Video Games Review: Madden NFL 17 (PS4, 2016)

Remember in the late-2000’s when Madden was terrible for a while there? Those dark days are well and truly over. For the third year running, Madden NFL 17 proves itself to be one of the industry’s best examples of a developer not only taking feedback on board, but doing something with it.

As with Madden NFL 16, the thrust of this new installment hasn’t changed a great deal over the previous years. Where it is different is in the numerous under-the-hood adjustments and tweaks that have been made all of its internal systems. Kicks have been redesigned and now play more like the PGA games of old (this is a good thing!) and the new highlight reel mode on IRL game days allows the game to connect more seamlessly to its real life counterpart, and its genuinely exciting.

The other major improvement that Madden NFL 17 has over its predecessor is the genuine care it takes in teaching the user about itself. Madden NFL 17 doesn’t mind if you’re a seasoned pro or a newcomer — it just loves American football, and it wants you to love and understand it too. At every level, the game guides you with useful information — about the history of the game, about its rules, about how to manage your players more effectively, about who you’re going to play against in the next few weeks. It’s a change that developer EA Tiburon are to be commended for.

One of the game’s new modes for this year is called Play the Moments. In a nutshell, what it does is it allows the game to simulate a Franchise match while you’re doing other things and when the opportunity for startling feats of athleticism present themselves, it shouts for you to come and take over. If you think that sounds like a great way to make the game do 30 minutes of hard work only to have you come in and absolutely tank the match in seconds, you’d be right.

That’s not to say it’s a bad idea. The theory here is that Play the Moments is All Killer, No Filler. There’s no grinding away trying to break a tie in the third quarter, there is only glory. Interestingly, I found Play the Moments to be at its best when I was on defense. The game doesn’t call you in for just any old thing — it seems to be able to tell the difference between a do-or-die nailbiter and a boring runaway victory/loss. It’s actually rather picky about when it involves you, frequently dropping me in at the top of a drive rather than on the second or third down as I had expected. This is great because it gives you time to assess the situation (just in case you haven’t been paying attention) and come up with the right play to build or stymie momentum. On the offensive side, I found I was being called in on the third down most of the time, which is also fine because this lends itself well to the kind of thrilling heroics the mode is going for.

That also means that the vast majority of moments you’ll be called in for are when you are in possession. If, like me, you actually don’t mind being on the defensive, then you might feel a touch shortchanged, as well you should. Defense has never been more fun in a Madden title than it is in this one. The defensive AI no longer twiddle their thumbs or bumble into other players before toppling into a heap. They’re machines of hate and regret, bringing those foolish enough to test the defensive line to the ground in a pile of their own broken bones.

Not that you should be doing that. Hurling yourself at the offensive line in an attempt to murder everyone is fun, but it usually leaves you wide open to players looking to make a fast break. In this sense, Madden NFL 17 has worked hard  to make defending as interesting as the drive. Through various drills in the tutorial mode, the game gives you a much better understanding of defensive play and, combined with the new AI, makes it feel like you’re actually working to control the field rather than simply crashing into the opposing team over and over.

Much was made of the new passing controls last year, and not much has changed in that regard this year. The control scheme is the same, and the numbers seem to have been rejiggered somewhat to allow for more drops and loose balls on especially wild passes. Ball carrying has seen a bit of a tweak though, so if you do manage to snatch the ball out of the air, you can become a freight train with ease moments later.

Evasion moves when running the ball also feel better than ever, with nice context sensitive buttons appearing to show you your options. Ducking, strong-arming and spinning out of the way of incoming players feels great, especially if you make out the other side of the maelstrom and have a clear run to the end zone. It’s important to note that while these moves are available in the lower difficulties, once you get to All-Pro (in the ranked multiplayer) they are locked off. That said, the game can be tailored to your preferred difficulty level using a number of very intuitive sliders.

Games are still relatively short affairs and, in Franchise or Play the Moments modes, can be completed in around 30 minutes, complete with commentary and faux-broadcast foofaraw. The game actually has a new commentary team in Charles Davis and Brandon Gaudin. From what I understand, these guys might be a relatively new pairing but they are certainly entertaining to listen to. The converse with the ease and humour of good friends, bickering over why certain plays didn’t work and having more a conversation than is typical of Madden commentaries.

 

The Madden series has improved in leaps and bounds over the last three years, and finally feels like it has its groove back. Every new feature that has been added to Madden NFL 17 works hard to earn its keep. There are actually so many things to talk about in this installment that it’s actually quite difficult to cover it all so I’ll say this instead: This is the most fulfilling, exciting and fun the series has been in years. Go Cowboys.

Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: So many new modes! Amazing commentary! Vastly improved tutorial!
Lowlights: The team management side can still veer wildly into monotonous territory, but your mileage may vary depending on your tolerance for the crunch
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStationS, Xbox 360
Release Date: 23/8/16

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.