Madden NFL 15 Review (PlayStation 4)
As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, a new Madden NFL game will see the light of day. Madden NFL 15 is a game that has preached authenticity, claiming to be the most realistic football simulation ever made. That's a bold statement, and one that the game seems to do a wonderful job of following through on. However, there are chinks in the seasoned vet's armor, and while none of them ruin the experience, they start to add up fairly quickly.
Authenticity starts with the look of the players on the field, and Madden NFL has some impressive character models for current NFL personnel. I can actually see the resemblance between the in-game player and his real-life counterpart, more so than I ever could before. The new camera scanning system that EA Tiburon has employed really works, but that new system makes those who weren't scanned stand out even more. Legendary players and coaches found in Madden Ultimate Team or Connected Franchise don't share that realism; Dick Vermeil, for example, looks less than Dick Vermeil and more like the late Robin Williams' character in 'One Hour Photo'. When current NFL players are so close to the real thing, the contrast is jarring.
A lot of the realism loses its edge, however, when they don't play as realistic as they look, and I witnessed a few technical glitches during my playtime. Some are inconsequential, like a player shaking furiously before he gets up and goes back to the huddle. Some are a little more serious, like an opposing receiver completing a touchdown catch through the body of my defender standing right in front of him. That's six points that shouldn't be on the scoreboard, and it's incredibly frustrating. Strangest of all is how players sometimes seem to completely deactivate after touching another player. Imagine if a switch went off in a player's head, turning him and causing him to fall like a rag doll to the ground, as soon as he touched an opposing player. It's a strange phenomenon that really hurts the realism of the game, especially when it happens at crucial moments.
Of course Madden's authenticity or lack thereof means nothing if it doesn't perform well on the field, and while there are some hiccups, the new systems added to the game are very well done. The new QB Accuracy mechanic completely changed my outlook on quarterback play, as I can no longer be a simple gunslinger in the pocket. Accurate throws depend greatly on what foot I'm throwing from, how intense the pressure is at the time of the throw, and where I lead the ball via the new left-stick control. This took some getting used to, as a few balls sailed out of bounds due to my holding that direction on the left stick without realizing, but once I got the hang of things, it made a lot of sense.
Another big reason for my no longer being a crazy gunslinger is the improved defensive AI. I wonder if they just implanted chips into Richard Sherman's head and used the data to concoct the AI, because the AI defense in Madden 15 is stout. I found myself having to read defenses just as a quarterback does before throwing the ball, lest I watch a cornerback take it the other way. The defensive line improvements may be my favorite additions though, as the new finesse and power moves make controlling the big guys up front a pure joy. Few things are more satisfying in Madden than getting past a defender and sacking the quarterback with no help from my AI teammates.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the linemen on the other side of the ball. Pass blocking is vastly improved, as I found myself plenty protected while throwing the ball, but some of the run blocking AI is rage-worthy. During one particular play I watched as two defenders just ran past three of my linemen, who I assume were busy staring at the hyper-realistic grass animations. This contributes to a bigger problem: the lack of an efficient run game. Even on Rookie I'm running HB Tosses and HB Pitches with Lesean McCoy and Adrian Peterson and I'm getting tackled for a loss every single time. I have a little more success up the middle, but the outside running game is nonexistent this time around.
A few additions to general gameplay were supposed to make things way easier for the player, and I'm happy to report that all of them work as intended. Community Playcalling takes the pressure of calling plays in particular situations out of my hands and into the capable hands of every Madden player in the world, collecting data on what works and what doesn't and sharing it with me instantaneously. Every facet of kicking, from field goals to punts, is 1000 times easier this year, letting me aim kicks with the left stick and power up with the right instead of both on one stick. The biggest help, though, is the new tackling cone, which lets me see how close I have to be to a ballcarrier before I can make a tackle. It even tells me what kind of tackle would be best depending on distance, from a diving stop to a conservative textbook-style tackle. It's weird seeing little green cones pop up during every offensive play, but they do wonders for my tackling ability.
The many modes that Madden 15 offers to players are some of the deepest the series has ever seen. The new and improved Connected Franchise mode turns Madden into an RPG of sorts, allowing you to build your team one position at a time and allow players to gain experience during a season. It's a deep mode, so don't expect to learn everything about it from the Trey Wingo video intro. The same can be said for Madden Ultimate Team, which sports a brand new Objectives menu that keeps me focused on my most important tasks as well as other vast improvements. Best of all, I experienced zero lag in multiple online games, but take that with a grain of salt as only 23 people were logged at the time. Launch day online may not be as fluid.
Skills Trainer mode also returns but adds what I think will be a fan favorite in The Gauntlet. This mode pits you against 40 trials from every aspect of the game, with a major "boss battle" every 5th trial, and only gives you five chances to get through them all. The boss battles are extreme situations that won't be seen in real gameplay, like trying to kick a field from the opposite endzone in hurricane-force winds, which makes Gauntlet mode a must-experience. My high score as of review time is 14, so try and beat that.
Wrapping all of these things together are the new presentation elements, which are some of the best in Madden history. They start with the First Interactive Experience, a small vignette that perfectly introduces all of the changes touted in Madden 15. I was taken aback by it, not expecting to jump right into gameplay, but the fictional 2015 NFC Championship game it threw me into was immediately exciting. It looks and sounds like it was taken shot for shot from an NFL Films production, with the influence of Emmy winner Brian Murray showing immediately, and that solid presentation carries throughout the entire game.
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms once again lend their voices to some excellent commentary, and tiny elements like the half-time report and "going to commercial" during a time-out bring Madden one step closer to a real TV broadcast. However, like other parts of the game it's still not completely true to life. The game fades to "commercials" every time a time-out is called in single-player games, even when real football on TV wouldn't actually go to commercial during a time out. For example, whenever there's less than two minutes left in a game and I'm winning by a small margin, the AI will call a timeout to stop the clock just like a real football team. However, the game still fades to black after the timeout, even though a normal game would designate it as a 30-second timeout and the broadcast would stay with the game. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but it really breaks up the tempo of a close game when I have to wait for a fade-out and fade-in after three consecutive plays. Fortunately, this doesn't happen in online games.
Madden NFL 15 promises full NFL authenticity, but in practice asks us to meet it halfway. There's a lot of great improvements. and the uncanny valley of NFL simulation is in site, but there's a lot more work to be done. It may not fully be the revolution EA Tiburon says it is, but Madden NFL 15 is still a really fun way to get your football game fix. Even after 26 years, Madden still impresses.
This review is based on a publisher provided copy of Madden NFL 15 for PlayStation 4.