Every year, EA Sports trots out a new iteration of Madden NFL. Generally speaking, it features one area of the game that’s somewhat more revamped than anything else, plus a whole lot of tinkering around the edges. This year we get Madden NFL 16 which sports a significantly updated passing game.
The best way to explain this new passing game in Madden is “more complicated.” Rather than just holding down the correct receiver button to pass (and doing so for a long time or short time depending on whether you want a lob or a bullet pass), now there are more buttons to push. You can still do the bullet or lob depending, but you can also double-tap for a touch pass to get through tight coverage. Then you can also go for a high or a low throw depending on the defenders’ location.
It doesn’t stop there either. As the receiver you can, while the ball is in the air, choose an aggressive catch, a possession catch, or a run after catch. Depending on your location, the defense, the game situation, any of these three might be the best choice and the game can also suggest to you which you should go for as the ball is in flight.
These changes are both great and terrible. Having more control over what is happening on the field is the entire point of the exercise, and spending time mastering the buttons both for quarterbacks and receivers is hugely beneficial if you want to get the most of the game as possible. However, in a game that already has digital page after digital page after digital page of controls for players to memorize, it eventually becomes too complicated – more is just more, not better.
Users’ mileage with this new passing game (and similar tweaks to the defensive game playing a ball in the air) will vary greatly. If you’re already a master of all the other button combinations, adding a few more to your repertoire won’t prove an immense challenge, but if you’re new to the game, or only moderately proficient at it, the new layer of complexity is not worth the necessary effort.
Looking at the broader view, the vast majority of users—old or new—will still want to spend most of their time in the connected franchise mode which is where you get to take a team through multiple seasons, manage finances, control rosters, etc. The biggest change to the game in connected franchise mode is largely negative.
In this area, Madden NFL 16 now offers “drive goals,” which ask differing things of you at various points during the actual football games. If you have taken a couple of bad sacks, your goal for the next drive may be to not get sacked and if you accomplish the task your team/player is awarded XP and a confidence boost which in turn improves your players and makes things slightly easier. Players also have in-game goals (x number of tackles, y number of yards running, etc.) and even season long and career goals.
After virtually every play the ticker across the bottom of the screen can tell you just how well, or poorly, you’re doing with each and every one of these items. While failure to achieve a drive goal does not negatively impact the player, it certainly can negatively impact the user. These visual cues can be turned off, but the goals themselves are still being tracked.
What is worse than this potential negative mental impact on the user is that the goals seem to have been implemented with little to no thought beyond some static sense of what should be required in the game at a given moment. Going back to the earlier example of not getting sacked, you can achieve this drive goal and gain XP and confidence by, rather than getting sacked, throwing an interception that gets run back for a touchdown and costs your team the game. You see, you have achieved your not getting sacked goal but are in a far worse situation for it.
Madden NFL 16 also does not appear to take into account game length or clock speed for the goals. You might have a defensive player who has the goal of getting three tackles in a game. If you play a 60 minute game with slow play clock, you have a far greater chance of achieving this goal than if you play a 16 minute game with a fast play clock. Imagine how much easier it is for a rusher to hit 1,000 yards on the season if each game is longer which therefore offers more opportunities with the ball. Again, yes, there is no negative impact for not achieving a goal, your players just remain static, but isn’t standing still in a game like this actually a negative impact?
The other huge problem with Madden this time out is the speed, or lack thereof, of the title. Every load screen lasts a long time and even when you skip game intros it still feels like it takes for ever for a game to start.
Amazingly, somehow, despite the over complications, despite the unnecessary RPG aspects, long load times, annoying introductions, and terrible play-by-play commentary, actually playing a football game in Madden remains fun. There are enough ways to jigger the difficulty levels that not being able to punch the buttons quickly and in the exact right order to execute a run after the catch touch pass on a short four yard route that just about everyone can still manage to find the right level of challenge. But, it isn’t easy.
More than anything else, Madden NFL 16 feels the need to be streamlined, not in removing things like Madden Ultimate Team or other side-activities necessarily, but in the actual way a team is managed and a game is played. Where or how to begin that process can’t be an easy task and this reviewer wonders if it might soon be worth EA’s effort to completely level the game and start from scratch (certainly not showing the coin flip at the beginning of a game, something omitted this year, is not where this streamlining should start). It all just feels so burdened by years of add-ons and tweaks and changes that it’s become too lumbering to get out of its own way and let gamers do what they want most with Madden – play football.
Madden NFL 16 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
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