Madden NFL 15 Review (PS4)
Madden NFL is a series which has always been under the most intense of microscopes in the sports gaming community. It’s almost like Madden is a Kardashian, with its every move being dissected and broken apart on a level that would make any other sports game crumble.
Despite all of this, Madden does continually give a good and solid NFL experience most years, but is still flawed in one way or another. The past several years we have witnessed Madden fixing one set of problems, only to see a new batch arise from those fixes. I have long said football was a difficult sport to program for, and it certainly stands to reason that is the case. However, despite all of this, Madden sells extremely well and has seemed on the cusp of making it to the level of the elites in our genre for a couple of years — but it has ultimately been held back by something.
Madden NFL 15 is no different. On one hand, the game is a blast to play. On the other, it’s "maddening."
New this year in Madden is the emphasis on defense within the gameplay. This may be the first year in a decade in which Madden has gone to such painstaking lengths to improve the experience of playing defense.
It has been long overdue.
The new pass rush tools which have been introduced, along with the new emphasis on blocking, have made trying to bullrush the QB a much more satisfying experience. What was once a task full of tedium is now a fun mini-game each down. It seems weird to say it, but I almost found myself wishing there was a way to see how much I was in the head of the OLine I was working through the whole game. The short version of this is: what was once tedious and no fun is now fun.
Cameras were added in and reworked this year, with you now having the ability to change your view on the fly in-game. This is such an obvious thing that it’s amazing it’s not a universal feature in sports games at this point. The ability to change your view quickly and seamlessly pre-play is intuitive and fast. The new camera angles all have their uses and someone will enjoy each of them. I personally found myself using the second zoomed out view on offense, and the over-the-shoulder defensive view most, but each angle is workable.
Gamers feared the tackle cone was the vision cone (circa Madden 06) reborn. This is not the case at all, as the tackle cone is nothing more than a minor distraction — and the new tackling mechanics are certainly better than the old ones. Once again, the Madden team took a piece of the game which was rather boring and added a fun bit of risk/reward to it. You can choose a more conservative wrap-up tackle, or you can try for a big hit which may cause a fumble. I have delivered big hits with no consequence, I have delivered big hits which jarred the ball loose for fumble touchdown returns, and I have completely whiffed and given up several extra yards. You must give it some thought when tackling, rather than mindlessly pressing a button like years past. The Madden team did a good job here.
Better overall AI, with much improved DB coverages, have also been touted by EA this year. Players cover their zones much more effectively and make s more aggressive break on the ball. I found that your passing window have indeed shrunk in Madden this year — and I’m sure some people are going to complain passing is too hard. Throwing deep balls this year is not a good idea if the defense is running any type of deep zone. You will be throwing into traffic, and likely piling up interceptions.
A big problem I did find was that sacks can get out of control without slider tweaks. If you have an advantage over the OL you are facing, you will oftentimes get a lot of pressure and sacks on the QB. AI QBs don’t react to the increased pressure well, as they oftentimes hold the ball for a sack rather than getting rid of it quicker or throwing the ball away. One fix I did find was to tweak the computer pass blocking sliders, which sometimes gives the QB a ton of time to throw — but the sack numbers were much more realistic that way.
There is a clear differentiation between the bad QBs and the good ones. You can clearly tell the difference between a Peyton Manning and a Matt Cassel. When it comes to completion percentages, NFL QBs are typically not slouches and the difference is not as large as you would think from elite to average QBs. Last year, Phillip Rivers led the lead in completion percentage at 69.5 percent. Robert Griffin was 25th in the league at 60.1 percent. Madden is likely skewing a bit too accurate still from my in-game experience, but the stats are a fairly realistic spread from the bad QBs to the good ones. The pass lead tuning is fantastically done and is an oft-overlooked great feature of this series. I have been able to place the ball generally where I wanted it (dependent upon my QBs skill) by leading the receiver a little or a lot.
I did work trying to find true money routes in this year’s game and there wasn’t any that worked universally against every defense that I could find. Screens used to be automatic, but if a team is dropped in a umbrella zone, your screens are not going anywhere. Slants can work, but there are defenses to counteract that. If anything, man coverage tends to be a bit loose still — as zones tend to be the more effective defense this year. However, my initial tests seemed to indicate there were ways to beat every route on defense — but just as in the real NFL it’s impossible to account for everything in the secondary.
The running game didn't get a whole lot of work, sans the fact that defenders can break off blocks easier; holes close up much faster than last year. This is especially true on outside runs, which have been toned way down. Running outside required you to read the defense and react appropriately to what they were running. I have broken 40- to 50-yard runs on the outside and through the gut, but my average yards per carry has been around 5. This is possibly a tad high still, and it’s likely due to the DLine not properly engaging on run plays — however my initial findings have been when you are wanting to stop the run you can.
