Once again a year has passed and we get a brand new Madden. This year’s game showcases new features and enhancements across all facets of the game, and we’re going to take a look at what’s new and better this year
Stateside, Madden sells. The NFL is huge, the sport is huge, and unless you’re Vince Papale the closest most mere mortals will get to suiting up for the NFL is Madden. EA’s focus this year with Madden 17 has been on making the game more accessible, authentic and fun. Let’s see if this holds up on this side of the pond.
For a sport that’s endlessly technical, unless you grew up with it or are a committed fan American Football can seem bewildering. And so picking up the controller and diving into Madden for the first time – or the first time in a long time – can seem equally bewildering. Take a step back though – you’ll realise that there’s a level of nuance here that’s extremely well thought out, and actually playing the game offers no more a technical challenge than picking up FIFA, with its dizzying array of dribbling, shooting, bicycle kicks, sliding tackles and the like.
Initially, Madden 17 feels like Madden. We’re immediately being thrown into a legendary moment in a match – this time it’s the Los Angeles Rams against the Washington Redskins (go ‘Skins!)
Electronic Arts has the resources to polish their games until they shine, and that’s the case once again. It’s the best looking Madden yet – causal bystanders will think they’re watching game coverage at first glance, so fluid are player animations, while every element of the HUD seems peeled straight from TV footage. On the sonic side of things it’s an immersive experience. The genuine crowd and collision noises have been reworked at Pinewood studios of all places – sleepy Buckinghamshire being as far from cauldrons like the much-missed Veterans Stadium or RFK as you could ever get.
The game delivers a visceral thrill like almost no other sporting sim – football is a collision sport, so the saying goes – and the feel is just right. EA’s focus this year is on the ground game (pass for show, grind for dough) with Running Back control replete with a full set of moves for the first time: jukes, stiff-arms, spins and more, all present to help you turn a potential tackle for a loss into a satisfying gain. A running game that feels more satisfying also opens up more realistic gameplay strategies – running out the clock for a hard fought and much deserved win feels so much more satisfying this time ’round.
It goes without saying that NFL rosters are virtually perfect, and whilst your own favourite player might not have the stats you expect, teams generally perform they way you would expect in opposition, and you’ll get the best out of your own team with a play style that makes the best of the players (and the talents) at your disposal.
For non-Americans and other newbies, we heartily recommend the skill trainer – a tutorial that’s both enlightening and fun to play. Here you’ll learn about the move sets at your disposal, but more importantly you’ll learn how to play defense. Offense is straightforward – run or pass to success. On the other side of the ball, you’ll want to know about gap assignments, reading formations, and calling defensive audibles. The attention to detail is utterly remarkable, but if you don’t at least learn the basics, you’ll struggle defensively. Offense wins games, defense wins championships.
Just as in FIFA, there’s an Ultimate Team with which to tinker. We might not be the biggest fans of the micro-transaction-heavy mode in any incarnation, but for FIFA and Madden fans the world over it’s become a major draw. If you’re a newbie to Ultimate Team, this mode delivers the ability to build and play your Fantasy Team inside Madden, either through hundreds of solo challenges against the CPU, or by taking on other Madden players.
This year EA has tried to improve somethings like the Solo Challenge experience by adding new “end conditions” that provide the player a simple goal such as “rush for a TD”. The Solo Challenge is successfully completed as soon as you finish the goal instead of having to play the game to completion. Another addition to Solo Challenge was the highly requested “restart” feature which allows you to restart a Solo Challenge without having to return to the main menu.
Also new this year is a new “Chemistry” system that lets you unlock attribute boosts by collecting players that have the same Chemistry. There are over 30 Chemistry options at launch, and teams aren’t tied to any specific Chemistry; mix and match however you like.
Head-to-Head Seasons have also been replaced by Head-to-Head Unlimited Events, which offers improved matchmaking and a new leader-board to better reflect your rank vs. the competition.
With yearly revisions it can be so easy to see each year as little more than a roster change – and EA’s biggest sports franchises have been guilty of this in the past. This year tough, Madden 17 has raised the bar in a number of areas. We honestly can’t see non-fans of the sport being tempted, but if you’re a lapsed Maddenite we definitely recommend you strap on those pads and get back on the field. And if you’re a committed fan who buys every edition – well, you’ll already know what we’re talking about.
Madden 17 is the best Madden for many years, offering a great sporting challenge, a Franchise simulation mode that lets you steer your team from on high (and is one of our favourite ways to play Madden) and an Ultimate Team mode we didn’t utterly hate. It’s a worthy representation of the beauty, elegance and brutality of the sport, that neatly sidesteps some of its current controversies (we’re looking at you, ongoing failure to properly handle concussion).
Madden 17 is available from the Store priced £54.99.
*Throughout this review we have stuck to the American spelling of ‘defence’. Defense is just more authentic when you’re playing Madden. Stress it differently, too. Dee-fense. Say it with me. Dee-fense! Now chant it… there you go, that’s it! No, go out there and get that ball!
A worthy successor to Madden '97 on the Sega Saturn. Oh, and a clear improvement on recent iterations, too.
Madden 17 is American Football as it should be. Fast, breathtaking, endlessly technical, unbelievably brutal. There’s a huge learning curve here if you’re a newbie to Madden – and even more so if you are new to the sport. It is worth persevering with though – you’ll only get out of MAdden what you put in.
The Franchise mode is excellent, though, allowing you to take strategic control of your team and is one of the most immersive sports sims of its kind we’ve ever played.