Quick Look: Madden NFL 15

This year's Madden has some interesting new tweaks and our resident football enthusiast is ready to reveal them all! Then he trounces me.

Vinny Caravella on Google+
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Madden NFL 15 Review

4

It's got its share of holdover problems, but Madden NFL 15 at least represents a positive step forward for this series.

The last time I really found myself enjoying a Madden game was Madden NFL 11. That was four years ago, which is ages in annual video game franchise terms. Madden NFL 15 marks the first time in a good long while that a Madden game left me feeling positive about the experience. It's not because this year's game offers up any one big, awesome new feature that sets it markedly apart from the last few entries. Instead, it takes a lot of the good, if clunky ideas from the last couple of games, and finally molds them into something that feels simultaneously exciting to play, and (mostly) technically sound. There are still problems, to be sure, but for once, those issues are outnumbered by positives in a significant way.

There were a lot of very good reasons to be disappointed with Madden NFL 25. Madden NFL 15 still disappoints in a few areas, but is generally a much more consistently entertaining game.

The biggest changes in Madden NFL 15 fall on the defensive side of the ball. Plenty of Madden installments have proclaimed to "fix" defense, usually by adding some new mechanic or stick functionality that still leaves you with pretty much the same exact defensive game you've been playing for years. Once again, I think saying that Madden 15's changes somehow salve everything potentially wrong with playable defense is overstating things, but what the game does offer is a nice change of pace. First off, now players can swing the camera around while playing defense. That sounds like a small thing, but it's actually a big help when playing on the defensive line or as a linebacker. Before, I always felt the defensive players were getting obscured by the offensive line. This negates that issue, and in concert with a new defensive minigame--you can jump the snap by hitting a trigger button at the right moment--it goes a long way to helping you play more effectively. In addition to that trigger button, you will also see button icons pop up when your defender is engaged with a blocker, indicating whether you should be using finesse moves or power moves to get by them. If that makes things too easy for you, you can just shut those off entirely, but for my part, I found them to be a helpful instructional tool.

As good as all those changes are, they don't make playing defense a perfect experience. Playing in the secondary still often feels like a crapshoot, for instance. The reverse camera doesn't feel as effective when controlling a defensive back, and I still feel like I'm a liability any time I assume control of one. I did find myself pulling off a few more interceptions than I have in the past, but I can't attribute that to anything specific to this year's game. If anything, INTs are just as prevalent (or over-prevalent, depending on your opinion) as they've ever been. Hitting and tackling still has its issues as well. While I appreciate this year's control alterations--conservative and aggressive tackles have been assigned to separate buttons, and now you can square up defenders by holding down the LT/L2 button--tackles still result in a lot of strange, often awkward-looking hits. Some of this might just be leftover wonkiness from the implementation of the Infinity Engine, and it's not nearly as bad as it's been in the past. Remember a couple of years ago when players were literally tripping over each other at the end of practically every play? Yeah, it's not that bad. Still, it's odd to watch players' limbs bend and contort in inhuman ways any time they bump into one another. It's similarly disconcerting to watch players often go functionally limp when they collide, as if someone had just unplugged them from The Matrix.

That last point has more to do with graphics than gameplay, but those kinds of graphical issues stand out a good bit more now that the series has planted itself firmly on the new generation of consoles. Last year's game on Xbox One and PS4 was just a minor upgrade from the 360 and PS3 versions, but Madden NFL 15 advances the game's visual presentation significantly. Stadiums, crowds, and sidelines have never looked better, and the action on the field generally looks excellent. You may see some weirdness with marquee players and coaches not quite looking like their counterparts--which is to say nothing of the haunting looking representations of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms that pop up at the beginning of each game--but this year's player models are nonetheless a huge improvement. Of course, with that increased detail, issues like physics glitches and hiccups in tackling animations tend to stand out all the more.

Real life Phil Simms is creepy enough. Digital Phil Simms is downright nightmarish.

The offensive side of the ball hasn't seen as much alteration, but there is at least one nice addition in the form of tempo changes. Essentially, you can now toggle between the normal pace of the game, a no-huddle offense, and a deliberately sluggish "chew clock" option. The no-huddle option brings your offense to the line super quickly, though obviously limits the number of plays you can call. Chewing the clock winds the play clock all the way down to ten seconds before you break the huddle, which greatly improves the pace of late game situations. It's a really minor thing and it doesn't change the offensive game in any truly significant way, but it's a nice touch that I'm frankly sort of baffled hadn't been included previously.

