With just over a week to go until the beginning of the NFL regular season, it is indeed Madden season, and this year’s iteration of the long-running football sim is definitely the best version in over a decade.
What Is It?
Ever since EA Sports acquired the rights to exclusively develop and publish NFL games in 2004, the Madden series has been under extreme scrutiny, and for good reason. Visual Concepts’ ESPN NFL 2K5 ate a huge chunk of the NFL video game market share, and Sega’s aggressive $20 price point made EA take notice.
Though Madden sales have shown no real signs of significantly slowing down, the product EA Sports released every year seemed to only have marginal improvements.
Last year’s entry focused on the passing game, giving players control of the trajectory of their quarterback’s passes as well as deciding on whether receivers would make an aggressive, possession, or RAC catch. At that, I also argued in my review that while these are welcome changes, Madden veterans could ignore them, basically leaving the gameplay unchanged.
This time around, changes in gameplay and modes really streamline the experience simplifying the game for newcomers, but veterans might find some of the new gameplay features a little bloated.
Why Should I Care?
The biggest change in gameplay concerns the overall feel of your playmakers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to run up the middle with a power back like Demarco Murray in Madden 16, only for him to fall backward, making him look weak. In Madden 17, player ratings matter more than ever. Bigger guys will feel more imposing, whereas lighter guys will definitely feel more shifty. The QTE-esque prompts for ball carriers to dodge or power through oncoming defenders really play to each player’s strengths. What Eddie Lacy may lack in speed he’ll make up for with brute force. Cole Beasley is hardly an imposing player, but his jukes and ability to get early and late separation off cuts make him a unique weapon, and it’s good to see all this translate in the new game.
As great as this all is, it also comes with some flaws, namely if you’re trying to relearn the game from the standpoint of someone used to Madden 16. If you’re playing on Rookie or Pro mode, some of these moves will be automatically executed. A Madden veteran might not expect this, and this easily ruins plays. Of course, the easy way to solve this is to play in All-Madden, but not everybody is an All-Madden player.
Special teams has also finally been given some attention. The kicking game has gone back to the golf-style three-click system in which you set up the trajectory, begin the kicking motion, adjust the power, and set the accuracy all based on timing. This takes a while to get used to, especially if you’re playing in All-Madden mode where the meter moves extremely quickly, so don’t be surprised if you miss some extra point attempts or “chip shots.”
Speaking of missing field goals, the developers also made it a little easier to block kicks thanks to new animations and timing-based button presses. You can even ice the kicker with a timeout to help you out. At that, it’s still difficult to do, so people don’t have to worry about blocked kicks being too major of a thing.
The Franchise mode has also been tinkered with, giving players more control of overall operations. You still have the option of being an owner, coach, or player, but most of the enhancements have been made for coach mode, specifically with team management and progression.
On the team management front, you now have the practice squad should you choose to deal with it. With the “Improve Your Team” option, not only can you look at your own and other team’s trading block as well as general free agency, players on other team’s practice squads will show up, so it’s another thing to think about when making that designation.
Franchise mode is, traditionally, a 30-year investment, but the furthest I’ve gotten in was year 18 in Madden NFL 2002. Obviously, that was more than 15 years ago and I’ve become a whole lot more busy since then. To sort of remedy this, as sort of an enhancement to their “SuperSim,” the game gives you the option to play the “Moments.” With this, now you can just play specific pivotal moments in the game and have them go by more quickly. You can even choose to only play on one side of the ball if you so choose. It’s kind of like NBA 2K‘s MyPlayer mode in the sense where it skips all the stuff that happened when you’re not on the field.
As useful and streamlined as that is, of course it also comes with its mishaps. Loading screens have been an issue ever since the series moved to disc format, and the annoyance of having to sit through a loading screen to play a play or two, and then have a load screen to go back to the game’s main screen is definitely my main gripe with the feature.
On the team progression side, it’s now something you deal with immediately after games. Like a bunch of RPG’s, you’ll have a bunch of points to use for to improve various sliders for each player. While it’s nice to have changes to players week to week, the game unfortunately doesn’t let you do it at your leisure. You have to make the improvements right away or have the computer deal with them, which takes away the purpose of giving you control in the first place.
It’s nice that we have all these customizable options, but at times it’s a little much, and while it does feel like a more streamlined experience, it still feels bloated–especially when all you want to do is lead your team to the Super Bowl every year and manage your roster.
The most noticeable change to any Madden veteran with this year’s game is the highly requested change in the commentary team. I’ve already said that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms more than overstayed their welcome, so Madden players should be happy to know that they’ve finally been given the boot.
Replacing them are Brandon Gaudin, one of the most underrated sports commentators in the industry, and Charles Davis, the former defensive back who is now an on-air analyst for NFL Network while also providing color commentary for FOX Sports. They obviously don’t have the pedigree as a Summerall/Madden or Michaels/Collinsworth, but these are two voices that really mesh well with the overall gameplay. They sound fantastic and already have unique banter that makes them far superior to the Nantz and Simms combo we unfortunately had to deal with over the last few years.
Gaudin and Davis will also return to the recording studio every week to provide new material in order to keep everything fresh. In fact, we already heard some when the game was first released, as they mentioned the fact that the Ravens halted their pre-season game to see Michael Phelps make history in Rio. We also heard that they’ll be discussing Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem, so this is huge for the overall presentation, which has been a complaint about the series for quite a while.
The presentation still doesn’t hold a candle to what we have in NBA 2K, but Madden is getting there. I still don’t understand why they don’t make use of the ESPN or NBC Sports broadcast licenses they’ve acquired and used so effectively with NCAA Football 14 or NHL 15. Perhaps that’s next. Who knows?
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
So at the end of the day, is Madden NFL 17 worth the upgrade from last year’s solid entry? The gameplay received just the right amount of polish, Franchise Mode has gone through some long-awaited construction, and the presentation has been enhanced tenfold, so I’d say yes.
The fact that they went to Gaudin and Davis alone is worth the upgrade because I hate Nantz and Simms that much. If you’re a fan of the CBS A-Team, then I guess you can hold off until a price drop.