Player interactions in the open field, between DBs and WRs namely, aren’t as robust as they could be. This is a well known issue in the franchise, and while I think it’s overstated somewhat, there are several little things the game does need to do better to make this aspect more realistic. The new catch animations help, but both players jockeying for position is something which doesn’t happen all that well.
The physics have seen a few tweaks, with even more realistic changing of momentum and speed. You will be able to tell when you have a truly elite runner at your fingertips vs. a more slow and lumbering player. From last year to this year, this has simply been more refined. Gang tackles are a joy to see, as I have seen large piles form at times, although as weird as it is to say, players don’t properly ‘stack’ when piling up. There are still a few wonky physics moments, but other great games in our genre also have these strange moments.
Short yardage situations are probably the biggest need to get ‘right’ with the physics in the future, as you typically will see offensive and defensive linemen engage each other when in reality defensive linemen are looking to disrupt the line of scrimmage and allow LBs and DBs to make a play on the ball. This often results in piles forming near the hole or along the goal line in the real NFL, which doesn’t happen in the game.
The new kick meter seemed too easy to me. I was able to coffin corner punts with little issue, and field goals became even easier. It does seem like kickers are more differentiated between average and elite kickers though, but it seems like its more geared towards kick power than accuracy. It would be nice to see accuracy on kicks much more variable.
A good chunk of presentation really moved forward this year. EA brought in Brian Murray, a producer at NFL Films, to try to recreate the NFL experience within Madden.
It looks the part now, it even somewhat sounds the part, but it’s still not great due to bad commentary.
The visual elements, with new in-game seamless cuts, make the entire experience so much better. Even the added commentary/presentational elements add to the experience when it comes to new stat banners and the new lines from Phil Simms and Jim Nance. Real NFL jumbotrons are now in the game, which really does add a small bit of flair to the package. Work was clearly done on crowd, player and in-game stadium audio. But I cannot get over how poor the commentary is this year.
For instance, with timeouts you will get realistic cuts of players running over to the sideline with bumper music playing and the scene fading out as you would with a real NFL game. It’s really an excellent visual treat. However, the whole experience is ruined when you fade up from black and the commentary team is saying the wrong names of players on the field or worse, when they are completely misrepresenting the graphic up on the screen. At one point, I had the commentators say my defense was so bad, you could more easily measure its output in miles than yards — the only problem is the graphic showed we were the No. 1 defense in the league and were dominating at the time in the game.
It’s things like that which make what is an overall well done package and just stomp dirt on it. I have no hesitation in saying 75 percent of Madden’s presentation is so well done, it rivals the rest of our genre. If the commentary could somehow come up to an elite level, Madden would be among the best presented games period.
There are actually new elements within the presentation as well. There are now new pre-game and halftime shows, hosted by Larry Ridley, which are both executed quite well. The commentary within each are somewhat limited but at least they stay on point. We still don’t have highlights of other games or even scores presented from other games, which would be a huge bonus at some point in the future, but this was a good and honest first effort.
The new crowd-sourced playcalling system seemed to be nothing more than a gimmick to me, and really it is just that. The problem with the recommendations is that they oftentimes do not fit your current situation. I’ve had a suggestion to run an Iso on 3rd-and-18 and four verticals on 3rd-and-1, so the recommendations engine likely needs some work.
Another problem I have is that the playcalling system has become convoluted and too complex for its own good. The different options offered are great, but having so many different ways to call plays has gotten to the point where it’s almost a sort of sensory overload. To me, it makes much more sense to ask a player how they want to call their plays and having the menus default to that. As it is, it appears developers were insecure about players not using the new recommendation playcall engine and you are forced to back out of it every time play resets on the field. I kid you not, I have to back out of the recommendation menu every time to get to the proper playcall menu.
Another gripe I have is there is a weird lag in the playcall menu that results in you overstepping your desired destination. That along with the idea to change the default playcall buttons and arrange them in a confusing order just seems to be a case of fixing what wasn’t broken. You can still go back to the old way in terms of button order, but this just seems to be one area of the game where developers have tried to be too innovative and featured filled that it has actually begun to detract from the experience rather than add to it.
There are a few bugs within the playcalling system as well. Sometimes formations don't show the right plays, and sometimes you'll see your screen blank out leaving you with no options to get the play you want. Perhaps most frustrating is that since the game insists on suggesting plays, when you need to not do a punt or field goal and time is of the essence you almost have to burn a timeout to get the play you need, otherwise you have to move out of the suggestion menu to get the play you want. The playcall screen is going to need a smarter overhaul next year.
Connected Franchise is the bread and butter offline mode, where you can be any NFL player, coach or owner, and lead your team to glory. Overall the experience has changed quite a bit on the coach and owner side of things, with you now being required to allocate points towards game prep each week. This can include simply building up your team with XP (which is spent to progress players however you like) or you can increase confidence of your existing players who are low on confidence.
