How Will You Catch the Ball?
Every year that I do a Madden review I start by saying, “I’m not a football fan.” These games tend to be geared toward the type of superfan that keeps all the stats for all the players in the NFL bottled up in a vault in their head. Me, I watch the Superbowl every so often and usually then it’s because want to see the wacky commercials.
I say this before every Madden review because I write them from a position of generally being disinterested in football. I am the quintessential newbie, always learning about the game, and the sport, on the day it comes out. I’m the guy who hasn’t played Madden year after year after year (except I have, because, you know, it’s my job) and instead decides to pick it up on a whim.
Usually, this makes Madden very hard to get into. I pick my favorite team and I’m immediately assaulted with plays, special running commands, and tons of crazy mumbo jumbo that makes very little sense to me. Then I go into the “create a manager” mode and have a lot of fun just bossing people around.
But this year, Madden NFL 16 has made a concerted effort to reach out to me, the football newbie, and I was pleased to see that was the case. I immediately gravitated toward the game’s tutorial mode, which makes it very clear which lessons you should undertake if you are new to Madden . These drills go over the most barebones skills needed to play the game, perfect for people like me. You start with simple “this button does this” drills and slowly work your way up to using actual strategy in making plays. It’s not going to make a pro out of you, but it will bring you up to playing competency, which goes a long way toward introducing newbies into the world of virtual sports.
These drills also did not take long to introduce me to the new passing system in Madden 16 , which itself is brilliantly simple. When you attempt to throw a pass, you can choose between five different types of passes, bullet, lob, touch, high, and low.) High long passes get you more distance, of course, but are easier to catch. This also makes them easier to intercept or otherwise interfere with. Low shallow passes are harder to catch and much quicker, but cover much less distance. In addition, they are easily blocked if there is a dense pack of players right in front of your quarterback. Essentially, each different pass is used in a different situation, in order to get the most yardage and keep the ball safe. These are just simple variations on passing mechanics that have been around for a while, but they are important especially when you consider the new receiving options.
Receivers also have several different ways to catch the ball. Electing to perform a RAC or Run After Catch allows the receiver to chase the ball as it flies toward them. This makes the ball harder to catch and easier to block, but if successful, allows the receiver to breakaway and get plenty more yardage as they bolt down the field. The aggressive catch is best used when swarmed by defenders or when the pass is just out of range of the receiver. This will cause the receiver to jump or leap for the ball, attempting to catch it by any means necessary. The possession catch prioritizes possession of the ball. When using it, your receiver will go to his knees or the ground as soon as the ball is in his hands. This is great for securing a first down, staying inbounds, or evading a pack of defenders that is sure to make you fumble.
Defenders can now choose to track the ball or the receiver. Focusing on the receiver is, essentially, the safest option. It interferes with whatever type of catch he tries to make and makes it more likely for the pass to be incomplete. Focusing on the ball gives you a higher chance of an interception, but if you miss, the receiver will be wide open. Once again you have to choose which type of defense based on what throw the quarterback made and what catch the receiver is attempting.
In previous Madden titles, it felt like a lot of action took place off the field. Unless you knew the secret language of football expressed through plays and strategies, most of the action on the field was on autopilot. Sure, there were a lot of decisions you could make while running, which are still quite overwhelming, but to the uninitiated newbie this felt a lot like button mashing while the computer ran around and did most of the work. It made passing plays feel more like a crap shoot than actually playing.
The new passing system, however, takes the most common play in football and boils it down to a rock-paper-scissors game. Granted, it’s a rock paper scissors game with a ton of different options that interact with each other in many different ways, but it’s a rock paper scissors game nonetheless. The action is shifted away from play choosing and to the field itself. You feel as if you are pressing buttons and things are happening, rather than simply watching computer controlled players do the work for you. This is exactly what newbies like me want. It makes the game feel like a throwback to the older days of Tecmo Bowl and other sports games for the SNES, which were easy to understand and easy to play.
The game’s newest mode, Draft Champions, also feels geared toward simple and understandable play. Here, you go through 15 rounds of drafts in an attempt to pick your favorite team. Draft picks are simple, featuring only a small group of randomly selected players, each of which play one specific position. You can’t ever end up with a bum player, for example, because you prioritized your quarter back over a running back. Being that I barely understand what I just typed there, this makes the Draft Champions mode a wonderful bit of simplicity in an otherwise complicated drafting process.
Once you have your team, you can face off against either the CPU or other players with it. These games are much shorter than usual, which is genius. It allows you to see the results of your draft immediately, without being attached to them for too long. Winning earns you coins, which opens up more draft picks. Then you get to draft all over again, pick a totally different and hopefully better team, and continue the process. It’s a quick gameplay mode that shotguns content down your throat – which is the exact opposite of what long, drawn out football seasons are usually like in Madden games.
Madden 16 is one of the best looking Madden s yet. Player models, while still sometimes diving into the uncanny valley during cutscenes, animate incredibly on the field. Bodies bounce off each other in ways that feel real, and each tackle has an incredible impact. The game does a great job making the experience of football come alive, from the stats overlayed on the action to the announcers. This is one category where Madden simply continues to outperform itself year after year.
As I have reviewed every Madden game these last few years, I saw systems get more and more complex, making the game feel like it was out of my reach. Madden 16 feels like it is geared around simplicity. None of the systems from other Madden games were taken out, but the core of the game has been shifted toward simple mechanics interacting with other simple mechanics. This is a breath of fresh air to me. It makes Madden NFL 16 a fantastic place to start playing Madden , as well as being different enough to warrant a follow up buy after 15 .
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
The graphics are one part of the Madden franchise that never gets worse. 4.5 Control
The new passing systems shift the action to the field. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voiceovers sound forced sometimes, but otherwise the sound design is good. 4.0 Play Value
Definitely pick up this Madden if you are just getting started with the franchise. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best