Madden NFL 17 Review: Every Play Matters
Ryan Bloom / Oct 6th, 2016 No Comments
When you first boot up Madden NFL 17, you are thrust into the NFC championship game. Dramatic cutscenes set the stage for the final moments of a matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins. You take control of the same Rams franchise that has been around since 1936, but this feels different. Inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with first overall pick Jared Goff at quarterback, these Rams are new.
This opening sequence perfectly sums up Madden 17. Its been around for 28 years, so you’ve probably played some version of the game, but this year’s installment feels fresh. At its core, the game is the same, but the small improvements made since the start of this console generation and major changes made this year culminate in a deeper, more realistic experience.
The Not So Little Things
Each year, the new version of Madden is judged based on what is different from the previous season. Often, there are only subtle differences — the graphics are slightly improved, AI is better, and game modes are tweaked. But in Madden 17, there are marked improvements that greatly affect the game.
Right from the start, you’ll notice the new commentary team comprised of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis. These relative unknowns seem like a step back from the high profile duo of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, but Gaudin and Davis are a refreshing tandem. The announcing is more organic and less repetitive, and weekly updates continue to add new lines based on current events. Gaudin and Davis will talk about everything from the latest NFL news to Michael Phelps at the Olympics.
The commentary, no matter how bad it has been since John Madden himself retired, isn’t make or break for Madden. But this year, you’ll actually want to hear what the announcers say rather than desire to shut them off.
Special teams, the often forgotten, underappreciated third element of football, has also gone through a complete overhaul for Madden 17. Field goals, kickoffs and punts have remained stagnant over the years, turning them into a mindless task. Now, special teams can have a greater impact on the game.
Kicking ditches the right stick in favor of a three-press system using the A button. The first button press triggers the kick power meter, a second determines how hard you kick the ball, and a third determines the accuracy of your kick. All-Pro and All-Madden difficulties are much less forgiving when it comes to kicks, so you will have to balance your desire for power with accuracy. PATs, which were moved back by the NFL this season, are no longer a given.
The point of Madden’s revamped special teams was to make it so players weren’t just going through the motions on plays that could decide the outcome of the game. As part of this, it is easier to block field goal attempts and punts. In the weeks since Madden 17’s initial release, this feature has been exploited and tweaked so blocks don’t occur so frequently, but it is far from impossible to block a kick, which was not true of previous iterations of Madden.
There have also been some minor tweaks to gameplay that cause Madden to act more like real-life football. Ball physics have improved so that the football flies and bounces in a more lifelike way. This is especially evident on fumbles and tipped passes, where the ball reacts accurately based on what it touches.
For the first time, skill moves, which include spin moves and stiff arms, are based on player attributes. Don’t expect to be trucking through linebackers with Reggie Bush or dancing by defenders with LeGarrette Blount. Skill moves are still strategic ways to gain extra yards, but it is important to use moves that make sense for the particular ball carrier you are using.
Madden Ultimate Team remains the game’s best mode, although there hasn’t been much done to advance it. The card-collecting mode has a new chemistry system for building teams. Offensive and defensive NFL players each have their own strengths, and they must be fit together to earn the highest chemistry rating.
Solo challenges are also less time consuming, as the game ends immediately after completing the challenge. If you fail, you can easily restart from the post-game menu, too. These are minor details, but they make the overall MUT experience better.
This effort to hasten up the time it takes to play a game carries over to franchise mode. Rather than play through every game of each season, gamers can take advantage of the “play the moments” feature, which simulates the game but halts during big moments so players can take control of the sticks.
Madden’s franchise mode has so much depth, and playing “the moments” allows users to actually experience it all. Without having to play full games, players have more time to make personnel decisions and scout potential additions. It also frees up players to go well beyond the first year or two in franchise mode to see the fruits of their labor.
Super Bowl or Bust
Despite all the improvements made to Madden 17, the game is hampered by some of the franchise’s familiar problems. The AI is still not great, especially on defense. Zone defense is noticeably better this season, but defensive players tend to make poor decisions in coverage.
This is easy to exploit by using plays that are almost overpowering. In the NFL, defenses adjust when offenses target certain receivers, but in Madden 17, you can use the same play several times throughout the game and it will work continuously. I constantly threw deep bombs to decent receivers in one-on-one coverage and my wideouts would almost always come down with the ball as long as the pass was thrown out in front of them.
The same can be said on defense, where players can create pressure on the opposing quarterback or stop the run up the middle by blitzing frequently. Blitzes don’t always lead to sacks, but they cause the quarterback to make rushed decisions or throw the ball away. It isn’t always successful, but it is how I found success against both multiplayer and AI opponents.
Aside from the refined commentary, the overall presentation could use an overhaul. Taking a cue from MUT, in-game cutscenes are often overlayed with cards, which appear awkwardly on screen. It is obvious that Madden is trying to separate itself from the NFL, but then it has sponsored commercial breaks in between quarters and half-assed halftime and post-game shows. If developers wanted to establish the game’s own presentation, they shouldn’t have stuck so closely to the TV model. It just does not work with the game’s other presentation elements.
This year’s game isn’t a minor improvement or a simple roster update, it is a big leap forward. The commentary is the best in Madden in a long time, even if the rest of the presentation is not on par with the announcers.
Most of all, Madden NFL 17 feels real. Players move and react with a fluidity that is normally absent in sports video games. With a greater emphasis on ball physics and special teams, every play actually seems to matter.
Madden’s offseason may not have been as dramatic as the Rams, but the on-field product is much better.
Madden NFL 17 was reviewed on Xbox One using a code for the game provided by the publisher.
tags: ea sports , madden , Madden 17 , Madden 17 Review , Madden NFL 17 , Madden NFL 17 Review , review