Madden NFL 15 Review (Xbox One)
“Carpe Diem” “ Life’s for the Living” “Get busy living or get busy dying” “My name is Willie, Willie Beamen” It was with these quotes firmly in mind that I took my next challenge – finally learn the sport of American football and review the latest edition of EA’s Madden series. It is also somewhat of a challenge for the makers of the game too, with bold claims being made the game is now easier to play and get in to. Normally claims of this nature can be filed under “marketing hype from E3” and you move on. But not this time….
Madden NFL’s creators have jiggled things about and front and centre of the new version is the Skills Trainer. Not only does the new and improved skills trainer teach old hands the new controls for passing and tackling and such but it is excellent at explaining the game of American Football to novices of the sport. The knowledge of American Football this reviewer had was that a game is split into four quarters; an offensive side gets four chances to move the ball ten yards and if they succeed they get to try again until they muck it up or score a touchdown. It turns out that this was more than enough. The rules of the real game are combined with the controls of the videogame well enough to give you an understanding of the sport. After an explanation of a concept the skills trainer then lets you practice your newly acquired skill a few times before getting you to run some drills. These normally involve you trying to complete the given task against AI opponents. The defensive part of the skills trainer is one of the standout sections of the entire game. It not only introduces the new plays available but explains what they are designed to do and how to spot them when they are being used against you. Madden NFL 15 has avoided the trap of treating players either like seasoned pros or complete idiots when explaining new mechanics. The best compliment I can give the skills trainer is that after spending a few hours being taught a new sport, I could not only play competently (albeit at the rookie difficulty) but I actually enjoyed it.
The skills trainer is not the only the only part of Madden NFL 15 to get a good going over ( I spent some time with Madden 25 and Madden 11 to be able to identify the differences). The AI has been polished up and your team now has what EA call Player Sense 2.0. This is very apparent during the defense parts of the game. Your teammates seem to know what you are trying to achieve and will fill in the gaps rather well. Should you be preoccupied with your opposing number in a line of scrimmage whilst trying to run a blitz play for example, a free teammate will run around and tackle the quarterback thus achieving what you wanted. No longer does it feel like you are a one legged man in an arse kicking competition should you not switch to the correct player in time; non controlled players now move with the play you called in mind giving you the sensation that you are part of a team rather than the whole thing yourself.
Graphically Madden NFL 15 is miles ahead of its predecessor. You can now have different camera angles on the field, particularly in defence. As well as the usual behind your opponents view, you can now see the action from the back of your defence or even on the shoulder of your selected defender. For a newcomer to the game, this was my preferred view and gives you the feeling of total immersion. The camera for the entire game seems to be moved closer with the IGNITE engine producing the look that was meant to be in Madden 25 instead of the “looking down at an organised array of ants” view we finally got.
For outsiders looking in, the NFL on television has always been a very glitzy high end product. EA have been hard at work again and the whole presentation style of NFL 15 is so close to what you see on television, passers-by may be mistaken in thinking you are watching a game rather than playing one. Each game starts with a pre-amble about star players in each team before heading down to the field. The half time highlights reel is also a very good touch where the best plays from the first half are shown and discussed. The difference in the presentation between Madden NFL 15 and previous iterations is very noticeable. Everything seems to have been polished up in order to get as true to life as possible. It’s not there yet, but it is a huge step in the right direction.
Another gameplay element receiving some care and attention are the plays themselves. Apart from a whole host of new plays being added for both offense and defence, the enhanced suggestions are a neat touch. At the beginning of each movement, players can choose to receive the play suggestion in three categories. The first is based on your personal play history and is suggested as you have used it before. The second is based on the history of your opponents and is strategically the right play to pick. The third choice available to you is based from what the Madden Community would play in this situation. The recommendation also states how affective the play is percentage wise and also details the number of yards you would gain or concede. Having that little bit of extra information as to why the plays have been suggested does help the overall strategy of the game and also makes everything seem less random.
So, it is all good and well that Madden NFL 15 looks good, has an excellent tutorial and the engine works, but what about the game modes I hear you ask. The quickest and easiest of these is the Play Now option. This allows you to play as your favourite team for a quick game (not really such a thing in American Football). This is also the best place to get acquainted with the game after the skills trainer. The rookie difficulty level is challenging enough to let you win with a bit of struggle giving you a sense of accomplishment rather than “the game let you win”.
The Connected Franchise has three choices where players pick a team and can play as a player, coach or owner. The coach option is more akin to the traditional game modes where you would guide a team through a sports season and try to win the big trophy. The Franchise mode also has a system where you “power up” your team through experience and confidence. I did not spend much of my time in this mode as I was still trying to figure the whole NFL thing out but the little time I did spend with it was very engaging. In a similar vein the Ultimate Team mode is an NFL fan’s wet dream. Combining a collectable card game with the Madden videogame, players are able to build their perfect dream team and turn them into the greatest franchise in the history of the game.
The beauty of Madden NFL 15 is that because the game of football is now so much better and fun to play in comparison to older versions, these detailed game modes are just the icing on the cake. And with both local and online multiplayer options available, the icing has icing. The local multiplayer is available for a one-on-one game though the Play Now mode with online multiplayer available for the Connected Franchise and Ultimate Team modes. The multiplayer was not really covered in this playtest for fear of the reviewer having his bottom handed to him and also upsetting people due to not knowing how to fully play the game. I imagine a few more hours in single player will be required before I’m ready to tackle that horse.
One Criticism however would be on the part of the game that EA has said is its strongest point – the offense. Throwing passes – particularly longer ones – can almost feel like the outcome is random. I believe that the success of the passes is based on various percentages of the players involved. The issue then could be construed as the game is too lifelike in its calculations. In certain games it just felt that playing a passing game was a waste of Downs. Toning down the amount of times your passes are intercepted magically might be a difficult ask or it may just be down to this reviewers lack of experience but it was the one thing that detracted from the overall enjoyment of the game.
Madden NFL 15 then is somewhat of an anomaly in the sport game genre in that it is justified in its existence. The revised skills trainer makes it a perfect entry level game for us on the other side of the pond who are interested in the NFL but need help in the concept and rules department of the game. The graphics of 15 make it look worthy of being on next gen consoles and the improvements in the defence part of the game would warrant a purchase from the hard-core fan. So, whilst I may not start buying every version of Madden NFL from now on, I shall be spending a good deal of time with this one.
4 Scrimmage lines out of 5Madden NFL 15 Review (Xbox One),