Also On: PS4
Developer: EA Tiburon
While the 2016 version of EA’s yearly Madden franchise doesn’t feel too dissimilar to 2015, there are definitely changes worth noting as positive improvements or additions. There’s a few drawbacks here too, some technical hiccups abound, but overall I’m left with a pretty positive impression of Madden NFL 16.
First and foremost is the remarkably fun and addictive Draft Champions mode, new for Madden ‘16. Draft Champions picks up the cards-as-players mechanic from Ultimate Team (still one of my favorite Madden things as well this year), but puts a Hearthstone Arena like twist on team building. At the onset of Draft Champions, players are put through a 15 round draft, where three cards of varying rarity are presented, and you’re asked to choose one of those three. It can be a tough choice to drop two out of three solid players presented, but ideally you’re building a team that matches the play strengths of the coach you selected in round one.
Each player has their own stats and overall rating identical to the Ultimate Team mode, but they’re also coded for specific skills, like short pass, long pass, man defense, zone defense, and so on. The coach you pick at the beginning of Draft Champions has two skills that he will excel in, so the team you build is meant to compliment those two skills. As you recruit the right set of players, your overall team score will increase, giving you an idea of how well you’re doing choice-wise. Also, players are completely randomized, outside of the coach round and the final round, which will always present you with Legend players from an earlier era. This means that you’ll sometimes see multiple Wide Receivers, or Halfbacks, and sometimes you won’t see any. For the slots you don’t draft, you’ll be given default silver rarity players to fill those roles.
Once you’ve put together a team, you’re given three games to play, either online or off. For offline games you’ll face increasingly difficult teams, also mashed together using players from all teams. Lose once and you’re out of Draft Champions, and will need to start over using a newly created team. Depending on how far you progress, you’ll be granted card packs which can contain various players for Ultimate Team, or coin cards that can be immediately redeemed towards your coin total, also used for Ultimate Team.
Basically, this mode is pretty great. As an Ultimate Team fan it gives me a good reason to jump in and play a few games of football without committing to season long endeavors or drawn out online matches. You can generally knock out a full Draft Champions round in an hour or less, depending on how well you play. And every effort doesn’t feel wasted due to the rewards given when you finish. It’s a really great addition to Madden this year, and something I hope the developers continue to use.
The other big change this year is a more gameplay driven one, which focuses on providing more options for passing and receiving. It’s not unusual to see Madden attempt to freshen up the controls each year, and this year I feel like they’ve made some positive changes. Essentially every time you throw the ball to a receiver, you have the option to take control of the receiver and hold down X, Y, or A before the catch. Holding down X means your player will transition quickly into a run, and attempt to break away from a defender. Y will see your player doing all he can to catch the ball, perfect for those last second hail mary passes. A is all about retaining possession after the catch, which might not seem immediately useful, but does provide a service for goal line plays.
As far as the actual passing goes, your QB can either tap, double tap, or hold the pass button to perform a lob, touch pass, or bullet pass to a receiver. You can also dictate whether the throw will be high or low by using the L1/LB, or L2/LT buttons. Again, all positive things, even though the concept of bullet passes and lobs isn’t exactly new to the series.
There’s also some changes to the defense, one of which seems potentially exploitable online, but it’ll take a much larger user base to figure this out. When covering a receiver after the ball is in the air, you can either hold down Y or A to either try to intercept the ball or immediately tackle the receiver provided you’re close enough. It does make interceptions feel a little too easy in my opinion, which is a shame since the developers have toned down the overall frequency of turnovers compared to past iterations of Madden. There’s still some level of skill involved, and the defender needs to be relatively close, but it seems to be pretty reliable more often than not.
Again, I found the majority of these changes and additions to be pretty positive. That’s on top of some improved visuals for Xbox One and PS4, new Drive Goals that provide random objectives during Connected Franchise mode, and a really solid set of beginner courses that explain basic to in-depth Madden mechanics for newcomers. These are all steps in the right direction for the franchise, and show that there’s still the potential for evolution out of this long-running series.
But there’s a couple of issues too. The most immediate of which is the subpar introduction to the game, which is meant to emulate a fictional Super Bowl 50 between the Cardinals and the Steelers. It serves as an introduction to the new passing and defense tools, but what makes a bad impression here is the ridiculously choppy framerate that rears its head throughout this sequence. It’s odd too because the framerate doesn’t tend to suffer much when playing outside of this introduction, but here it’s very, very noticeable.
While I haven’t been able to experience the game online with a full community, thanks to EA’s subscription service on Xbox One there’s been a decent amount of online games available. I’ve had little issue connecting to other players, or staying in a match, but lag has been an issue more often than not. I could chalk some of that up to my own internet connection at times, but it’s a frequent enough issue that I’m not willing to lay all the blame at the feet of my ISP. Hopefully this is ironed out in the near future, but I’ll give fair warning that you might have a hard time getting into a smooth game of football at launch.
I’d definitely say the good outweighs the bad with Madden NFL 16 however, thanks in large part to the excellent addition of the Draft Champions mode, and the overall positive changes made to passing and receiving. Again, this isn’t too far removed from Madden ‘15, but I think you could argue that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. Ideally the U.I. could be cleaned up a bit, it’s still sluggish, but that seems to be par for the course with most EA Sports titles nowadays. And of course the online side being a bit iffy is a considerable negative, but hopefully that’s something that can be patched. So whether you’re a yearly consumer of Madden, or you’ve taken a bit of a break from the series in recent years, I think Madden NFL 16 will whet your appetite leading into the NFL season.