The ‘Madden 17’ Gameplay Scores, But Franchise Innovations Fail To Convert

It’s time, once again, for Madden. At this point in its 25+ years of history, EA’s football simulator has probably been played by everyone who has even a basic interest of the digital gridiron. So is Madden 17 worth picking up?

Artistic Achievement

We’re a few years into the next-gen console cycle so that impressive leap of graphical fidelity we saw at the hardware changeover isn’t as obvious, but the little touches, like uniform cloth, animations and the field itself look better than ever. The game looks damn good, and it plays smooth. Sweat glistens, helmets get scuffed, and everything meets expectations.

Innovation

As we discussed with the devs earlier this year, Franchise Mode is what got the most love off the field. However, despite the new influx of decisions to make with your practice squad and injured players, it’s mostly the same, if not worse than previous years. Madden 17 doubles down on the new interface which is supposedly “simplified” but seems far more difficult to navigate than the old “spreadsheet.” They have simplified and filtered down the information given to players, that’s a true statement, but what’s also true is the fact that I have to dig through menus and know where and how to look for a stat if I want to draft/sign/scout a player, thus it’s more complicated (to me). All in all, it feels like an inch forward, an inch back in the much-hyped changes/additions to Franchise Mode.

Giving owners/coaches in Franchise Mode the choice to bring an injured player back a week early certainly adds drama to the story being developed around your team. I personally drafted oft-injured Le’Veon Bell and Rob Gronkowski, who of course got injured during the season. I made the call to bring them back early and we made it to the playoffs due to their heroics. It was definitely cool.

Play The Moment, which is an enhanced version of SuperSim in which the CPU determines when you should play (on 3rd downs, clutch drives etc) is a breath of fresh air. At first, I wanted to only SuperSim when I felt it was necessary but getting through Franchise games faster actually led to me playing more games instead of outright simming them. It’s a great addition to the game, and one that I can’t ever imagine not having going forward.

The big gameplay change is based on the improved running game. Running and blocking is the best it has ever been. It’s chaotic on the line, and players are flying all over the place. Momentum makes more of a difference than ever and defenders desperate to make the tackle sometimes overcompensate (realistically). It’s a delight.

EA also touted the new tech behind the announcers. But after at least 15 hours of play, I can’t seem to tell what’s different beyond the meta commentary when you skip the halftime show (which is funny).

Oh, and kicking is done really well. Everything is more accurate and you have far more control of your special teams.

Execution

As someone who has reviewed every Madden for the last half-decade, and has religiously purchased every one since the dark days of the non-licensed late ’90s, I can say that this iteration is the tightest yet. Load times are much-improved, which in itself is something to celebrate, and collision detection, AI and physics are all something to appreciate. However, appreciating these tweaks are all you can do. Everything is so nuanced it’s difficult to truly marvel at anything.

With that said, the gameplay is smooth. The realistic ball deflections are impressive, offensive and defensive lines do their jobs appropriately which is satisfying, and there’s a total lack of the players “sliding” that has plagued the game in years past. This is quality football, and dare I say the best representation of the sport ever. Yes, NFL 2K fans, it’s time to just let it go.

For newcomers to the series, Madden is intuitive and streamlined while simultaneously being a deep experience. The higher difficulty levels punish sloppy play more than ever, while the lower levels will allow new players to get onto the field and enjoy themselves with ease.

Staying Power

It’s Madden. If you like it, you’ll play forever. Even if you’re not into the everlasting Franchise Mode, you’ll probably get a lot of play time out of Madden Ultimate Team, Draft Champions or just playing friends online or on the couch. Madden is a difficult game to review — it has a basement level of fun that’s pretty darn high. I know people that claim to “hate” Madden, and still end up picking up the game and play it for dozens of hours, so you know what you’re getting here.

Bullsh*t Factor

Oh, Madden Ultimate Team. The whole MuT system is full of bullsh*t considering you have to drop some real world cash if you plan on being competitive. That’s a really annoying threshold to cross, but, you don’t have to cross it if you don’t want to. There’s more than enough “free” stuff to do in the game. Still, damn these pack-crackin’ game modes. They’re addictive and expensive.

Final Thoughts

Another year, another Madden. It’s better. It’s a good game. But is it a must-buy? That’s really up to you, the player. Madden games have embedded themselves so deeply into our culture that you may have an opinion even if you’ve never played the game. But what Madden 17 sets out to do — provide a fun, deep football experience — is executed here. It could be the best the game of football has been represented on the field. However, Madden the series still has a long way to go before it can once again be the king of the sports mountain because the NBA2K series has that on lock.

So if you’re pumped for the football season and haven’t picked up a Madden in a few years, by all means, get Madden 17. It’s damn fun and a well-made game. Just remind yourself that it’s just nothing revolutionary to the genre. Football is a game of inches, and Madden‘s upgrades come inch by inch. This is the best Madden yet, which means something different to everyone.

Verdict: Worth A Chance

This review was based on a PS4 copy of Madden 17 provided by EA.

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