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Madden NFL 16 Review (Xbox One)

So we are in September now, AKA EA SPORTS release month. So far Rory McIlroy PGA TOUR Golf failed to impress, but now it’s Madden’s turn to step up to the plate. Last year’s entry in the franchise went down well here so hopefully EA haven’t done anything to mess it up!

Madden is split into two main game modes, Franchise and Ultimate team. There is also quick play, online head to head and the skills trainer, but the majority of your game time will likely be in either Franchise or Ultimate Team.

Screenshot 2015-09-12 22.27.35In Franchise mode you pick your team and take on the regular season. You play the game week by week with more than just the game to manage. You can place players on the trading block and check out who else is there. Pre game you can set up and run the drills for your team. These drills can improve your player’s skill and/or confidence. Skill improvements are permanent, whereas confidence can provide a big boost just for the next game.

Confidence comes into play during the weekly game. Each player has a set of weekly/season goals that, when reached, provide a big boost to their confidence. Both the offensive and defensive unit will also get a goal to reach on most drives, and completing it will boost the entire unit. Having high confidence raises the stats of a player, so keeping it high is very important. Post game your players will have gained XP for you to distribute, so your team is constantly improving both on and off the field throughout the season.

Screenshot 2015-09-12 22.11.12Franchise mode can also be played with a custom player or coach, or as the team owner. These options are obviously available, you have to find them during the franchise set up and it wasn’t until checking the achievements that I was aware this was even possible. Playing as a custom player you are able to skip to just the plays that your player is involved in, and you also have an extra set of career goals that count towards an “infamy” level, which is what the achievements are about. It is interesting to play the game from a single players perspective, and it also makes the games a little quicker if you are looking to power through a season.

Ultimate team will be familiar to fans of any of the Madden/FIFA/NHL franchises. You get to buy packs or cards which include players and team items to improve your squad before taking them onto the field in a bid to earn you more coins. In terms of single player you can’t just play games with your team, but there are a vast set of challenges to take on that will keep you occupied should you not have a Live subscription. Playing online you can take on a season type mode. There’s no time limits to when you need to play games, and you just need to win so many before progressing onto playoffs and a bid to jump up in the rankings. The higher the rankings you go, the better rewards you can gain for each game and the end of season result.

wm_image-6The new Draft Championships mode is the game mode a lot of fans have been waiting on with great anticipation. And not only fans of Madden as the mode is making an appearance in the upcoming release of FIFA too. In Madden, however, it works really well. Borrowing from the Arena mode of Hearthstone (there is no denying it EA so don’t bother trying) you get 15 rounds of draft picks to build up a team. Due to the nature and size of a NFL team you do start out with a base pack of players, enough to fill each position. In each round, just like Hearthstone, you are presented with three cards to choose from. Your first pick will be a coach, and from this choice you have defined the teams play style. From there it is up to you to pick between the best player of the three presented, or the one that best fits your play style. A couple of the rounds will present you with a choice of NFL Legend players to add to your squad, but otherwise you will be picking from present day players. The draft itself is exciting enough as you play with the odds on building the best squad possible. Do you hold out for a QB that fits with your team style?

Once you have your draft team you take them either into single player or online multiplayer. The target is to go 3 – 0 (read “three and oh”), but the minute you lose a game you are done. So long as you have one win under your belt then your will get rewards that can be redeemed in Ultimate Team mode.

Screenshot 2015-09-12 17.17.45On the field itself the game plays really well. Added for this year are a few new options to the pass. You don’t just hit the corresponding receivers button and hope for the best now. There are a variety of button combinations to vary between high, low, bullet and other pass types. Once the balls is released you also have control of how the receiver is going to catch the pass. Hold A to make a possession catch, useful if they have pressure from behind or are close to the sideline and you want to get the clock ticking. Holding X allows the player to run after catch (RAC) for maximum yard gain. Holding Y will get them to go up and make the aggressive catch, essential for those long touchdown pass attempts.

Player physics are really good. There is the odd occasion of interesting ragdoll entanglement, but nowhere near to the extend of last years version which caused quite the flood of hilarious YouTube videos. One slight gripe is from the player run directions. You don’t seem to have full 360 degree run capability as it feels quite stiff to change the angle of run after receiving the ball or while going for the tackle.

You might feel more of this review is about options and the menus than the game on the field. Well that is how you will feel playing Madden 16. The menus themselves, while fairly simple and well laid out, are really slow. On the Xbox One the game does not handle the instant resume feature well due to losing connection the EA servers, so you are forced to hard quit the game. That means that any time you fire up Madden 16 you will be waiting quite some time before you are actually on the field, by the time the intro sequence plays, you log in to EA servers, it checks the latest rosters, you select your game mode, you select your controller settings, you select the team settings, the game actually loads in and the pre match presentation plays (and you only have a small window of opportunity to skip that too). Furthermore, if you are playing the Ultimate Team challenges, some of these are literally just the last few moments of a game as you try to make the clutch play. Fail to do so and you have to go back to the menu to select the challenge again and once more go through the loading process as there is no “restart challenge” option available at the end.

Screenshot 2015-09-12 17.13.32Fortunately there is a really good soundtrack for you to listen to while persisting with the clunky menus, but it is slightly disappointing that the menus should bring down the overall impression of a really good game. The action on the field is intense and will give you those jump out of your seat celebration moments. Ultimate Team lets you build a squad that you can nurture and care about, even if it has limited single player play modes. Unfortunately playing online was difficult too. As you would expect the majority of players are going to be in the US, so online games had a few lag issues which especially played havoc with kicking the ball which is done by a timely movement of the right stick. A good enough connection or games against people more local might resolve this issue, but there are plenty of the single player challenges to keep you going if they don’t.

Madden 16 is a solid entry into the franchise and brings EA SPORTS back up to an acceptable level with this year’s releases. The gameplay is solid, once you break through the clunky menus, but you may want to think about a Live subscription if you don’t have one already and want to check out the Ultimate Team mode. It has me hooked enough that I’ve even started watching the NFL!

4th and goal on the 5

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