So, I've been playing an awful lot of Madden NFL 16 over the past several days and I have some complicated feelings on it. I know a lot of you don't play video games and don't care, but the game comes out for everyone on Tuesday and while we do plan on doing a lot of things post-release -- probably in the vein of some kind of site-wide tournament and or some grudge matches against opposing blogs -- I wanted to get up some quick thoughts before the game comes out.
Specifically, I wanted to talk about how the 49ers play in the game and the short answer is this: not great. Madden is a game that's driven by its player ratings, obviously, and I think there are a lot of flaws with the 49ers, and also the default sliders of the game. That isn't to say the 49ers are underrated, but there are some things that are flat-out wrong.
For instance, in my time, I've seen tight end Vernon Davis drop roughly 70 percent of the passes I've thrown his way. His catch rating is lower than Bruce Miller's, and the same as Vance McDonald's. You could argue that Davis has had a case of the drops in real life, of course, but nothing to this extent. The game has become more and more egregious over the years at surfacing incomplete passes as passes that hit a wide-open player perfectly in the hands, and bounce off of them by 15 yards.
The offensive line is also abysmal, but interestingly enough, it's Daniel Kilgore that struggles the most, and Bruce Miller is essentially useless as a run blocker as well. As a whole, the game has regressed from the play-to-play, ball in your hands experience. It's difficult to actually run between the holes made by offensive linemen because you routinely glitch into them. That part of the game has regressed majorly.
But back to the 49ers -- I've also noticed their defensive backs are all basically terrible. Only Antoine Bethea is any good, and Eric Reid delivers some big hits, but I didn't see Tramaine Brock break up a single pass for several games in a row. He just falls down around receivers. On the other side of the ball, Anquan Boldin drops a lot of passes, which is the opposite of reality for him.
Quarterback Colin Keapernick isn't nearly as quick as you'd like. They say they've revamped speed in this game, but really it seems like all they did was slow everyone down. Kaepernick just isn't great when it comes to running around with the ball. They make it so hard for you to break the "leash" of being behind the line and in the throwing-ready animation as you slowly inch forward until it actually starts letting you run.
That said, I've had no problem with Kaepernick's other stats in the game. He throws well, and when his receivers can catch the ball (Torrey Smith is particularly effective, and routinely burns corners deep), he can hit them pretty much anywhere on the field. I also like what I've seen from Carlos Hyde in the game, which is nice. He's easy to play as, though like I said before, running behind your blockers is difficult and glitchy.
On the defensive line, both Tank Carradine and Arik Armstead are particularly effective, which is nice. Darnell Dockett isn't anywhere near as good as Justin Smith was, but he's solid as well. At outside linebacker, Aaron Lynch isn't great, and neither is Ahmad Brooks. I had better success using Eli Harold than I did Brooks, unfortunately. Michael Wilhoite is like a turtle and NaVorro Bowman is excellent.
So yeah, my experience with the game has actually been POSITIVE but that's because I think Madden at its core is a lot better than some people want to give it credit for. The much-hyped features with the defensive backs and wide receivers is kind of OK at times -- if you're a receiver. If you're a defensive back, trying to "play the ball" results in your character just throwing his arms up wherever he is, even if he's several yards behind the receiver and has no chance of catching it if he doesn't move into position.
I repeat: defensive backs are at an extreme disadvantage in the new game. They're totally helpless, and using the "aggressive" catch button with a wide receiver virtually guarantees a reception.
I did spend some time with better teams than the 49ers to see if that helped my problems with the game, and also did a few things like adjust wide receiver catching sliders and the like. It did a little bit, but at its core there's a lot more jankiness and trouble with this game than there has been in awhile.
For me, aspects of it are a clear step back, but it's a fun game to play. If what you do is buy the game every year to get a roster update and a decent game, then there's no reason you shouldn't buy this one. But if you're looking for a huge improvement and a positive 49ers experience, I don't think this is the one for you.
That's not to say you can't find success with the 49ers. Kaepernick isn't as fast as he should be, but he is fast, and fast quarterbacks can do a lot of ridiculous things in Madden. The receivers, when competent, can be great and the defense still has plenty of speed and is a force against the run. If you're better than I am (easily done), you could find success.