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Madden 17: An average experience for the latest installment

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If you like paying full price for minor updates to a 3-year old game, Madden 17 won’t disappoint for the ultimate football experience. If you’re crafty, you can go buy last year’s edition and not miss much.

Madden 17 hits the inevitable point that all installments in the franchise hit in their respective console generation: little graphical upgrades, little changes to the user interface, and a few small tweaks to the gameplay. All of these ‘features’ are masked under a new year and a $60 sticker to make you think you’re getting a Triple-A title.

This hurdle comes typically four years after a console is released. Madden 17 manages to now make it happen in less than three depending on who you talk to. It shows an obvious flaw in console gaming in general; technology now rapidly advances so much that Sony and Microsoft have to release an upgraded box just to keep up with modern PCs.

So what does all this have to do with Madden? Well two things. For one, you’re hitting that plateau much quicker— there’s not much to get excited about if you’re looking for a new experience. Then again, this fleecing of customers for $60 of the same game has been working since the Super Nintendo days (over 20 years ago) and unless the NFL wants to give its license out to a contender (Remember 2K?) I guess I should be happy.

The other and more important thing is, while Madden 16 was a decent, although underwhelming effort, Madden 17 is not a good game. No, it’s not a bad game either, but it’s definitely not good. I’d settle on average, but just not worth its asking price.

Meet Phil Dawson. Angry, evil, undead Phil Dawson

Begin your legacy

Taking a cue from last year’s intro, Madden 17 begins by again letting you recreate a key moment in an NFL legacy. Last year it was the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals. This year, they jump on the Los Angeles hype train and you’re off to a tutorial with Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams to beat Washington in a playoff—complete with a terrible model of Rams coach Jeff Fisher. I’m not sure why the stakes were lowered to a playoff, but I certainly didn’t get the full advantage of the tutorial, being a 49er fan. Why? Because rather than let the Rams win (which is probably the easiest thing in the game), I ran Goff back into his own endzone and took a safety. End of game and skipping of what is probably an important tutorial.

These are the very aesthetics that EA continues to ignore year in and year out. If you’re making a game for sports fans, keeping the passionate ones in mind should be second nature. For that, I can confidently say it’s not my fault for being ignorant of Madden 17’s new features from the get-go, it’s EA’s fault for committing cardinal sins of making me do good things for teams I’d rather have catch the plague on Sundays. What’s next? You take a tutorial with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in an NFC Championship against the Chicago Bears? I’m sure Bears fans would love that.

Of course after I cost the Rams the game I am allowed to choose my team. If EA is going to ignore or lazily not make a new game from the ground up, I would totally have been jazzed if they at least let me do a tutorial with Colin Kaepernick storming the Super Bowl again to win. At least I could care about their tutorial, if not their entire game. At this point, I care for neither.

Running Downhill

The game doesn’t fare much better. It’s the same user interface from Madden 16, just with new tiles and graphics (again, the same game you can get $10 used). Ultimate team is also back and it hopes your bank account is ready to be emptied on its cards with its numerous micro-transactions.

Franchise mode is the same as it ever was, though now with playable practice drills. Gone is the fun, 5-minute distraction of selecting a few drills and racking up minor XP before your weekly matchup. The new practice mode lets you go onto the field and do some quick events based on what your opponent ‘should do’. In theory, this is a great innovation and can help someone understand the finer points of football (Cover 2 vs Cover 3) in execution, it just doesn’t really help on gameday since lining up in the recommended formations doesn’t really provide as much of an advantage as the practice segments would dictate. It’s still better to go into the game’s deep tutorials if you really want to get an x’s and o’s education. Completing five drills before your weekly game is nothing more than tedium that thankfully, can be skipped.

These practice segments contain a problem noticeable in other modes: glitches. No, not the random glitch where a winning touchdown during overtime keeps the game going, we’re talking repeatedly bad coding that shouldn’t have made it past Q & A. On my first experience practicing with the 49ers for week 1, I was instructed to send the ball to the game’s hotspots—white boxes laid on the field where your receivers catch the ball— indicating a scheme your opponent’s defense. It took me 10 tries to get one pass right, and 8 of those, my receiver stood on the edge, within the hotspot, but was not recognized as doing so. This consistent problem is unacceptable especially with a game using an engine from previous years. Other glitches run rampant, some old, some new. A 20 yard fumble recovery by Eric Reid was registered as a 75 yard recovery on the replay. Referees will glide around the field as will injured players. There’s also a strange bug that allows the defense far too much information pre-snap determining if it’s a run or pass play. On a new, shiny engine, this can be forgiven, but when this is a tweak of the same game the last two years, it’s again, unacceptable.

