Jr., benefit the most from it.
While the Aggressive catching mechanic works evenly when both defender and receiver are 70 or below in equivalent ratings, the receivers tend to take the ball more when they’re above 85, and this holds true even against defensive backs with equivalent catching and jumping abilities. Offline play isn’t harmed by this, but it’s at its worst when playing online, because it’s quite frankly demoralizing to jump up for the ball with both hands to have the receiver, while facing away from the ball, reach over with one hand and take it away at the same height from behind (see image below). Luckily, balancing things like this only require a patching, but it’ll still be a nuisance as long as online players keep exploiting it.
Penalty enforcement has been increased, which also reflects on how the game of football has changed, and it’s for the better. What this brings to light is one particular ailment to the Madden series that hasn’t been fixed in years, and that’s what I like to call AI interference. AI Interference is when a defender stands in the way of your receiver while running your route, inhibiting your ability to catch the pass. In the NFL, it’s pass interference when a defender impedes a receiver from attempting a contestable ball, which plainly means that the receiver must be allowed to go after the ball without being physically defended against (this doesn’t exclude the defender’s playability on the ball as long as the defender goes for the ball instead of the receiver). In Madden 16, defenders, especially linebackers, tend to sit in the defensive box while in Zone Coverage, and when players get bunched up there in the middle of the field, there’s no way for the receivers to make their routes. Again, this issue has been around for a while, but it’s only now that, since the penalties are more detailed, this issue bubbles to the surface.
Commentary has taken a big hit, but that’s only because it’s pretty much the same as it always has been. A few little things have been added, and the flow of dialogue has smoothed out, but there’s a lot of general meandering between Jim Nantz and Phil Simms that doesn’t do much besides take up time. What’s really missing here is the level of conversation that real analysts have, including historical and topical statements. Most players I’ve interacted with tend to mute the commentary, and this game doesn’t give much reason to change that general habit.
Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) makes its presence known this year more than ever. Cards can still be purchased through in-game coins or real cash, and those cards make up teams; and you can still play either against other players in shorten season form or do events against the CPU. MUT remains unchanged, but it really doesn’t need much change. What makes it more interesting this year is the addition of Draft Champions. Mimicking the standard execution of MUT, it gives you quick access to a full team of randomly chosen players. To make things more interesting, you get to select one of three cards in a total of fifteen rounds to help strengthen your team. Once completed, your Draft team must win three games straight in order to win the Draft Champions challenge, as one loss will disqualify you and require a redraft. Even after winning, your assembled team will disappear and you’ll have to go at it again, choosing your best fifteen players through the draft. The ultimate point to partaking of Draft Champions is the reward of special card packs, which can be redeemed and the cards used in MUT.
At the end of the day, Madden 16 succeeds far more than it has in previous years. As expected, there’s always room to grow, but such is the game of football itself. Ultimate Team adds a new complementary mode in Draft Champions, and the integrity of animations throughout is phenomenal, leaving the end result feeling more and more like the real thing. With a little balancing and tweaking, the Madden franchise will have all the components needed for a stupendous game.