Since EA made an exclusivity deal with the NFL back in 2004, the series has been under attack for its lack of evolution and an ongoing commitment to relatively stagnant gameplay and iterative game design. It’s the kind of dogs abuse that FIFA would receive if they were in a position to financially force Pro Evolution Soccer out of the market, and honestly, while it’s not surprising in any way given the enforced monopoly that they have on the sport, for the most part, it is an unfair one.
Some years are better than others of course, but when you consider the quick turnaround necessary to get each release out the door and the balancing act required to appease the hardcore while simultaneously remaining accessible to the broader market, the Madden series arguably does more than most when it comes to justifying the ongoing existence of its annual sporting franchise.
Sure, Madden NFL 25 was a huge disappointment and Madden NFL 15, despite its many positives, represented more of an evolution than an revolution, but while I won’t go as far as to say that Madden NFL 16 re-writes the rule book on virtual gridiron, there is no getting around the fact that it represents a major improvement over last year’s already stellar offering while delivering some of the most effective changes made to the fundamental Madden experience in years.
The biggest change comes in the form of the passing game. As something of an all or nothing Madden player, a move away from the defensively minded approach of Madden NFL 15 has proved a welcome one, but even as someone who probably puts up far too many fourth down prayers, I’d be the first to admit that making major changes to Madden’s solid passing game was always going to be a risky endeavour. Any changes would have to be carefully nuanced as to not throw the rest of the experience out of whack, but fair play to EA Tiburon, by building upon what already worked, they have managed to create a passing game that feels both familiar and new. The defence hasn’t been gimped either (in many respects, it’s actually been strengthened by the new options available in offence), instead, the passing game has simply been evolved to give offensive players far greater control than ever before.
It might be initially overwhelming to newcomers and part-time Madden players, but the new double-tap pass ability really does open up your offensive options. The lob and bullet pass options are still here and as effective as ever, but with the double-tap allowing you to find the space between defenders while giving you the additional option to throw low for wide receivers of high for more dramatic long bombs, Madden NFL 16 allows you to tailor your game to your strengths while also delivering the ability to react very precisely to specific defensive plays.
It’s not just throwing either – the catching game has also been hugely improved for this latest release. In the past, I’ve had to fight the urge to take control of the receiver as the AI would almost always do a better job than I ever could, but with a new control scheme and three unique catching options, Madden NFL 16 actively encourages the player to take control of the received and to react to the specific situation at hand. Be it a Possession Catch, Aggressive Catch or Run After Catch, the receiving aspect of the game has never been this good with the new options giving you further control over the situation at hand and allowing you to react based upon the position of the defence and the trajectory of the pass. The Aggressive Catch might be a tad too effective at this point, but for the most part, it allows for a more aggressive offensive game and, despite the initial complexity, should benefit both the hardcore and newcomers alike. Purists might argue that it their inclusion encourages unrealistic 4th down heroics, but these additions, alongside the improved passing and already fantastic defensive game, combine to make Madden NFL 16 the most intuitive and enjoyable Madden game ever released.
Again, the new controls do make for an initially less accessible product, but thanks to its great playable introductory glimpse into the future (The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. The Arizona Cardinals at Superbowl 50 anyone?) and its collection of much improved and surprisingly entertaining tutorials, it won’t be long until even the greenest of Madden players are taking advantage of the new passing and catching abilities at their disposal.
While the changes to the fundamental offensive game will inevitably steal the limelight, the presentation, which was already fantastic last year, has also seen some major improvements for Madden NFL 16. The player likenesses are better than ever, the stadiums and kits look great, and an array of on screen information including some very nifty statistical pop-ups help to bring the overall presentation that one step closer to the ultimate goal of full Sunday Night Football replication. The Superbowl 50 taster at the star of the game might have a few cheesy lines and a bit of unsightly slowdown, but as a spectacle, it’s still an incredibly impressive introduction to the game.
As one might expect, the full quota of game modes have all made a return this year with the potentially life consuming, Madden Ultimate Team as good as ever and the Connected Franchise offering a number of refinements including the hugely enjoyable in-game drive goals that reward you with additional XP for the completion of down-specific challenges. The big new addition for 2016 however, comes in the form of the all-new and incredibly addictive, Draft Championship Mode.
Based loosely on the concept of Fantasy Football (It’s even bigger in the States than it is here), this mode tasks you with drafting your team over a 15 round player draft that wisely incorporates coach specific playbooks that encourage you to think carefully about the selection of your team beyond the simple matter of choosing the players with the best stats. Of course, the choice is yours, but to get the best team possible, you’ll have to balance individual stats against the tactical requirements of your chosen coach’s specific playbook requirements. Not only is this game mode fundamentally addictive, but it also encourages you to play the game using a number of different players (from both the past and present), urging you to experiment with different styles and set-ups.
It’s still Madden as you know it, but thanks to an array of improvements to the passing and receiving game, Madden NFL 16 arguably represents the finest entry is the series to date. Newcomers might find the new control options initially overwhelming, but thanks to its intuitive design and great collection of tutorials, it won’t be long before it all becomes second nature. The defensive game might not have seen such dramatic changes (a new group tackle is arguably the biggest addition), but it was great last year, and it’s even better now, and honestly, thanks to the new options available to the offense, the depth of the defensive game seems more prevalent than ever before. The all new, Draft Championship Mode might not replace Madden Ultimate Team, but it’s yet another welcome addition to a game that, while perhaps not quite revolutionary, certainly pushes the term evolution to its very limits.
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