This sounds gamey, but the implications are vast. Do you hire a coach (as an owner) who is a development (XP) specialist but who can’t motivate well? Or conversely, do you hire a master motivator who will get the most out of your players but who isn’t as good of a developer?
You obviously want a coaching staff to match your philosophy with your team at the time, because it will affect your long term goals. At the same time, you will also see your play style, coach style, and franchise history all play parts in how easily you can land free agents. You can sort of see a hint of NCAA Football coming through with free agency, although the lack of info in the menus is a sad development. The draft seems ok, I only went through two and you have fairly typical options, it's neither bad nor great, simply good.
One beef with Connected Franchise is that the financial models are quite simplistic. It seems as if the mode has dumbed things down to the lowest common denominator so everyone can run their own NFL franchise. I am very disappointed at the design decision to remove stats from the free agency screen as well, while ratings are great, I’m just as interested in what a player did the previous year as I am their overall rating. Maybe that’s just me.
The menus can be a bit convoluted at times too, as there are a few ways to make things simpler for you. However, sports games tend to get convoluted menu systems as their franchise modes deepen, I’m not sure why this is, but it seems to be a universal truth.
The stats from the simulation engine this year also need some serious work. Quarterback's touchdown-to-interception ratios are out of whack, and defensive stats (sacks in particular) are inflated. I’m sure this can be tweaked with a patch, but there are definitely issues out of the box with simulation stats. This part of the game is broken as-is though, with serious problems.
Another area that appears to have some pretty big problems revolves around progression and regression. Corroborating my experiences with others in the community has led me to believe there may be some serious issues with how some positional players progress, especially QBs. This is going to take a bit more investigation, but I know enough to say it's not working right in some respects, so that is being noted here. It seems some positions seem to do just fine. In fact, some are better than last year, such as Running Backs. But due to the funky statistical output it seems that QBs, at the very least, are having issues with their ratings progressions.
We will have a deeper review of Ultimate Team and the Gauntlet/Skills trainer in later articles. However, from my initial findings both are actually quite well done this year.
Ultimate Team in particular has seen an overhaul, with contracts now being considered a currency and not an asset you own. This will change how you manage your team, which is now helped by improved menus for that sort of thing. It will take much more time to determine if Ultimate Team is a big win this year, but the initial indications are the mode is better than ever this year.
The Gauntlet mode was no doubt inspired by Tackle Alley from backbreaker, as some of the same types of games are done within it, along with other crazy variations like kicking a field goal in a Category 5 hurricane. Granted, the latter wasn’t nearly as cool when you noticed the sun shining down on the field and things weren’t ripping apart around you…but I digress.
The boss battles in Gauntlet are well thought out, and the challenges are well done. My biggest beef is Gauntlet is kind of hidden within the Skills Trainer menu and not in the open for more people to see it. Most likely, this means the mode won’t get the attention it deserves — as I think it’s a fun party game for people to play with Madden. Gauntlet is a good beginning, but will seriously need more visibility and even more creativity in the future if it wants to become a mainstay in the franchise.
Online has tended to work for me. I played two games, both with little issues. However, with launch day not here yet, there is literally no way to know what kind of issues are going to pop up. As is standard procedure now, I am only qualified to talk about the options with online play rather than the experience. When it comes to options, they are standard fare for sure. I dare say it’s pretty vanilla. The ability to play your Connected Franchise with friends is obviously a big bonus, but it would be nice if more thought was put into online in the future. Ladders/leaderboards, tournaments, stat leaders — why not make this stuff a huge part of the online experience?
Madden NFL 15 is a better, smarter, more realistic version of Madden football. Longtime fans are going to love this game, while casual gamers may not have their mind changed.
What Madden does great this year is take elements of the game which were boring, like playing defense, and add something to that to create a clearly better overall package. There are still flaws with the game: you won’t see penalties called often and injuries aren’t a frequent occurrence. On the same token DB/WR interactions are not where they should be, simulated stats are broken at this point, and there are no more words to describe how bad the commentary is at this point despite the added lines and more fluid delivery.
There is no doubt in my mind Madden is a very well put together package that, with patches, will be well worth any football gamers hard earned money. Despite that, the condition of the title at launch leaves a bit to be desired. The playcall menu has some serious bugs, and CFM has some major simulation and progression problems you cannot overlook. On top of that, there are still some legacy issues which the game still finds itself fighting. Madden is no slouch and users who have no agenda going in except to have fun will find exactly that. If you are an NFL fan and someone who has enjoyed Madden at all in the past, this is the best edition of Madden yet and also the best playing game of football on the field you will find.
If the CFM and playcall menu problems are fixed, and perhaps the commentary problems -- this game is easily deserving of a higher score. The on-field gameplay is its strongest suit, and users looking for a fun football experience will find just that with Madden.
Score: 7.5 (Good)
What this score means