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Madden 16 review: Solid enough, but lacking in a lot of fun details

Another 49ers fan's look at E.A.'s latest football chapter. We review Madden 16.

Another year, another Madden. In the world of downloadable content, game patches, and longevity between sequels, EA Sports still finds a way to churn out a brand new title every year for $60. It’s either buy this, or get laughed at by everyone else who bought in.

There are two types of people who play Madden. Those who are sports enthusiasts needing their football fix, and those who want an escape from reality, the ones who want to take their team through the Super Bowl, give them amazing draft picks, and carry a 30-year dynasty. I fall into the latter camp. I played this game on the pro difficulty setting (a far cry from ‘hard’ mode), played as the Niners in every game possible, and  it’s all so I can take the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl multiple times.

From the get-go, it’s clear this game is catering more towards the sports fan and less of the team fan. Right at the start, you’re thrust into the final plays of Super Bowl 50, controlling the Pittsburgh Steelers and making them beat the Arizona Cardinals -- complete with atrocious voice acting. As a 49er fan, it’s not so bad, but I can just see the anger boiling from a Cleveland Browns or Baltimore Ravens fan who bought this game and is literally forced to not just watch the Steelers win, but basically have a hand in it (it’s very hard to mess this tutorial up, if you even can). The actual opening, and the mechanics behind it are a nice touch, and I hope this is implemented in future installments.

The problem is, after you’re forced to hand the Steelers a Super Bowl, you’re asked to choose your favorite team and in my case, Kaepernick and company take over in subsequent tutorials. Why EA didn’t ask for our favorites early and have an opening specific to our team (like the Niners righting history against the Ravens, for instance), is very strange. Then again, this is the same publisher that had the audacity to put Jerry Rice in a Dallas Cowboys uniform, or said The Catch came from last year, so I guess they could not care less about those details.

The details they do care about are with the tutorial modes, which do a great job of bringing you up to speed on the changes, as well as teach you how to play this game if you have no idea how to play the football sim. The game puts you right into practice mode from the start after choosing your team, but if you exit out, you’ll have to go through four or five menus to get back to it. While this isn’t anything more than annoying, it would be nice if we have something else to do that we could easily get back to the tutorial we’re on. It's also misleading to go to 'practice' mode when the true how-tos are located in a seperate tutorial, brought to you by Gatorade.

Besides tutorials, the modes are all here, Franchise, multiplayer, Ultimate Team— things that have been around for ages, or updated from previous modes. One of the new modes is "Draft Champions". Basically you go through several rounds drafting one of three players and assigning them a position. Afterwards you can use the team you made to go up against the AI or other players for other Madden goodies. While it feels like an afterthought, the few times I gave it a go were quite addicting and it is a welcome mode.


Graphically, the game is gorgeous. I really expected nothing better as Madden games have had a good reputation for gloss. Several times you can be blinded into thinking the real thing is on the field, at least when the helmets are on. Once the bonnets come off, the game begins to show they are not flesh, but a collection of polygons. Colin Kaepernick in particular doesn’t look anything like his real life counterpart, and Vance McDonald’s hair looks more like blonde icicles rather than a full blowing mane of locks.


The animation though, is still same ‘ole Madden. Players still walk around like a long stick is up their behinds and their expressions look more cartoony than realistic, which is definitely not what the developers were going for. The animation gets stranger when it seems on every tackle, the ball carrier takes an eternity to shake it off and get up. I don’t know how many times I watched Bruce Ellington after a kickoff return get on all fours  (and assume he was injured) only for him to hop up and be in on the next play.

Unfortunately, I can’t be as forgiving to the commentary, which is still terrible. Often times the play-by-play is inaccurate, or they just spout off straight up nonsense. It's especially aggrovating hearing them question your QB sneak on 4th and goal on the 1 yard line, or how the running game hasn't gotten going in the game when you're only on the 6th play.  Yes, you will be finding a way to mute it after only a few quarters.

The one sound effect though that is going to grate your nerves is the unnatural cadence the quarterbacks have. Don’t believe me? I can recreate the annoyance of the quarterback’s cadence here in this review. Allow me to demonstrate:


Now imagine hearing that in the same tone, the same clarity, and the same pitch and you’ll see how unnatural and annoying the whole thing gets. I'm sure Green Bay is already up in arms with their citizens losing their sanity by hearing "GREEN 19!!!"  Again, this isn’t anything that distracts from the gameplay, but it’s still jarring. Why EA couldn’t get a few voice samples of the same call and randomize them is beyond me.It's again, details like this that remind you these are computer images of real life athletes. And it's nothing more than a head-scratcher that these details still exist. 

But the one thing that’s important is the gameplay. Thankfully, it’s the same Madden we’ve been playing for years and that’s good or bad depending on who’s playing. The big changes this year is the chemistry with your receivers. No longer is your quarterback simply throwing a ball to the button you press. The game actually has gotten a bit more involved. For starters,  you have some say in how your quarterback delivers the ball. Do you want to throw a bullet or a ball with some touch over defenders? Do you want to throw it low? High? You have options, and the control scheme for pulling these throws off works perfectly. And yes, Kaepernick’s touch throws worked quite well when I told him to throw it.


