Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Style: 1 to 4-Player Sports (2-Player Online)
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release: August 26
The Bottom Line: 8/10
Concept: The series may have come into this generation with its features intact, but there’s still plenty of work to be done to bring all its elements up to snuff
Graphics: The game looks sharp and a step up from the first new-gen foray. Playing with the zoomed-in player-lock camera highlights this
Sound: The commentary is still largely ignorant of the larger context of the game
Playability: I suggest using optional visual indicators for tackles, jumping the snap count on the defensive line, and rushing the passer
Entertainment: There are definitely things to enjoy in every phase of the game, even though as a whole it isn’t extraordinary
Replay Value: Moderately High
A rebuild or the start of a dynasty?
Madden has hit the ground running this console generation and is in a better position to push forward than it has been in a while. This year’s game is like the lone bright spot of the last generation: Madden NFL 13. That year we got Connected Careers and an improved passing game. Madden 15 improves these two facets, but it feels like other areas of the title have not progressed enough. Despite this uneven performance, Madden 15 demands you raise your game to the next level, and hopefully is in the process of raising its own.
I’m disappointed in the areas that haven’t been addressed – not just for this year, but for multiple iterations running. The contract negotiations in Connected Franchise mode are limited, whether that’s a lack of contract options during free agency or the fact that this portion of the offseason is still missing elements such as restricted free agents. An updated interface actually surfaces free agents’ wishes more, but I still feel free agency and the offseason lacks drama and is too simplified (no practice squads). This sacrifices a level of involvement and complexity that I want as a GM. I’m here to build a dynasty, not just sim to when I’m playing the game, so please give me the full experience. Even a change to make info more available would make drafting a scouted pick and planning my offseason more efficient.
Connected Franchise’s big additions are player confidence (a new attribute) and game prep, where your coaching staff applies man-hours to increase your players’ XP and confidence through drills and non-interactive classroom work. These systems kept me engaged in a mode that has its lulls, even if managing game-prep hours and keeping confidence bolstered can be like keeping spinning plates aloft.
In future iterations, coaches (and not just owners) should be able to hire their own coaching staff to maximize players’ confidence and the game prep system, and having offseason training and mini camps would be a natural reset point for players to stop potentially plummeting confidence and get new players up to speed. Regardless, game prep’s integration of skills-trainer drills is more interesting than the old practice format.
The game’s focus on skills-trainer drills and teaching strategic offensive and defensive schemes (also done in the new playcalling menus) is valuable. Due to the defensive improvements this year, knowing where defenders are and where your routes are going is crucial. Good defenders are aggressive breaking on the ball in zone coverage, and are often on receivers’ hips in man-to-man coverage, which makes old standbys like slants harder. Defenders’ head tracking is decent, so there aren’t a lot of surprises when a bad decision leads to a pick.
Quarterbacks have better passing controls at their disposal, allowing you to throw away from defenders, and even though Madden 15 has varied its incomplete passes, the passing game is a fun challenge. Sidelines pull like magnets, receivers slide into catches, and they still don’t fight for the ball enough, but the concentration needed to be a successful passer had me laser focused from down to down, and I liked it. Off the field I wanted to go through skills-trainer drills to rehearse attacking specific defenses, and during games I had to apply that knowledge and even notice tells in defenders’ animations.
Unfortunately, the running game isn’t as strong. Run blocking is still suspect, and navigating your own offensive line can be tricky. Letting the CPU guide your runner into the hole sacrifices control, but doing it yourself can get you stuck on your own blockers.
Elsewhere, Ultimate Team has simplified its structure by doing away with its reserve deck, and Owner’s mode is harder to make money in, even if a good stadium situation remains the main factor behind profits. The former should be implemented in other EA Sports titles, while the latter isn’t as essential.
Sports games like Madden are often chided for being too iterative, but in this case I hope we’re witnessing the first steps in a larger progression. Future Maddens need to support Madden 15’s additions so we don’t wonder why once-prominent features haven’t evolved. The series can’t withstand another rebuilding year or worse – an entire console generation thrown away.
The Old Ballgame
We reviewed the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game. It's also available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but they are inferior due to a drop in graphics and presentation, fewer features, and lesser defensive A.I.