When it comes to yearly installments of sports games, its all about steps being taken in the right direction. It isn’t about drastic improvements or innovative modes. Well, at least it shouldn’t be for you. If it is, I am betting you are a Madden hater year in and year out.
While the pros and cons of yearly installments of games is an editorial in and of itself, this is the mindset I take when I sit down with a new Madden. What I look for is improvements that takes the franchise in the right direction. Improvements based on community feedback and criticism. Something more accessible. Something that continues to center itself around having fun. Madden NFL 15 has this in spades. But don’t think its not without its issues.
When launching Madden NFL 15 for the first time you will be introduced by this year’s focus: defense. Playing as the Carolina Panthers and Ace Boogie (Cam Newton) himself, you will be up against Sherman and the unstoppable Seattle Seahawks defense in the last minutes of the 2015 NFC Championship game. After being promptly shutdown by their D, Sherman walks towards the camera and tells you its all about the defense this year. And he isn’t wrong in the slightest.
Shortly after this eye opening defensive experience, you will be introduced to Skills Trainer. In years past, Madden suffered from being somewhat inaccessible. A game that was hardcore through and through. While this has gotten better in the past two years, Madden NFL 15 is the pinnacle of accessibility in the Madden franchise. The detailed information provided in Skills Trainer provides knowledge that any newcomer can understand. It introduces every aspect of the game and allows for players to ease themselves into the experience. In addition, all the modes are introduced in detail by Ace Boogie himself which is adds yet another element of accessibility to the game.
The modes that are introduced are your usual experiences — sans team play. Connected Franchise (Player, Coach, Owner), Madden Ultimate Team, Gauntlet, and, of course, Online Head to Head. A majority of the focus for the modes has been put on Connected Franchise and Madden Ultimate Team.
Connected Franchise’s biggest improvement is the game prep feature. In the past few years you had to run through practices in order to gain experience for your team. This was an unnecessary and painful time drain to progress your players. With game prep, you are given full control over where to focus your time up to Sunday’s game. Spend X amount of hours provided for the week and focus on a specific player, position(s), or entire team. This entirely menu based system provides a quick, easy, a fully customizeable experience to build your team. Focus on either XP or, new to this year, confidence.
Confidence is gained and lost based on your team’s performance. Should you be on a winning streak, confidence goes up. Should you be on a losing streak, it goes down. But there is always a way to keep confidence in check by spending your weekly hours on confidence so your player performance doesn’t get negatively impacted. I have found confidence to be a bit too extreme at times as confidence going down due to a losing streak isn’t necessarily realistic. I feel it needs an element of randomness to it as well. Not the best addition to the game but it provides another element of customization and realism.
Madden Ultimate Team (MUT), the franchise’s money maker, has received some great improvements as well. One of the biggest issues I’ve had with MUT is the menu system was atrocious. Way too much moving between panes. This year, it has greatly streamlined the interface and has becoming a pleasant experience start to finish. And while MUT is certainly a gateway into microtransactions, MUT in Madden NFL 15 provides so much content to go through to grind your way through challenges and build up your coin bank. If your willing to put in the time, you will be able to build up a very solid team.
Another unique element of MUT is the addition of play style. When starting MUT for the first time you will be asked to choose between play styles like short pass, long pass, run heavy, zone coverage, etc. Various player cards can increase your play style of choice and in turn increase the performance of your play style. Once your team is rated 85+ you can choose a second play style. This is a great addition to MUT and provides another focus outside of just player rating to build overall team rating. MUT is easily the best its ever been.
So, the modes are improved but that doesn’t mean much without solid gameplay. For one, defense is finally fun. Two things have been added to defensive gameplay: a tackle cone and defensive moves. The tackle cone is shown in front of the defensive player and is used to accurately and realistically tackle. If the player is outside of the cone, you will miss the tackle. This provides an element of realism that was missing in tackling and means that you will have to understand and execute tackling fundamentals: get a good angle, square up, and tack him down.
The defensive moves added this year are a much needed feature but it is not without its issues. Playing as a defensive lineman or a blitzing linebacker in years past was a crapshoot. You had little to no control over being able to make a play on the ball. This year, that is completely fixed. Upon snapping the ball you will be prompted to press R2 which represents getting a step on the snap. Once engaged with a lineman you will be prompted to press either square or x. If the correct button is pressed at the correct time you will make a move on the lineman and get past them. While this certainly makes defense more fun, it can be a bit overpowered at times. This feature as well as man coverage does not seem to accurately consider the stats and attributes of the players. The matchups need to be properly analyzed so defensive moves as well as one on one man coverage has a chance to fail or succeed entirely based on the offender and defender stats and attributes. Hopefully this is something that is focused on in next year’s installment.
Another element of gameplay that still needs focus next year is blocking. It seems to be somewhat improved but both at the line and downfield blocking by the CPU is mind boggling at times. It is as if the blocker doesn’t even register the closest defender that can make the play. This results in unrealistic broken plays that could have had a chance of going yard. Frustrating to say the least.
In my mind, the biggest and most beneficial improvement is the ability to change the camera on the fly. From a zoomed in view to a sideline view on offense and a zoomed out and defensive perspective view on defense, the ability to change the camera at the press of the directional pad is seamless. I found myself switching the camera based on the play I was running as well as going into defensive view to fully immerse myself in the defensive experience. Hands down my favorite sleeper hit of this year.
Finally, the presentation. The start of game presentation, player intros, and halftime show are absolutely stunning. Every bit of this presentation screams television broadcasting. It definitely adds to the experience. But this is quickly taken away by the same old commentary from Phil Simms and Jim Nantz. This — along with blocking — must be a focus by EA next year. And its not Phil or Jim’s fault either. I feel it is more the writing and scripting that is the problem. It needs to be more detailed and more realistic. Until then, presentation is sub-par at best.
Given the positive additions to Connected Franchise, MUT, and defensive gameplay, Madden NFL 15 is a great installment to the franchise. Madden NFL 25 was a bit of a disappointment but this does next-gen football justice. I find it to be a step in the right direction but greatly hope to see EA focus on some of the issues seen in the past with a more realistic application of defensive and offensive skills, revamped commentary, and dare I say a physics engine built from the ground up? Regardless of its issues though, it is definitely worth any football fan’s time.
This review is based on a physical copy of Madden NFL 15 for the PlayStation 4.