Madden NFL 16 Review

Lee Abrahams

When the football (Stateside version) season is in full swing it can feel like you never want to play another Madden game again. After all it’s probably the same old thing with just a few more bells and whistles, right? However, after the post-season blues kick in then it’s not long before you’re hankering after a new slice of digital razzamatazz. Guess it’s just as well that EA is always on hand each year to scratch that particular itch with Madden NFL then.

As ever Madden NFL 16 has had a lick of paint. Players look great and the animations are fluid and realistic, plus the presentation is top notch as you would expect. Though loading times between screens and games can be a touch longer than you’d want. Just long enough to get on your nerves, if truth be told. EA is always the master of presentation, but that’s not enough to make you want to dig deep for a re-skin of last year's title.

"Do you want a piece of this?"

It’s good news that there have been some neat new changes on the field as well. The main overhaul is in the form of touch passing and receiving, so that each pass is now a mini-game of sorts that you have to figure out. You can try and have your receiver ready to burst into a run, but that risks the pass completion, or you can take a safety first approach but risk making shorter gains. Best of all you can try and pull off the kind of fingertip grabs Odell Beckham Jr made famous last year.

It sounds simple, but it actually adds a lot of interesting nuance and surprise to each play. The major plus is that it makes the game feel a lot more realistic and organic than just hitting a button and relying mainly on the AI to reel in a catch. Defensively too, you can muscle into plays and cannily step into the running line. The CPU feels smarter on plays as well, so if you rely too much on certain players and formations it feels like they learn to take advantage over time.

Those tweaks then, while seemingly minor, do add a lot more to the game this time around and it’s almost enough to make the upgrade worthwhile on their own. So it’s nice that there are a few more other modes to take your fancy.

Prepare to get hit.

The Fantasy Draft option is a clever idea, because we all love taking a random team of no hopers and seeing them become the best in the world. Once again the idea is simple in execution. You build a team from random selections of players, ideally tailoring their abilities to match that of your chosen coach, and then you take them on a three game crusade against either the CPU or your fellow players.

Lose a game and your draft is over, whereas keep on winning and you’ll rack up some handy rewards for Ultimate Team. The drafts are fairly handled, so each team is generally similarly balanced, and every round is different so it provides a generous amount of replayability – which is always handy in a seemingly familiar sports title.

It’s a shame that, as ever, all roads seem to lead to the microtransaction-fuelled Ultimate Team mode. For those that love opening random packs, getting a load of crap, and wondering just how many coins they have to save to afford someone decent, then welcome to heaven. For the rest of us, it’s a grindy sideshow at best. However, at least the Draft mode ties into this to ease your burden somewhat.

Perfect catch or perfect interception?

There’s also the ever popular Franchise mode, where you can manage the growth and advancement of an entire team should you so desire. It’s the one area that, Ultimate Team apart, you’ll probably happily while away most of your time though, again, there are a few issues. Trying to progress players can feel random, with certain skills feeling tantalisingly out of reach unless you focus on specific plays and players but you get out of it what you put in, so if you’re in for the long haul then this is the mode for you.

Achievement wise it’s a fairly lean year if truth be told, with a rather truncated list that requires minimal time and effort assuming you can breeze through with a good legacy team. The only challenge might be heading to the Superbowl in Ultimate Team, though even that can be circumnavigated by a decent boosting partner. It’s a bog standard affair really, and one that veteran Madden players shouldn’t have too much trouble with.

Your mileage with Madden may well depend on whether or not a few new bells and whistles constitute an upgrade, however, the clever new passing and defensive mechanics this time around add a whole new level of play to proceedings that makes snatching that winning play all the more satisfying. As ever though a lot of emphasis is on the Ultimate Team mode, which is mildly irritating, but at least we also have the fun new Draft option to divert your attention. The positives here are a great step forward though, and Madden NFL 16 brings enough new stuff to the table to keep even the most ardent fans happy.

I’ve yet to find a sports game whose audio blows me away, and this is no different, it’s functional and the barrage of EA music is as inoffensive and bland as ever.

The game looks great, players features and animations keep on steadily improving and this year is, again, no different and, as ever, EA are the masters of presentation off the field.

The new passing and receiving mechanics feel like a breath of fresh air, and make each game feel less scripted. It’s a welcome upgrade and one that will make the game a challenge even for veterans.

The new Fantasy Draft mode is a welcome addition, and the other modes have been left to their own devices in the main, which is fine as they offer a bunch of options and timesinks to distract you.

A bland achievement list that, at least, makes you sample most of the modes without ever feeling overly time consuming or challenging.

A few new gameplay mechanics and the Fantasy Draft mode might not seem like enough to make you part with your cash, but the subtle changes are enough to make every game feel like a new challenge. Every catch can be game changing, every defensive counter move pivotal. It’s great that a simple tweak can shift the dynamic so much, and it’s enough to make Madden NFL 16 a more authentic experience for long time players and newcomers alike.

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