A Modest Two-Yard Gain
HIGH: Finally, a kicking system that isn’t always a sure thing.
LOW: Ultimate Team seems to be a bigger cash-grab than before.
WTF: Two hours in and still in training mode?
Madden games have become like iPhones – people only need to buy them every 2-3 years, yet this doesn’t stop hordes from lining up for a shiny new one every September. Madden NFL 17 is no exception. This is a fantastic game and arguably the best digital rendition of American football to date, but after spending the better part of a week with it, I can’t help but wonder if it was a little too conservative with its changes.
At the outset, EA has again raised the bar for visual presentation. From the opening sequence to the improved menu layout, Madden is the current gold standard for sports presentation. Newcomers will quickly feel at home and experienced fans will appreciate how easy it is to get down to business without weeding through unnecessary chaff.
This season’s training mode is deeper than ever and worth a look from all players, even if they run post routes in their sleep. While Madden 17 starts players at square one, it moves at a brisk pace and does a much better job of demonstrating why certain defenses and plays work in specific situations rather than just telling people to follow its lead. Even my most ardent football friends had some aha! moments during these training sessions, and one later pointed out bad situational defense while watching an actual NFL preseason game. Madden has always sought to be the ultimate simulation of the gridiron, but it can now safely add “educational tool” to its resume.
Madden 16 made significant strides in deepening the passing game, but this year’s edition focuses on more subtle (but still much-needed) improvements to the ground attack. It’s not quite there yet, but the game accurately rewards good play-calling with better blocking, more realistic holes in the line, and well-timed visual cues for special moves and jukes. The result is a running game that is both richer and more accessible, making it a good option for typically pass-happy players.
In turn, defenses are no longer impenetrable to inside runs. Though the series has always aimed for realism, veteran players still endured overly difficult short-yardage plays, resulting in pass-heavy strategies that often belied good football logic. This is much less apparent in Madden 17, and should make both single-player and multi contests more balanced and realistic.
The other significant change comes in the form of special teams. For years, EA Sports has tinkered with the kicking system, bouncing between three-click and analog controls, neither of which made the activity that interesting. However, this year’s take on the formula might change that. Combining a moving control arc that is dependent on kicker rating, analog positioning, and a three-click system, Madden 17 has turned special teams into a critical — and nerve-wracking — part of the experience.
With field goals no longer automatic, close contests become considerably more dramatic and interesting, just as in the actual NFL. Again, it’s not perfect – online play features noticeable lag after initiating the kick meter – but it’s a lot closer than ever before.
The new broadcast booth of Charles Davis and Brandon Gaudin is a perfectly adequate addition, even if the new guys lack some of the spark we’ve come to expect from NFL commentary. It should also be noted that EA Sports is rumored to be updating commentary regularly, possibly eliminating season-long redundancies and inaccuracies that plague its other titles. If EA can deliver all-new, relevant commentary on a regular basis, gamers will likely forgive the lack of verbal fireworks.
So, another year, another Madden. Is it worth the price of entry?
Perhaps it’s not the game changer that 16 was, but Madden 17 offers great depth online and off, and fans will enjoy a full complement of modes and features. It’s not a huge leap forward, but as sports games creep ever closer to crossing the uncanny valley, we can expect fewer evolutions, and even fewer revolutions from annual updates. That said, Madden 17 is still an improvement, and represents the best in sports sim gaming today.
Disclosures: This game is published and developed by EA Sports. It is currently available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, and PS3. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 22 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and a full season of Franchise Mode was completed. Eleven hours of play were devoted to online multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is rated E by the ESRB at the time of review, and contains realistic football action. Parents of children who may try to recreate certain actions from the game without the proper training and equipment may want to review the content before allowing children to play.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game’s audio enhances the experience, but the title features visual and tactile cues that allow it to be enjoyed by deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers.
Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are not currently remappable beyond its existing preset control schemes.
Colorblind Modes: There are currently no colorblind modes available in the options.
When not writing for Gamecritics, Brad spends his days managing several sports and entertainment websites, handling several freelance writing contracts, and occasionally playing the role of "Dad" when time permits.
Brad is also the only guy on this staff who prefers the Xbox One to other platforms. And he's not budging on that one bit.