Madden NFL 15 / 31st of August 2014
Now, let me first start by saying that I am in no way an aficionado of the sport that Americans call “football”, I’m Scottish, so naturally, football is a game for twenty-two people with a spherical, leather object that typically gets kicked as hard as possible, and usually at the opposite team. Yet, I have on the odd occasion been held captivated by the lavish affair that is the Super Bowl, and throughout most of my life now, I have always held something of a soft spot for videogame versions of one of American’s favourite sports, Sega’s own Joe Montana games on the Mega Drive, or of course, the most famous, longest running, and supremely consistent interpretation of the game, John Madden Football (as it used to be known). Last year’s effort though, Madden NFL 25, a celebration of the series’ twenty-fifth anniversary, was an undeniable let-down, so this year EA have returned with a completely revamped effort, but does it live up to expectations?
The first thing that most gamers will probably pick up on is the vast improvement to the visuals, last year’s effort on both PS4 and Xbox One was very poor indeed, and now, finally, the game is starting to look like something that we can officially dub “next-gen”. Player’s seem to emulate the individual quirks of their real world namesakes, whilst their models are all superbly detailed, right down to the droplets of sweat that grace their brows. Each stadium in the game seems to offer a much more authentic NFL experience, with crowds coming to life, emulating aspects of their true behaviour, and ultimately, marking the graphical quality of Madden 15 as a far cry from its lacklustre predecessor.
A great deal of work has gone into making the game feel more authentic, taking the focus away from attacking play to concentrate on both sides of the game, making Madden NFL 15 a much more complete experience. And that goes some way to celebrate this iteration’s milestone, it’s now ten years since EA secured exclusivity to the NFL licence, and whilst the series has had its fair share of faults over the period in question, there can be no denying that the simple changes that have been made in Madden 15, whilst certainly not game changing, are all absolutely necessary.
The presentation has been greatly improved from last year, giving the new game the feel of a real life TV presentation, with a half-time report that makes reference to events that actually happened during the game, not to mention an excellent opening too. More importantly, when selecting plays, the game now gives a detailed breakdown of how the move can take advantage of vulnerabilities in the opposition defence, making Madden 15 a little bit more accessible, and informative, to those like me, who are relative strangers to the sport, potentially opening the series up to a wider audience.
The strengths and weaknesses of the individual players feel properly replicated here, and whilst the emphasis is still focused primarily on speed, it isn’t the fundamentally impoverished, one sided take on the sport that EA presented last year. Defensive play has taken on an entirely new level of value, with Madden now offering gamers the opportunity to have their own decisions make a fundamental impact on the flow of the game. For the first time, defending doesn’t feel completely scripted, with fans of the series now expected to respond to the chosen plays of their opposition, positioning their player appropriately and reacting to the snap, quickly and effectively. In fact, reacting quickly enough can see players rewarded with the chance to catch the opposition completely off guard so that they can swiftly close down the opposition’s Quarter Back. Of course, much like the offensive side of the game, there is evidently too much emphasis on running speed which detracts from the realism of the game somewhat, emphasising, as it does, the highly sought after “replay moments” of a match, rather than the full four quarters. For the likes of me, that’s absolutely fine, but for an obsessive fan of the sport, it just might not cut it anymore.
An interesting addition to this year’s release are the ways that receivers will catch the ball, frequently responding to situations more creatively than in previous games, yet conversely, there seems to be a far higher number of turnovers occurring in each and every game. Further enhancements have been made to the Connected Franchise mode to make it a more in-depth experience, offering pre-match preparation in order to earn more XP to give those much needed skills a boost, whilst on top of this, the game will also keep track of individual player’s confidence levels, reflecting the topsy-turvy and often stressful nature of the game.
There can be absolutely no denying that Madden NFL 15 is a significant improvement over its rather underwhelming predecessor, though it is still far from perfect, it is certainly a step in the right direction. I can’t help but feel as though this is the game that I should have been playing last year, putting the series behind the rest of the EA Sports games that continue to make strides, yet with the foundations now laid, I have no doubt that Madden 16 will be the NFL experience that we have all been waiting on.