This year, 2014, marks the first year that Madden NFL has hit the next-gen consoles on the same day as the previous gen editions (last year, the PS4 and Xbox One weren’t out at that point), and consequently it’s a big year for the game. Last year’s version can be seen as a delayed throwaway, but not this year, this year is big. The pros if you will. So, how does it stack up?
Very well indeed, though perhaps not brilliantly.
One of the things that has suffered in the past few iterations of the long-running franchise has been defense. It has never felt quite right, worked quite right, particularly looking at the trenches. It is then no great surprise when I say that when EA Sports talks bout what’s new and different this year, it’s the defense they really discuss.
As with all Madden changes, there are things that now work better and things that seem wholly unnecessary. For instance, by this point, I think most people are used to the camera angles, so the offering of a locked camera angle on a defensive player, particularly when that camera angle inverts the traditional up and down, it feels superfluous.
No, what people want, I think are real and true changes in the way the line and tackling works. We have gotten that. Some of it is, again, in the cosmetic area (there’s a cone that shows you where you can tackle a guy), and some of it is in the addition of controls to help you get off the line following a snap and then away from an O-line guy who has engaged you. It is also possible this year to try and steer the blocker to the side.
Wisely, when you start playing the game, it is highly recommend you run through an extended tutorial (and by default the game places you in it). However, there were some tasks requested where, even when performed, the game did not register a positive, negative, or neutral result, it simply asked for it to be repeated without acknowledging what happened in the last attempt. It was at that point that I left the tutorial.
One of the other interesting (read: unfortunate) parts of the tutorial is the fact that the game doesn’t offer a manual. No really, these things go together. One of the new things this year is a little cone you can bring up on offense which clues you in to the various matchups your receivers and backs face. There is no manual to tell you about it, and the tutorial assumes you’re already aware of it. You, of course, can’t be already aware because the game has put you into the tutorial before you’ve gotten to look around and examine stuff like the digital manual.
Yeah, and that digital manual is awful anyway. There are a lot of different controls in Madden. A lot. Virtually every button does something pre-snap, something when your QB has the ball, something different when it’s a receiver/back who has the ball, and something different again when you’re on defense. There does not, however, seem to be a quick way to pull up those pages in the virtual manual (on the pause screen). Instead, if you go to the controls section, you have to flip through pages of extraneous information before getting to the stuff you actually need. And, yes, it instantly disappears once you go back to the game so you can’t reference it as needed.
Please, EA, please. If you don’t want to spend the money printing manuals, maybe a little card with the controls could be included.
Leaving that aside, there is still a whole lot of other things that need to be addressed in the game. Perhaps some of the following five items will be addressed in updates, but at this time they are of great concern.
First up, Madden has a tendency to miss penalties. I have seen my kicker knocked down on more than one occasion after he’s already gotten rid of the ball without a penalty called. Whether or not one believes that ought to be a penalty in the NFL, it is, and consequently it needs to be called here.
Second, there are a lot of catches near the sidelines ruled inbounds even if they are shown (on replay) not to be. A receiver needs to have two feet inbounds while in possession of the ball for a catch to count and all too often receivers with a single foot inbounds are granted the catch. If the refs are bad in the moment, that’s one thing, but surely challenging the play ought to find the initial call overruled. That does not occur – clear, obvious, irrefutable proof of players having at best a single foot inbounds does not wind up in an overturned ruling. Either the visuals of what is occurring don’t match how Madden sees things or the game simply doesn’t understand the rules.
Third, what happens on the field doesn’t always seem to match the results one sees as an owner in Franchise mode. That is to say, putting together a five game win streak and getting a stranglehold on the division sometimes finds one’s success level drop.
Fourth, scoring drive summaries aren’t always accurate. As an example, if an interception occurs on a play but then is called back due to a penalty, scoring drives a reset to start from the play following the penalty.
Five, and I do believe this will be fixed when more people begin playing, at this moment community play selections are just awful. Rather than just offering strategic selections, Madden shows you what community members have called in similar situations that might work. As of this moment, you will regularly see options that work half the time or less and offer a bad average gain (whether you are on offense or defense, the numbers regularly don’t work in your favor).
Unfortunately, one other issue will likely never be fixed no matter how many updates come forth – load times. Everything requires a load, the loads are not fast, and the game stutters. Worse, for some ludicrous reason, there are a set of blinky lights at the bottom to show when you hit a load. When the lights fill, it means the load is complete. However (and here’s the problem), the lights don’t fill in order and blink on and off prior to filling, thereby making watching them an insanely frustrating experience.
The graphics are absolutely gorgeous on the field (less so in the stands), and the sounds are great, too. Sadly, even if I like Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in real life, they are dreadful here. I have said it before and I’ll say it again here and now – apparently play-by-play in a videogame is an insanely hard thing to accomplish, because it is always done badly. Nantz and Simms are smart guys who would assess plays in real life the way they are assessed in the game and why Simms keeps slamming Nantz’s golf skills I can’t guess. It is funny once but soon becomes grating.
It is then, unquestionably a less than perfect experience. I do believe that defense operates in better fashion now than it has previously. I also think that it is still, unquestionably a fun game (although I could do without Madden Ultimate Team which is a weird, sort of fantasy football thing that really isn’t fantasy football and which seems to lack a point except to get you to spend actual money).
All of that being said, I think that Madden NFL 15 is head and shoulders better than the last version. If you’re in the market for football on the PS4 it is a better choice than a discounted copy of the previous iteration. There are definitely a myriad of issues that still need to be addressed, but improving the defense in the way it’s been done here shows movement in the right direction.
Madden NFL 15 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. It is also available on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00JUFSH9M]