♪ Defense, defense / we want the ball / we want the ball hey ♫ This year’s Madden is where defense comes to play. After some harsh criticism for what was supposed to be not only the next-generation debut of the series on new consoles, but a celebration of 25 years of Madden, Madden NFL 25 was met with disappointment. Madden NFL 15 is a redo of sorts, with a heavier focus on development for what is now current-generation systems and major changes to the tried-and-true, the results are overwhelmingly positive and a reinvigoration for the series.
Madden NFL 15‘s opening starts off with a prediction of sorts, as you’ll be playing as the Carolina Panthers against the Seattle Seahawks after a costly turnover in the NFC Championship Game. This scenario wraps up in two minutes and serves as something playable if you happen to be downloading the game. This can be replayed as many times as you want, but sadly there aren’t any other scenarios like this. It really would have been great to recreate scenarios like this to complete certain objectives under this new engine, improved physics, and controls.
New this year is the Skills Trainer, an absolute necessity for any new player, and even experienced ones. It’ll teach you how to do specific drills in offense and defense, and then test you for scoring to receive a bronze, silver, or gold. This is easily the best way to teach anyone how to play Madden, all while learning all the nuances introduced this year in a neat and tidy manner. After you’ve completed all of the training, you can test your skills by running the Gauntlet, which is available whether you complete the training or not.
Let’s get back to defense. Nearly everything is improved. My new favorite is the ability to click in the left stick to get a different camera angle. Not a complete reversal of the standard view, you’re able to get a side view on what’s happening on the other side. If timed correctly, you can get a jump on the snap to confuse the offense and have a chance to stop the play before it gets going. Other quick-time events allow you to get around blockers and proceed to sack the quarterback is an absolute joy. The timed button presses aren’t taxing or obnoxious, but have a cadence to them that makes sense when a play gets started. These changes make me want to play defense, and I feel good as a defender, too. This has been what the Madden series has sorely needed for too long now.
Offensively though, not a whole lot has changed, and that’s okay really. It’s solid and it just works. Oddly though, no matter what team you’re playing and who you’ve selected as a receiver, interceptions happen at an alarming rate. It almost becomes an epidemic – interceptioncoccus the doctors may tell you. It’s nothing a slider can’t fix, but it’s default rate is far too infuriating to enjoy for long. Being able to tap a button to lob the ball to the receiver, or holding the button for a bullet throw is an incredible piece of feedback as you the player know what type of throw you’ve given, reducing the randomness of having a ball fall too short or go too far.
Picking your plays are easier this time around too, refreshed and categorized for quicker deployment, and not having to waste precious seconds trying to find what you’re looking for. You’ll be given recommended players with stats from real people playing as well as reasons for why it’d be a good play. This furthers the accessibility for this series by explaining things in a more detailed manner. Even for the familiar, it’s nice having a reference card to ensure you’re picking the right call.
If you’ve been feeling that you’ve been kicking blindly, it’s because you have. Now, whenever you’re kicking for a field goal, punting, or kicking for a return, you now have a visual indicator that shows you three possible outcomes based on current conditions, like wind and distance. It’s perhaps a bit too well telegraphed, but there’s still a power and timing element that you control with the right-stick. It just add to the game without tacking on stress of hoping the ball will land where you intended.
Connected Franchise allows you to play as a singular Player, Coach, or Owner. In any of these, confidence becomes a factor as does prepping for an upcoming game. Game prep is ideal for boosting XP or confidence. Want to relocate your favorite team? New uniform options allow for greater customization and allow you to have more totalitarian control of every aspect. I still would prefer a standard Season Mode, playing game to game without any managerial interference, but the Coach mode certainly handles the job.
Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) is improved this year, seeing as it has become a staple for the franchise. Again lining up with accessibility and being more inviting, MUT eases you in by giving you goals to complete, a checklist of sorts that will teach you the basics before cutting you loose. Sadly, the encroaching microtransaction suggestion to purchase card-packs is a tempting mistress. Given the plodding pace of earning new cards, you’ll likely want to invest to move things along quicker just so you don’t have to suffer through the early parts. But everything is attainable without having to spend any real money. It almost feels that Madden Ultimate Team could be its own game one day, there’s so much depth to it, that it wouldn’t surprise me if it does.
Madden NFL 15 has reached television-style presentation with it’s graphic packages that replicate an actual broadcast thanks to the stylings of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz. While the announcing can be stiff and disjointed from what’s happening on-screen, it does enough of a job to keep you involved and be informative. But it’s clear the game’s namesake is a void that has yet to be filled with the weight of such a well-known voice.
There’s no doubt that Madden NFL 15 is gorgeous, with visual treatments excelling on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Everything is crisper, more detailed, and able to handle more stress. The crowds are more lively, unique from one another, and simply look like humans over washed out, cardboard cutouts.
It’s been a while where a Madden game felt so fresh, and so exciting that after one game, I immediately wanted to jump into the next. The magic is back, and with all of the changes, improvements, and the power of better hardware, makes this easy to recommend. The Ignite Engine does introduce its share of problems and odd glitches, though – but nothing too disruptive. It may be the only professional football game in town, but it is easily the best, and Madden NFL 15 proves that with the incredible accommodations to acclimate new and existing players of the franchise.
A PlayStation 4 copy was provided by the EA for review purposes