The running game is improved, but not by much. Personally, Madden 16’s running game was just fine. Look at your playcard, see your hole, ok, now run the direction you should run. Madden 17 adds in some ways to shrug tackles and jump the spots, but it just doesn’t feel natural. Given the other reviews I’ve read, this seems more like a personal preference than a problem. Running with the 49ers in particular felt like a chore, however. I’ve only managed to cross the line of scrimmage a handful of times with Carlos Hyde. The game throws you a bone by offering you button indicators above the ball carrier’s head, a sort of arcadey quick-time game that is a good idea, but I could never make it work like it should. The same indicators work for the pass game too. Madden 16’s pass mechanics return, though now the game will have the button showing of what type of catch you’ll want your receiver to make. Again, it really doesn’t change anything, but it is a nice touch—and it does work well.

Offensively, it’s even more difficult to simulate an uptempo feel like the 49ers. You can obviously do it, but the psychology behind it doesn’t seem to match real-life game situations. For a game that is trying to be as true to life as possible, more fatigue on players, and a better way to quickly get plays called—and called off would be useful.

Defense on the other hand is improved. Even if it’s marginal. Rather than just grabbing a defensive tackle and making the game play for you, there’s a bit more intuition when you take the other side of the field and it’s a welcome change. Last year, button presses were introduced but didn’t work right, this year, they are a bit more responsive. Shrugging tackles and getting to the quarterback still is a bit of a luck factor, but you at least feel like you’re in the game on defense rather than it playing the game for you. Special teams play on both sides of the ball probably got the biggest improvement as you can now increase your odds of blocking kicks. The kick meter also (thankfully) got revamped in this edition. Say goodbye to shanked kicks out of nowhere, with any luck this new meter for kicking stays and doesn’t go anywhere in future installments. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it actually makes chip-shot field goals become chip-shot filed goals.

Madden’s soundtrack is again polarizing. You either love the batch of songs brought in or you’re going to stab your ears with Q-tips. The commentary takes a step back as well. Last year’s commentary team wasn’t even in the realm of good, but it at least had some effort. This year’s feels even less on-the-fly and more scripted. If that’s not bad enough, clearly someone didn’t do their research when I hear lines like : “Vance McDonald is a reliable pass catcher when you throw him the ball” (that is a direct quote). The rest of the play-by-play isn’t much better. On the flip side, the lack of passion makes it surprisingly bearable where I waited until week 7 to turn it off instead of week 2. So I suppose it’s a matter of just picking your poison.

As far as what it all boils down to...well, I’ll just copy and paste what I said in last year’s Madden 16 review:

While the running back issues weren’t NEAR as large as last year, it still happened occasionally, and it’s frustrating. For what it’s worth, I’ll also add that player models are even worse. There’s this model of Chip Kelly that reminds me more of Harry Potter’s Professor Umbridge than the coach of the 49ers:

Helllooooo Ladies!!!!

Final Thoughts

For all my griping, I still must admit this the definitive football experience. Madden 17 provides everything football fans would want, but let’s look into the deeper picture: Is Madden 17 good? No, it’s a retread. It’s DLC to a once-decent game now three years old with a $60 price tag.

Is it a failure? No—it’s probably already made profit its first week. Last year, I stated that if you bought Madden 15 you had no reason to buy Madden 16 unless you wanted to have the new catching features added to your experience. I can say the same thing: If you bought Madden 15, you have no reason to pony up $60 and own this, but you can get Madden 16 with the catching features for $10 and not be missing much except multiplayer with everyone else who bought the game (which, to be honest is a big deal). Oh who am I kidding? Everyone’s already bought this that’s going to.

If it wasn’t for the fact I’m simulating the 49ers games this season, I’d have already returned this game on principle. I paid $60 for the same game again and I can list differences on one hand. If this game came out with a price tag of $30 it’d be a decent investment and upgrade. As it is though, it’s just very minor improvements to a now 3-year old game engine. I understand my ‘major’ gripes are minor to a vast majority; many of you have already bought this game and are going to flame me anyways. World of Warcraft: Legion, an expansion of a game over 10 years old, has more content and more merit to pay full price than this minor update. EA-Tiburon is capable of of a lot more.

And you work too hard for your money.