Another big change to this year's game is playcalling. In the past, suggested plays were limited to the old "Ask Madden" feature, which would spit up a few situationally correct plays, and way back when would also offer up a bit of John Madden-voiced coaching commentary (EA really needs to get him back in the recording booth some day). Madden NFL 15 expands on this considerably, offering up multiple suggestion options based on analytics. You'll still get a list of plays ideal for the game situation you're in, but they come with actual quantifiable data that helps explain why those plays make sense. And then there's a whole other category of plays built around suggestions from the community and how effective those plays have been in similar situations. It takes some getting used to, but I found it vastly preferable to any play-calling system this series has used in the past.

Of course, there are adjustments spread throughout the game's various modes and features, though most of these are minor in nature. Connected franchise still lets you create a player, coach or owner of your own design, and only two of those options are actually fun (sorry owner mode, you're still the worst). The big change to the mode this year is player confidence. At the top of each in-game week, you'll have the option to put your players through a series of pre-game exercises designed to boost a specific player, or an entire team's confidence. These are mostly non-playable exercises (though there are some in-game practice options available too), but there is a tangible benefit to doing them. Players with greater confidence tend to play above their stat ratings, while those lacking in confidence will more easily bottom out in arduous situations. This is essentially a play on the old hot/cold streak stuff from older games, but now you have a bit more control over it. This is nothing earth-shattering, but I think it's a nice way to handle the kinds of intangible swings inherent to professional football. I just wish it weren't the only big addition this year, because apart from some tweaks to the XP upgrading system for players (which finally make that feature feel useful), little else has changed for the better.

The same can be said for Ultimate Team, which has received a few tweaks in the name of making the mode more navigable, and not much else. It's still a mode I like a lot more in theory than in practice, as the progression of it still leans a little too heavily on inspiring the urge to pay for additional player card packs, versus just playing through the mode's offline and online challenges to earn coins. The skills challenge mode has been fleshed out with some additional trainers for specific game situations, and a surprisingly fun gauntlet mode that ramps up the ridiculousness of the regular training minigames. Online play hasn't seen any significant changes, though most of the games I played did seem a bit laggier/more stuttery than in last year's game. As always, your mileage may vary, but this was a bit more pronounced than what I've typically experienced in other EA Sports games.

If you've stayed away from Madden for a few years--and certainly, no one would blame you if you have--Madden NFL 15 does enough right to justify taking the plunge again.

All of the above changes go a long way to making this year's Madden feel the most consistently satisfying entry in the series in a good long while. While holdover issues like problematic offensive lines, sometimes clunky running mechanics, deeply confusing in-game menus, annoyingly repetitive (and periodically incorrect) commentary, and various glitches of both the minor and severe varieties are still present, I didn't find myself sighing with exasperation over them nearly as much. More often, I found myself too engaged with the act of playing video game football to care quite as much. Given that I generally like video game football quite a bit, it's sort of dispiriting to realize how long it's been since I've been able to do that. There are still a lot of things this series could stand to improve, but Madden NFL 15 represents an encouraging step forward for this series. A small step, to be sure, but still a positive one.

Alex Navarro on Google+
39 Comments
Edited by KaneRobot

I'm mildly sad they didn't call it "Madden 26" and just keep that going.

I'm not particularly interested in Madden to begin with so there's zero chance of me buying this, but I'll still futz around with last year's game on EA Access once in a while.

I do wish EA started putting "Ask Madden" in other genres. Let me ask Madden what to do in Mass Effect conversations.

Posted by RetroMetal

So, the big question... PS4 version or XB1 version?

Posted by TheSilverSky

@kanerobot: "Well ya see, you need to hit the reapers with your weapons before they hit you with theirs, whoever shoots first is probably ahead."

Edited by Alex

@retrometal: TBH the difference between the two was so marginal I didn't think it necessary to point out in the review. Maybe the Xbox One version looks a tad crisper? It's such a minuscule difference.

Staff
Posted by ripelivejam

FOOOOTBAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Posted by Amikron

Great write up, @alex! I don't think I'll be picking this year's version up right now but it seems like they are at least trying to make some improvements. Thanks for the review.

Online
Posted by CorruptedEvil

Posted by Purpington

I could have sworn that EA implemented the "jump the snap" feature a few years back.

