Another football season means another Madden video game, and this year’s edition — the first made specifically for the newest generation of systems — sounds like it won’t disappoint. Some early reviews are in for the PS4 and XBOX ONE versions, and they promise great things. I gathered these yesterday, but Kyle made me hold off on posting until today so he could continue living his rough life, playing video games at midnight, and include his review.
Kyle, Crossing Broad, 8.9:
I purposely haven’t read these reviews gathered by Jim because I didn’t want my view of the game to get skewed. [Well, OK, that's sort of a lie. I read the IGN review yesterday, but that's the only one. I swear.] I burned the midnight oil by staying up until 3 a.m. last night to play my pre-downloaded copy of Madden 15. And that’s the first positive in this experience: PS4 gives you the option of downloading games up to two days ahead of release so they’re available to play at precisely midnight. It worked flawlessly and saved me a trip to GameStop with a bunch of unemployed, just-out-of-school 22-year-olds (I’m allowed to make that joke because that was me with Madden 06). Acknowledging that it’s impossible to give a full review of all the modes and features with only three hours of playing time, this review is based almost exclusively on the gameplay, which is the most important part anyway.
The game looks great. Everything is absurdly crisp and looks… real. This is hard to explain, but there’s an element in here that the graphics are so good and accurate, they get out of the way completely and you don’t even notice them. I say that as a compliment. It doesn’t look as eye-poppingly good as NBA 2k14 or UFC (that latter of which is the most realistic-looking sports game I’ve ever seen), but the player models look the best they ever have in a Madden game, the lighting is fantastic, animations are good but still sometimes awkward, and the stadium detail is fantastic. That said, it’s driving me insane that THE SPECTRUM IS STILL OFF IN THE DISTANCE. I can understand that, in the older games, the Spectrum remained, since developers were likely using a stadium model built in 2006, but there’s no excuse for a building that was knocked down four years ago to still be serving as a prominent (and detailed!) landmark in the background. Every kickoff toward the north end zone at the Linc will make you want to punch a baby. The new sections aren’t in the game, but that’s understandable. The Spectrum is not.
I hate Jim Nantz as a football commentator.
When you first load up the game, you’re treated to a super cinematic playable sequence where you’re Cam Netown leading a comeback against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game. The presentation here, which takes you into the huddle, isn’t in the actual game, but it all uses the actual game engine and feels like something that could be implemented in years to come. It’s a great way to get you in the game and give you the new Madden experience. I turned the ball over on downs and the Seahawks repeated as NFC Champs. Speaking of the Seahawks– don’t play against them, their defense will make you want to hurl your controller through a picture frame and then smash it with a portable hammer. I now know exactly how Peyton Manning felt in the Super Bowl. For real, don’t play against the Seahawks. If you play online and someone takes the Seahawks (which is what happened to me), just quit game. On the flip side, do take the Eagles and LeSean McCoy– he is a mythical beast in the game, specifically on inside run plays, and I can only assume EA will release a Shady patch to prevent users from cheesing online.
The gameplay is outstanding. For the first time since, I’d say, 2005, this feels like a new Madden. Sure, it’s still Madden, but it’s faster, more up-tempo, and more exciting to actually play without sacrificing realism and strategy. Part of that is because defensive controls have been completely revamped. There is an all-new defensive camera (which is optional, along with a range of new camera heights that can be easily selected by pushing up and down on the d-pad) which makes defense more fun and, for the first time ever, not boring and random. Basically, you press R2 (RT on Xbox?) to engage with a blocker and then X or square to make a move on him and get to the ballcarrier. You can perform a conservative tackle (X), aggressive tackle (square), or HIT STICK (right stick). There’s a small vision cone for sizing up your target a la the old quarterback vision cone that everyone hated, but this one actually works, is intuitive, and doesn’t distract from the gameplay. It had been written that defense in Madden 15 played like its own mini game, and I think that’s a fair assessment. You actually feel like you have control, specifically over rushing the quarterback and bringing down ballcarriers. Defending the pass is still a somewhat frustrating experience, if only because the game plays so much faster and your reaction time needs to be that much quicker (magnified by only playing for three hours, no doubt).
Online play, at least (it’s all I played last night), strips out all of the slow presentation options and keeps the focus on playing the game. Unlike every. other. Madden. game. before. it. you won’t find yourself getting antsy to just hike the damn ball. The new playcall menus are fast and intuitive (a welcome change), and the whole in-game menu-playcall interface just feels faster and lighter. I don’t think it can be overstated how big of a factor this is in making the game fun and playable. To me, the one thing that always kept Madden from being as accessible as NHL and FIFA was the slow, methodical pace of play. You can now play a game (again, at least online) in 25-30 minutes. You never feel like you’re waiting around. If anything, you feel like you’re being rushed to pick your play and make your tweaks at the line. This is a good thing, I think.
It’s really hard to put your finger on, but again, the game is more fun than previous versions. Playing and response times feel almost arcadey in that animations are fast and fluid. That doesn’t mean the game’s any easier or less realistic (trust me), it just means EA finally struck the right balance between being a fun video game and an ultra sim. Fashion editor Dan will kill me for saying this, but it’s got an NFL 2k5 (his favorite game ever) feel to it.
I did play around quite a bit with the mini games, which are both fun and mostly useful in developing your skills and teaching you new controls. There are a couple of games that are too simplistic, but most of them are quick, challenging but fair, and informative. The L2-R2 stutter-step speed burst combo? HOT.
If you’re on the fence about getting Madden because “it’s probably going to be the same Madden,” get it. You won’t be disappointed. It’s a better Madden, and for me could get to Madden 05 level of goodness thanks to a combination of new defensive controls and fun, fast gameplay.
The full review roundup is after the jump. Continue reading