The pre-season is almost over and that usually signals the start of the NFL season for football fans across the country. For gamers though, this time of year signifies the release of the annual Madden title and the start of the Madden season. Next week we see Madden NFL 15 launch and it’s the first truly next-generation experience that EA Sports has had the chance to deliver. Is it going to be a successful season or will this year result in the first pick in the draft next season?
Madden NFL 15 easily has the greatest sports introduction to any sports video game of all-time. No, I’m not kidding. If you’re a fan of sports video games, then the opening intro is something you look forward to the moment you stick the disc into the console. This year, you’re not going to be disappointed. In fact, EA is touting this as the “First Interactive Experience” start-up to sports video gaming. Honestly, it’s not fair for me to ruin this for you, it’s that fantastic. So, just know that if this doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, you may need to consult a physician.
This year, Madden NFL 15 has introduced a true-to-life Skills Trainer that helps introduce gamers to the game of football. It’s easily the best Skill Trainer to date and if you’ve ever struggled playing Madden in the past, it’s likely to help you improve your game. Instead of the silly exercises in the past, the new Skill Trainer uses actual NFL-style training exercises. It has been expanded to more than 50 different training options through several difficulty levels and it definitely teaches you different things like acceleration burst, how to read defenses, and the proper technique of putting touch on your passes.
Once you’ve gotten your skills settled, it’s time to jump into the meat and potatoes of Madden football and that’s the game itself. First, it’s important to know that EA Tiburon has built this game from the ground up. The player models are redesigned, the fields are upgraded, and the gameplay has been fine tuned to highlight the defensive side of the ball more-so than ever before. So, the main question is, does the defense bend but not break or is it a slam dunk like the Seahawks this past Super Bowl?
This is honestly a very loaded question and quite difficult to answer. On one hand, the game does feel incredibly different. The defense feels different. The offense feels different. And special teams are completely different. However, it’s difficult to decide whether this difference in a welcomed one or not.
As far as the gameplay goes, the players feel a lot more weighted than in the past. They feel and control kind of clunky in a way and the momentum they carry makes controlling them quite different than past iterations. Due to this new level of momentum, I noticed that a lot of tackles were allowing the offensive side of the ball to pick up 2-3 extra yards on quite a few more plays than normal. Yes, there is a player trait that is focused around fighting for extra yards, but it felt more like every player had this capability rather than the select few.
I also felt as though the tackling took a step back rather than a step forward like it should have. The tackling cone doesn’t seem like it truly matters to me. I noticed no difference tackling this year to last year’s gameplay and maybe that’s because I’ve always been sound on defense, but I did notice an increase of broken tackles regardless of the ball carrier. This is where the difficulty to judge comes in. Is this increased level of broken tackles due to the new tackling cone or is it due to the game giving ball carriers that slight edge in broken tackles? It’s hard to say because I noticed that whether the tackles were lined up perfectly or not, the end result was usually the same when it came to the amount of tackles that were broken.
EA also added a more varied set of options for line play in Madden 15, too. This shines through the moment you attempt to use it. Admittedly, I’m more of a MLB/FS user when I play defense. So I’m not the best DL user when it comes to Madden. However, I noticed immediately the improvements and options I had when playing with the DE and DT during gameplay. Directing the OL the way you want is simple to do and it’s quite easy and intuitive to use the new line moves to get past the OL. This new mechanic is also not overpowered, so it’s difficult to abuse as well. That’s something that’s always tricky for developers to implement because you want the mechanic to be effective, but you don’t want it to be considered overpowered. In that, Tiburon has done a fantastic job with this.
Finally, the improved secondary is the last improvement that EA has made with the defensive side of the football. This is also where things kind of fall apart for me, too. The computer AI does a fantastic job closing zones, read and reacting, and making the proper changes on the go while you’re on offense. You will notice that you throw a lot more interceptions this year and that you have to be more careful with the ball — this is great. On the flip side, the defense on your side of the ball when it’s your turn to play defense is just as dumb as ever. The user defense does not make these same adjustments or reads like the AI defense does and it takes away from the experience completely.
I’m aware some of you will fault my Madden skills for seeing things this way, but I’ve been playing Madden religiously for over 15 years and I’ve always been competitive at the game whether it be online or off. The user defense is not on the same level as the AI defense and that’s the truth. Playing Week 1 in Connected Franchise versus the Jaguars, Bortles completed 92% of his passes on All-Pro against me. That’s an embarrassing thing to admit. All of his passes were dead-on accurate and his only incomplete passes were a tipped interception and a couple of batted balls. Otherwise, he was perfect. This is Bortles we’re talking about; not Peyton Manning.
With Sliders adjusted this should be able to be corrected, but I reviewed this product with default All-Pro settings and I think most gamers play with the default Sliders out of the box. Next, I’ll discuss the offensive side of the ball which I think is a massive improvement over any Madden game to date.
As specified, I enjoy playing with the Philadelphia Eagles and am a huge fan. These offensive impressions are primarily with the Eagles, but I did test out other teams as well. First, the offensive line does an excellent job creating running lanes and interacting with the defensive line like you’d expect. I was able to hit the holes with McCoy that I should and I was able to speed burst through them with efficiency. The running game felt great.
The only downside that I can really mention on this aspect of the game is that the elusiveness of running backs like LeSean McCoy are no longer as effective as they used to be. You can no longer wiggle the stick to make defenders miss or spin and make them look foolish. Tacklers are more sure in wrapping you up and this is likely due to the improved AI defense (which, once again, doesn’t seem to work on the user side of things).
The passing games has seen a massive upgrade, too. Throwing balls with Nick Foles felt great and on point. You now have to make smarter decisions with the football and it finally feels like touch, bullet, and directional passes play a more important point than ever in the game. This is something I’ve been wanting to see play a key factor for years and it feels like Tiburon finally nailed it. I honestly have no complaints about the passing game. Receivers still drop more timely third downs than I’d like, but honestly, I didn’t expect that to change much going into this to begin with.
I’d also like to point out that wide receivers feel better this year as well. You’re going to notice a lot more fluidity in catches and a lot more variance. This helps bring authenticity to the game and it’s a beautiful addition to the experience.
Finally, special team. I know this is the most important aspect for all Madden gamers, right? Madden NFL 15’s Special Teams absolutely blew me away. I kid you not. The changes to the kicking game are not only welcomed and overdue, but they’re as close to perfect as you can get. Kicking now feels more realistic. It now feels like you have more control over how things go down in the kicking game. It’s no longer just pointing an arrow and hoping it’s close enough in the right direction. The game now uses proper indicators to show distance, curve, etc. It’s amazing, honestly. I think everyone is going to be extremely happy with these changes and I applaud EA for making them.
(PS: Injuries are still way too frequent this year.)
It’s also worth mentioning that EA Sports has overhauled the way you call plays this year. It’s not longer the standard three play selection out of the box. Now, you have the choice of selecting from plays that the game gathers information from throughout all of the online games being played. It let’s you know the average amount of yards it goes for, for other users and it lets you know how often it’s called. This is an awesome addition and while not everyone will use it, I felt like it made games more varied. It’s definitely something you should give a try a week or two after release once everyone has logged a ton of games.
Speaking of online integration, let’s move into the Connected Franchise mode and changes that have occurred here. Everything is pretty much the same outside of Game Prep and Confidence being the new additions. These two key additions add a lot to the mix and each one is pretty important when it comes to player development and how your players play on virtual Sunday.