It feels like it was only last week that the New England Patriots’ Malcolm Butler made that fateful interception with only 20 seconds left in Super Bowl 49. Then you wake up one day and teams are already on the road to Super Bowl 50. That also means a brand new Madden NFL as per the late summer tradition. Capitalizing on the many strengths of last year’s installment, Madden NFL 16 isn’t the kind of "status quo" sequel that made the likes of Madden NFL 07 or 12 forgettable. This year’s Madden feels like an outward acknowledgement that different fans not only gravitate to different modes, but different play styles as well.
This recognition of the diversity of tastes and play preference is fitting for the 2015 installment of Madden NFL. It helped a great deal that Madden NFL 15 made defense as compelling as offense, which means a lot for a series that used to be known for its unintentional propensity to encourage deep passes. This kind of accessibility in Madden NFL 16 can be found in its myriad training drills and more significantly, in the ever popular Ultimate Team mode. In fact, the first decision you have to make in Ultimate Team is to choose your team style, whether it’s a Speed Run offense, a Pass Rush defense, or six other play systems.
For as much as EA Tiburon has made defense more appealing, it still found time to add new and practical options to the passing game. Now quarterbacks can elect to throw a hotly contested high jump throw or a low throw for a higher percentage catch. In regards to catches, players can take the high risk on a run-after-catch or leap for a highlight reel moment. If oncoming traffic is an issue, the receiver can use a possession catch to give the ball added protection. These new features positively add to an already robust arsenal of offensive maneuvers, and getting the hang of these new moves is as gratifying as it is countering them as defense.
Many of those who saw no significant changes in adjusting the sliders in Madden NFL 15 will be pleased to learn that EA Sports improved the sliders’ sensitivity this year. You might not notice an improvement over the course of a quarter, but you should see a change over the course of a game. These adjustments include tackling efficiency, the likelihood of fumbles, and facemask calls--over 40 conditions in all. From hail mary passes to dramatic interceptions, all these moments are possible with the game's default settings, but it's great to have the option to tweak their frequency to your liking should the need arise.
EA Tiburon has created the most visually arresting football video game to date. That goes across nearly the entire visual spectrum, from the play animations to the uniform detail. The studio also managed to narrow the animation gap between the smooth on-field action and the less fluid scenes on the sidelines after the whistle. I had hoped for this gap to tighten even further in Madden 16, especially when player movements during huddle breaks and pile avoidance has never looked more realistic. Unfortunately, Madden NFL 16's presentation doesn't compare to the broadcast quality visuals found in other EA Sports franchises like FIFA and NHL, which convincingly recreate the feeling of watching live TV. Unlike those two series, I have never had any onlookers mistake Madden 16 for the real deal.
EA Tiburon has created the most visually arresting football video game to date. That goes across nearly the entire visual spectrum, from the play animations to the uniform detail.
Proving that EA Tiburon isn’t shy about experimentation, it's introduced a new team building customization mode called Draft Champions. You wouldn’t be blamed for mistaking it as a replacement to Madden Ultimate Team, as both modes are driven by building the best possible squad. The difference is that Draft Champions is more influenced by fantasy football. Along with picking an active coach, you undergo 15 rounds of drafts. Each round limits you to a small random selection of players of a specific position, meaning that you get completely different teams every time you draft a new team. Much like Ultimate Team, Draft Champions’ draw is the element of surprise on player availability. It’s a novelty-free mode that makes for a fine permanent addition to the Madden NFL modes suite. It complements Ultimate Team well enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if Draft Champions is absorbed into the Ultimate Team submenu in future Madden games.
There’s an impressive cleanliness to the Madden NFL user interface this year. Its modes are still laid out using boxes of various sizes, but it manages to distance itself from the Microsoft Windows-inspired UI that has become the generic style of many racing and sports games in recent years. The key modes like Franchise, Ultimate Team, and Online Head to Head are all aptly featured in the main screen, while leaderboards and the ability to rewrite history from the 2014 season can be found in the submenus. This results in a cleaner main menu, one that does not overwhelm you with options upon initial start-up.
Practice mode remains valuable among these options, offering numerous combinations of scenarios that you can test out over and over again until you get it right. It’s about the closest you’ll get to a real life training camp and it's incredibly useful. Just as Draft Champions complements Ultimate Team with minimal redundancies, Practice feels likes a sibling mode to the Gatorade-sponsored Skills Trainer. The latter focuses on more specific and fundamental plays like attacking coverages and run concepts.
The result is a game that's ultimately accessible to pretty much anyone. When there is a 6-drill set titled "HELP! I AM NEW TO MADDEN", you get the sense that Madden 16 is a welcome playground. That particular section is found under the Gatorade Skills Trainer and underscores the lighthearted nature of the mode. Its most notable feature is the return of The Gauntlet drill series, aptly titled "The Gauntlet Strikes Back", a nod to the fact that this is the second year of this now-popular mode.
There’s a good deal of thoughtfulness in Madden NFL 16. Devoid of any throwaway modes or game types that rely on nostalgia, Madden NFL 16 is both sensible and forward thinking. Its developers could have made a bigger deal about Super Bowl 50 or relied more heavily on the appeal of Hall of Fame players (who are available in Ultimate Team). Instead, EA Tiburon has focused more on fans’ diverse play tastes as well as making this one of the most welcoming Madden games in recent memory.