Madden NFL 15 (Xbox One) Review
Ryan Bloom / Aug 29th, 2014 1 Comment
The new-gen version of Madden 25 released last year alongside the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in November. A shortened development cycle would be the perfect excuse for developers at EA Tiburon to pack it in this year, but Madden 15 builds on a solid foundation to create one of the most engaging football sims in modern gaming.
After building a completely new Ignite engine for new-gen consoles, it makes sense that this year’s version of Madden favors improvement over rebuilding. Staples such as Ultimate Team and Connected Franchise return with minor enhancements, but there are smart upgrades to play-calling and defense. With star cornerback Richard Sherman on the cover, defense is a focal point, and the other side of the ball is finally engaging.
Players will immediately notice the improvements to the game’s visuals and presentation. Player models are detailed and realistic–gone is the over-padded, overly shiny video game look. Animations are fluid and smooth, with movement and hits as lifelike as ever. Coach models are also vastly improved, and coaches even look good while standing on the sidelines.
The commentary team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms is back, but the play-by-play is still the worst in sports gaming. Simms rambles on irrelevantly and the team has no sense of urgency, even during the Super Bowl. This is offset by an impressive pre-game and halftime show led by Larry Ridley. Before games, he calls attention to matchups to watch and he runs through highlights at halftime. Combined with broadcast-quality cutscenes and replays between plays, Madden 15 delivers a dynamic presentation.
Battle in the Trenches
Offense is the most exciting part of football, but defense wins championships. EA Tiburon revamped the defense to stress the importance of that side of the ball, and the results couldn’t be better. For the first time in the series, playing defense is actually enjoyable, and gamers will feel truly in control of their defenders.
A major part of the transition is the battle at the line, the most underrated aspect of football. Using a mini-game of sorts reminiscent of quick-time events, players controlling a defensive lineman can follow a few button prompts to move through the offensive line. The system makes it easier to sack the quarterback, but more importantly, it makes players feel that the war in the trenches is not just a game of chance.
Defense is enhanced by a player lock camera that zooms in on the action of a selected defender. The ball will always be in view, but the focal point is on the defensive player you choose before the play begins. Covering wide receivers with cornerbacks can be tricky, but the zoomed in perspective works well in tandem with the defensive line controls.
Play Smarter, Not Harder
The Madden franchise has devolved into a classic video game with a formula for victory in recent years to the point where speed-run videos were almost expected. Without rebuilding the game from the ground up, developers rethought their approach. As a result, Madden 15 is a realistic football sim that requires some knowledge of football. If you lack that experience, playing through the game’s Skills Trainer mode is necessary.
The extensive mini-game mode gradually teaches players the game of football, walking them through how to master Madden 15’s controls and read defenses like a star quarterback. Before you know it, you will be able to tell the difference between Cover 3 and Cover 2 defenses and pick up blitz packages. Acquiring a deeper understanding of football makes the mundane game mode a rewarding experience.
While the Skills Trainer mode gives gamers the knowledge they need, it is up to players to apply it during games. Going through the skills mode is highly recommended as the defense is much smarter in Madden 15. Fortunately, the game provides an intelligent play-calling system that is based on stats. The play-calling menu recommends plays based on a few different factors, including what works in each particular situation and the opponent’s history of plays. This approach makes the game more accessible and upholds the theme of making players more knowledgeable.
Success in Madden 15 is not a matter of gaming the system; instead, the game encourages players to raise their football IQ and break down defenses like a pro. For the first time in a long time, the game truly feels like a football sim. This may not be an approach that all gamers find appealing, but it is certainly what John Madden had in mind when he attached his name to the franchise 26 years ago.
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