Posted by GorillaMoPena

I could have sworn that EA implemented the "jump the snap" feature a few years back.

There was a slightly different version of it in the NCAA games I think.

Edited by HammondofTexas

John Madden. AEIOU.

Online
Posted by KaneRobot

@kanerobot: "Well ya see, you need to hit the reapers with your weapons before they hit you with theirs, whoever shoots first is probably ahead."

"And then BOOM!"

Posted by EuanDewar

Thanks for the review Alex.

I think I might hop back in this year. Being a jolly ol' Brit I buy Fifa every year but Madden is more of a once in a while purchase for me. I enjoy american football a lot but it's kinda hard to keep track of it in a fulfilling way with the time zone differences and all that.

Posted by MATATAT

I've certainly played Madden before but I've never once bought a copy. I've considered getting this version.

Might also grab the new Fifa. The last one I got was 12 so maybe its time to upgrade.

Posted by Garrador

Great choice of photo for the homepage for Madden 15. Love them Browns, shame that team and organization doesn't love me back.

Posted by shades846

So fifa review coming soon ;-)

Posted by Jay_Ray

The last time I bough Madden was Madden 11 and I'm having that hunger for a football game, glad this year is a good one to buy and stave off my hunger for another 3-4 years.

Posted by csl316

Some of my favorite gaming memories involved Madden 2002 and NHL 2001, where everybody would come over and we'd just get super deep into custom teams and whatnot.

Shame that these new games can't recreate the best part of Madden: getting a bunch of high schoolers in a basement to blow a weekend on competitive games.

Online
Posted by radioactivez0r

I haven't gotten real far in a Madden game since maybe the 2006 version, but I'm kind of antsy to pick this up and just play the hell out of it.

Edited by Darek006

Oh god, the last proper Madden I played ('02) is as close to the first Madden as the latest Madden.

Yet I still don't feel like a substantial amount has changed. I think they even had the dumb cards back then.

Posted by WMoyer83

"when you are on the battlefield, it's best to keep your weapon loaded for a dynamic offense."

Ask Madden in BattleField 5

Edited by Mr_Creeper

Footieball.

Posted by Bory
Posted by PimblyCharles

Woo hoo! Pigball 2015.

Posted by Y2Ken

This sounds promising. I guess my question would be as someone who just wants to play some video game football and isn't yet in deep enough to be fussed by roster changes, does this do enough to justify picking it up over last year's (no-doubt highly discounted by now) edition?

@alex does make it sound as though it is a big enough leap to warrant jumping back in, so if I'm coming to this series for the first time proper then it's probably worth the extra investment to jump in with this game?

Posted by Vextroid
Posted by Three0neFive

Wait, what? Wasn't the last one called Madden 25? What happened to the last ten games, did they get retconned?

Edited by dbene

God I would love to just see some competition in the football gaming world. Even if the game sucked....it would just be nice to see.

MS needs to ressurect their sports department and hire some really good people and make a line. They could do it if they wanted to throw the money in there.

Posted by TheatricalZebra

Is there really no version for 360 and PS3!? I'm surprised.

Posted by Apparatus_Unearth

@theatricalzebra: That's kind of cool to see, seems like for too long they try and make the games on older platforms.

Posted by InuFaye
Edited by abacus

As a 'Hawks fan I'm obligated to purchase this. It's mandatory now. If you don't, they come find you. Who's "they"?... I can't talk about it.

Edited by Pete0r

I'm really tempted to get this this year. The last football game I bought was NFL Fever 2003 around the launch of the Xbox. I wish this had a bigger list of teams than just the main American ones. I love fifa precisely because I can create a player in the smallest, crappiest league and work my way up to the top to end up playing/managing for Tackleford City or something.

Posted by follow001

This is easily the most fun I have had with a Madden game in about five years.

Posted by Procyon27

I haven't bought Madden in years. It's been close to 7 years, but playing this on EA Early Access sold me on the game. It is easily the most fun I've had playing Madden in a long time.

Playing on Xbone.

Edited by LegendaryChopChop

I agree pretty much on point with this review. Unfortunately, it still suffers many fatal flaws with presentation and gameplay physics as the past Madden games, although they are trying much harder.

I really enjoyed the gameplay and the depth of the gameplay more than past Maddens, though. The graphics look awesome as well. This series looks like it's heading in the right direction, finally. After so many years.

Posted by amyhm

Does it only have pc version?