Beyond throw options with the QB, you can command your receiver to make some decisions on how to grab the ball. An aggressive catch will make him snatch the ball, but he’ll have a hard time getting some speed, while the run and catch will make him prepare for a sprint up field. There are other options as well and the combinations work very well. It almost makes Madden feel like a an action game with quick time events and it’s a welcome change. It adds a lot of strategy to how to catch, how to throw, and really helps you in receptions.

The defense has a few options as well. They can make plays on the ball to deflect a pass, or try to go for an interception. Either way can lead to great results or a devastating gain, but this risk/reward factor in the trenches is something I’ve never seen in a Madden title before and it’s quite welcome. While the game rests solely on knowing every formation and the right plays to call, you have a much better chance of making something out of nothing—and it’s much easier to learn than the "Sam Blitz" on the 3-4 scheme.I do like these changes, but when you think about it, they could be considered relatively minor updates to the same game that came out last year.

All of this could make for a very fun, even more forgiving title if it wasn’t for the fact that the same things that have plagued every Madden title on single player mode are still apparent. Challenges are essentially a waste of a time out, and somehow the AI knows exactly when to use them (even though on the first run of the play your man might have actually crossed the plane or stayed inbounds). Running backs with decent speed scores can still cut out of blitzes and around the entire lane for huge gains with no one to stop them--or the AI on your line to catch what they are doing beforehand. Oh and your play calling? Call a defensive play with a certain offensive play in mind and you can almost guess the O will find a way to complete a pass anyways. Four people in a pile be damned, Kenny Britt is just that good of a receiver, apparently.

The game will sabotage you to save face above all else.

This is even more apparent for the Niners in games with ‘superior’ foes. The game will sabotage you to save face above all else. In my match-up with the Green Bay Packers, I took a lead rather early, targeting Green Bay’s secondary on occasion and running Carlos Hyde all over the place against their defensive line. But when the 4th quarter rolled around, fumbles occurred, Kaepernick’s decent completion percentage plummeted and Aaron Rodgers may as well as thrown without a defense on the field. It’s absolutely frustrating when this happens in the game. For those of you who are Madden veterans, playing this on higher difficulties, this may not bother you. But for those of you who just want to take your team all the way to the Super Bowl and expect a moderately challenging game, expect some difficulty, for the wrong reasons.

There’s other weird things that have been apparent for years. Penalties like encroachment get called before the offense even gets to the line on occasion and the quarterback will have the ball knocked loose but never have an animation to pass (hence fumble). But these things are very rare and few, it’s easy to forgive these small nuances.

But if multiplayer is all you’re after, you won’t have to worry about any of that and it works quite well. While I wasn’t able to do any extensive time with multiplayer aspects, my matches did flow without issue. I’ve read some reports about how there’s issues of the game disconnecting when you’re about to win, and you won’t get credit for the match, but it seems more like a gripe than it is anything game breaking. The biggest thing, which there is no way around, is the Niners are of course, a statistically worse team than years prior. This means if someone takes, say, Seattle, they will have a huge advantage. Obviously, if they come out of the gate steamrolling then we can count on a patch in a week or two to update the stats accordingly, but if you strictly are buying this game to play as the 49ers in both franchise mode and multiplayer, it’s something you need to consider.

The big question though (especially to people who don’t buy Madden every year) is if this is worth buying. My answer? I don’t know. I do like the changes and the receiver catch options, as well as the options to throw, but there are still a few questions to ask yourselves, especially if you’re a Niners fan. Do you want to play a game where the Niners are severely outclassed at the moment to several NFL teams (this is a big one)? Are you fine with a game that had little changes from the previous season (for this I played Madden 15 briefly just to get a feel for how things are different and obviously it’s the same game outside of the catch/throw options). If you answer yes, then this is a decent investment. Madden 16 isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, it has its nuances and absolutely frustrating A.I, but it’s still fun to play. it's hard though to recommend that $60 investment when the same game can be played for 10 dollars with a bit of an update to schedules and rosters.

The setback I can give you on Madden 16 is the lack of details that E.A. seems to have blindly discarded. Having your favorite team win the Super Bowl at the start would have been a great idea to get jazzed up. Player animations and frames look accurate right up to facial animations which look like no effort at all was made. And then there’s the cadence…it’s little details like I’ve listed that shouldn’t be present in a next generation Madden title.

But then again, if you’re a diehard Madden enthusiast, you already bought the game on Monday when it was released early. The one game that most gamers keep their distance from is somehow called a ‘gamers holiday’ when released by some in the media. So whatever I say here probably won’t change your mind. If you have yet to experience a Madden game on a next-gen console, or you simply haven’t been back to football in a few years, this is a decent title to begin anew. If that fits your feelings, go on, buy the thing.

Everyone else, I’d join Anthony Davis in retirement for a year.