John Madden ’96 was one of the premier sports games to grace the 16-bit era of gaming history. Even with its low-res visuals, and limited depth of field presentation, it’s hard not to notice the subtleties that, 20 years later, would cement Madden NFL 16 as one of the leaders in traditional sports based gaming. Like a pixelated football, passed from the hand of John Elway to the stalwart grip of Tom Brady, Madden NFL 16 represents an evolution, perhaps a long time in coming, in the realm of football gaming.
Like most EA Sports games, it throws you into the action, literally, from the outset, you are placed in the last Super Bowl, Steelers vs 49ers and your goal is to win. From there you are whisked to a sleek menu system filled with a myriad of options and gameplay modes.
Off the field, the name of the game is accessibility. While series veterans will have no trouble feeling right at home on the grass, newcomers will find plenty to like and devour in the wealth of tutorials, training drills and pop up video-esque tips and tricks popping up throughout the game.
Even though budding Monday night gridiron warriors may find a lot to like in terms of the defensive side of the game, the enhanced options, focusing on the more practical side of things, are a welcome addition.
Quarterbacks can now rifle hotly contested high jump throws or low tosses for a higher percentage catch rate. High-risk run-after catches are also an option, with an added chance for athletic leaps, garnering players a highlight reel moment. Receivers can also use possession catches to give the ball a much-needed boost of protection when in the midst of heavy coverage.
"Even though budding Monday night gridiron warriors may find a lot to like in terms of the defensive side of the game, the enhanced options, focusing on the more practical side of things, are a welcome addition."
There is a wide array of offensive maneuvers this year and the handy tooltips help a great deal, not only in getting the hang of these new moves, but also countering them when on defense.
Visual splendor abounds in Madden NFL 16, which is definitely one of the most striking, in terms of graphical prowess, football games to date. From the post play details to the uniform subtleties. Unfortunately, the visuals, as advanced as they are, are still lacking in comparison to other EA Sports franchises, such as FIFA and NHL which sport near broadcast quality.
New modes are the name of the game in Madden NFL 16. One of the more interesting additions to the franchise is the Draft Champions mode. You could probably be forgiven for thinking of it as a replacement for Madden’s Ultimate Team mode, (which is still here). The major difference between the two is the fact that the Draft Champions mode is based and focuses on fantasy football.
After choosing a coach, you’ll move through 15 rounds of drafts. Each round gives you one selection of a possibility of three players, at randomized positions. The fact that different players will come up every time you do a draft means that you’ll get a completely different team every time, and trying to build the best possible team while still playing to your team’s strengths, can be addictive.
The strength of Draft Champions mode lies in the unpredictability as to which players will be available for you to select and when. Do you elect to draft that mid tier QB in Round 3, knowing that he’d be a great addition to your short passing strategy, or do you wait it out for one of the final rounds when you may get a chance at a legendary QB like Elway or Favre?
The menu interface this time around, while keeping with the precisely laid out geometric squared design that has become something of a trend lately, nonetheless, feels cleaner than last year, with main modes at the centerpiece of the menu system upon startup, whereas secondary options and modes can be accessed through the right panes. This is nice because it doesn’t immediately overwhelm you with options.
"Visual splendor abounds in Madden NFL 16, which is definitely one of the most striking, in terms of graphical prowess, football games to date, from the post play details to the uniform subtleties. "
Practice mode continues to be a viable option for trying out different scenarios and complements the Skills Trainer perfectly, where you can focus on more specific plays, such as attacking coverage and run conceptualizations.
Also one of the most notable features this year is the sheer amount of tutorials. Sure, there’s the basic stuff if you just want to get the hang of the basic gameplay, running, passing, etc. You can just learn the basics and leave it at that, but if you want more in depth info, it’s a veritable Madden-pedia, every position, what it does, recognizing whether opponents are blitzing or covering, and what kind of blitz or cover they are using. In terms of tactical comprehensiveness, the game is no Sun Tzu, but put in enough time and effort, and you may just become something of an on field general.
Hidden away in the tutorial mode, may be one of the game’s best-kept secrets. The Gauntlet is a deeply challenging, yet addictive mode where you’re given six lives and forty levels that have progressive difficulty that range from normal training drills to boss fights involving gigantic players and hurricanes. It’s quite difficult; in fact, think of it akin to Mortal Kombat’s Tower of Pain, a true test of skill. The difficulty of the mode should be evident in the fact that last year’s Madden game featured the same mode, yet less than 200 people worldwide managed to conquer it.
Madden Ultimate Team mode functions almost exactly like the more popular FIFA incarnation of the same name. Its conception is deceptively simple; earn enough money by playing matches and completing challenges. You then spend that money on packs of cards containing shiny new players (or buy them from other players online, alternatively), and then reorganize your team so you can win more matches. It’s a vicious, (but addictive!) cycle.
Luckily, it doesn’t feel like grinding, thanks to the massive amount of content in Madden’s Ultimate Team. Wherein the FIFA version is conceptualized based on online matches, Madden’s version has over 1000 single player challenges, ranging from intercepting a pass, to winning a game where you’re playing against a team of legendary players.
"Hidden away in the tutorial mode, may be one of the game’s best-kept secrets. The Gauntlet is a deeply challenging, yet addictive mode where you’re given six lives and forty levels that have progressive difficulty that range from normal training drills to boss fights involving gigantic players and hurricanes. "
Organizing your team is as easy as selecting the best team option and sorting your team out by best overall team, or best team based on players that suit your team’s play style. Alternatively, you can hand select each player for each position if you’re a more hands on player.
If you are the hand picker type, sorting your players has never been easier. From the binder, you can sort players by a wealth of filters, like quality, positional coverage, and even how recently you obtained them. You can even sort set items into Panini-esque books, and completing sets is satisfying and addictive.
With a focus on accessibility, and an eye for additional content, both new and fresh and old favorites, that have been updated for the new year, Madden feels like a return to form, a breath of fresh air that the series has sorely needed. More evolution than revolution, perhaps the most thought provoking question concerning this year’s Madden, is where does the series go from here, and will we be along for the ride?
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Improved gameplay mechanics on offense and defense, Draft Champions is engaging and addictive, High level of accessibility for new players, Presentation is exceptional.
Visuals are still lacking in comparison to FIFA and NHL franchises.
Madden NFL 16 boasts deep and engaging gameplay, a robust tutorial system, and an overall presentation that makes it the best that it's been in years.
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