Moments after loading up Madden NFL 17, you’re greeted with a cavalcade of information, players, and stats pertaining to the Los Angeles Rams, a team which has generated a great deal of attention this offseason with the move from St. Louis and the huge draft trade to acquire Jared Goff as the first overall rookie draft pick. From there, you’re transferred to the brand new Los Angeles field with the Rams down by seven to the Washington Redskins with a playoff spot on the line. It’s up to you to help Goff bring the Rams to the other end of the field and keep your playoff hopes alive. Much like years prior, this is a scenario that’s only scripted until you take control, and whether you score a touchdown or not determines how it plays out. While this game holds no merit to your future in Madden NFL 17, it does bring to the forefront the efforts that EA has put into emulating the presentation aspects of football.
It’s been a long time coming for Madden to receive an overhaul on special teams. What once was a throwaway aspect of the game now requires a great deal of focus in comparison. With both punts and field goals, you must hold the Left Joystick so that it maintains the aiming arcs where you wish to kick the ball until the kick has been initiated. Then executing the kick itself requires concentration: The first X press starts the gauge, then the second X press places the power where you want it, and the final press sets the level of accuracy on the ball. So, with all of these things to consider when kicking the ball, there’s no more slacking off on special teams plays. To make this overhaul even better, punters now can change the way they kick the ball, opting for a spiral, forward spin, or backwards spin in order to affect how the ball bounces. Blocking kicks are also a much bigger deal than before, with them being more of a chance as opposed to an anomaly. Now, it doesn’t happen every other play or even every other game, but the edge rushers get closer each time and a proper jump off the line gives you a chance to at least get close. With all of this, strategy has been added to an aspect of the game that is far more important in the actual game of football than it has been in the Madden franchise up to this point.
Be prepared for loading screens. From loading up Madden NFL 17 to jumping into a game, the expected wait is at least 40 seconds; in fact, after timing the loading process, the average result left me waiting 43 seconds, and this includes practices, Gauntlet, and training. Repeat Madden players may not pay particular attention to this, since the loading times have always been cumbersome, but after playing this game for almost nine consecutive outings, the loading times have stayed generally the same. With each year, more and more presentation and gameplay options are added and enhanced, but it would be a worthy and welcoming option to turn off all the fluff sometimes. There’s a ton of hard work put into the near-cinematic presentation every year, and it dazzles in spades (and having Cris Collonsworth out of the picture helps too), but a sports game requires playing game after game, and seeing the same extras over and over prove inhibiting more than anything.
The act of tackling is an annual focus, and each year gets better as more ideas become implemented. Both sides of the ball benefit from Tackle Battle, a quick-time event, that’s initiated when one or two tacklers engage a ball carrier. If you hit the proper button prompt as the carrier, you’ll wiggle out of the situation and progress. Conversely, the tackler will take down the runner if executed properly. This is a change that continues to push the play of Madden NFL 17 into what takes place on a regular basis in the NFL, and while the aerial attack last year was somewhat imbalanced, Tackle Battle yields a better balance and equally favors the big backs, receivers, linemen, and linebackers to do exactly what they should be able to do. Regardless, the game of Madden is still embedded in animations, and while those animations have more room for simulation, it’s still blatantly clear that animations are an issue when a player falls forward for five yards or more while carrying three defenders.
Franchise Mode isn’t much more than it has been in recent years. Much like the general presentation of the game itself, Franchise Mode directs you front and center to play as a coach to get the best experience without making things too complicated. What this does it overshadow the (could still be) deeper experience as a team owner or as a single player climbing the ranks. Playing as a coach is great, because it focuses more on the players than on what goes on behind the scenes, but turning one into a focal point over the other options is disingenuous to what the game has to offer. So instead of hiding what could be better, spending more time with the Franchise Owner or Player options should be the only option. Many Madden players want something similar to what came with NFL Head Coach way back in the 2000s, and Madden dances on the wrong side of that line. If Franchise Mode had the same amount of love and attention behind it as Madden Ultimate Team, then a yearly purchase would be even more justified.
Oh, and Skip Bayless would never say a kind word about Aaron Rodgers.
To note Player Career, a proper camera angle needs to be made so playing as a defender isn’t riddled with little mistakes that cough up big plays. With any locked player, the player is right between the camera and the ball, so when the ball is thrown, the camera starts moving at crazy angles, affecting the way that your player moves and ultimately breaking coverage. Making it so coverage is run by the CPU for you in order to compensate for said Cannes makes playing a defender redundant, as you’re supposed to be doing it yourself. The unified concept of Franchise Mode has been around for a while, but Player Franchise needs to have some special attention given to it before it can compete with similar experiences found in the MLB The Show or NBA 2K franchises. Until then, Player Career will be a mode that only offensive players can fully enjoy.
Apart from presentation, the only significant change to Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) is the change between last year’s Styles to this year’s Chemistry. With Styles, only certain players had certain styles as their focus, which bottlenecked the game based on what cards were available for your preferred style. Now with Chemistry, any player with chemistry will contribute to your team’s overall chemistry value. Where MUT excels is how that overall chemistry channels into subcategories. These subcategories work much like how Styles did last year, but they occur more in the background. Much like with Styles, each player has its own particular play style like Man-to-Man or Vertical Offense that will contribute to that specific subcategory, but it will also be included in the overall Chemistry value. The reason any of this is important is that player stats are granted boosts based on their Style, which means that players will perform better than they normally would due to that boost in stats. With these subcategories working in the background and Chemistry taking the forefront, building a strong MUT team is much easier with deeper elements for those who wish to delve into the cost and work it takes to make the very best possible team in the game.
Madden NFL 17 reminds me extensively of what took place in the version of Madden NFL 25 that launched on PS4, when running the ball was the most entertaining. Now is an edition of the game when both sides of the ball are on the same level, and with the favor going one way or another most years, it’s a refreshing outing. Equally so, the game is not facilitating in the least. Movement is much more subtle now. Each juke or spin isn’t hyperbolized at all: Instead, most times when a tackler misses or a defender makes an incredible swat, it’s by inches rather than yards. With such high stakes coming out of each little movement, the camera by default is zoomed quite, almost uncomfortably, close, so it’s hard to see if a pursuer is taking an angle on you, but the camera helps to keep the little things more apparent, like teammate’s feet you may trip over or a small gap in the front lines you can squeeze through. It really reflects on the game when those little things are part of the game like this, so Madden is going in the right direction here. The best thing that happened to Madden was how it assessed its server issues a few years ago, so now it’s all down to gameplay mechanics and fine-tuning what it already has. Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement. While most of the game offers a facilitating experience for new players, only Ultimate Team offers a truly deep, fulfilling experience for long-time players, and that requires either a deep wallet or a metric ton of work and play time.