Madden NFL 15 isn’t the first Madden game for the new generation of consoles, but it just so happens to be the first truly “next-gen” one. Madden NFL 25 for the Xbox One and Playstation 4 wasn’t the step forward many of us had hoped for. The visuals were upgraded and there were improvements to the gameplay, but it still felt somewhat lacklustre. This shouldn’t have been shocking for most people, since the first round of games on a new generation of consoles rarely (read: never) live up to their true potential.
Madden NFL 15, on the other hand, is an extremely ambitious take on the franchise, looking to revitalize and retool almost every single part of the game. While there are some missteps and questionable decisions, we’re seeing that slow steady march of progress thrusting the franchise into the future, and truly showing what the next generation of Madden could look like. It’s just a shame, then, that the game has tripped over its own cleats.
Let’s start this review off with the bad. Normally, I like to break things down to give you an idea of what is going on, but quite frankly, this issue is bigger than that. We held our review of Madden 15 back for a few days to watch as the servers came to life and people had a chance to truly test the game en masse, and in doing so we found two game breaking glitches that weren’t mentioned by a lot of publications.
Both of these glitches occur in online Connected Careers games, with the latter being a result of EA’s fix for the former. Initially, playing games for online franchises would simply not count. How a glitch this big managed to get through the testing process is baffling. There was a hot fix that allowed games to count, however, at the time of writing these games will often simply de-sync without any sign of problems. EA is aware of the issue, although they have yet to respond to our request for comments, so I do have to think that the problem is going to be addressed sooner rather than later.
All the same, it should be a big black eye for the people involved. Outside of blatant missteps, there is another addition to the Connected Careers mode that has proven to be fairly polarizing. Instead of simply playing out a mock game with a set situation for practice, you’re now allotted a set amount of hours for you to prepare for the upcoming week. You’ll need to manage the time you’re given in order to maximize your return, though. Do you spend those extra hours training your promising rookie HB to help him become a superstar, or do you make sure your Pro Bowl caliber QB is confident going into the next matchup? Some fans aren’t really happy with this, but it adds another bit of micromanagement that really makes you feel like you’re in the shoes of an NFL coach.
Confidence is a new mechanic this year, and is based around the individual players. Athletes that are very confident are going to see improvements to key stats, while players who are feeling a bit shaky could see some dramatic drops. Confidence can be helped by spending a bit more time with them before each game, but there seems to be a ton of factors. Tight end Mercedes Lewis was cut by the Jaguars resulting in a drop, and after being picked up by the Patriots he saw an even bigger drop since he didn’t understand the playbook. We’ve seen rookies get a big boost by being told they’re getting the starting gig and veterans take a hit after seeing one of their buddies get traded.
Free agency has also been retooled, at least in terms of off-season acquisitions. Players won’t simply look at how many zeroes you’ve added to their bonus, but will consider the coach’s ability, how they fit the scheme, where they’d be on the depth chart and even location before choosing what team to join. It’s a great little addition, which makes it hard to believe that we ever survived without it.
The last addition to Connected Careers mode we’ll mention here is actually a form of addition by subtraction. Since EA lost the license to make college games for the time being, they completely removed the ability to import draft classes. To make up for this, we’re finally seeing truly random draft classes that seem to have talent throughout as opposed to just a few key players near the top. Hardcore fans will be a bit upset that they can’t import drafts to keep the game more realistic, but knowing that every draft is going to be decided by who has done the better scouting as opposed to who looked at a cheat sheet is a nice bit of compensation.
While Connected Careers may still arguably be the more popular mode in Madden NFL 15, Ultimate Team is making a definite play for that title. This year’s mode is largely unchanged in terms of how it plays out; however, the front end has been made much more accessible, allowing newcomers to find their feet sooner and veterans to have more control. Injury cards have been completely removed, so now when a safety rattles your WR, he’ll only be out for the remainder of the game. That removes the need to purchase cards in order to heal him up.
The biggest surprise to me was the addition of the Gauntlet, that being a series of rapid fire mini-games based around football skills broken up with boss levels. No, that’s not a typo, we now have boss levels in a sports game and they’re absolutely brilliant. Kicking a 115 yard field goal in hurricane strength winds, or having to dodge an entire team’s worth of defenders while your offensive line plows a path is an amazing feeling. My only real complaint is that there’s no way to simply replay boss levels outside of running the Gauntlet again, and I need more of this in my life.
As far as on-the-field action goes, we’re getting closer and closer to having realistic football. In previous years, defensive players weren’t exactly known for being brilliant, but this year they at least seem aware of the fact that they’re on the field. They’ll make dives for balls out of reach, react to curl routes, and try to get in the way of the offense. It’s going to take more time to really see how well this has been implemented as players spend more hours trying to beat the system, but right off the bat it’s hard to find real complaints.
Visually, this is easily the most impressive Madden title we’ve ever seen. The on field game looks amazing, and a lot of the canned cut scenes have been removed in favor of immediate replays of actual on-field action. We even have realistic tattoos on a player for the first time, which is nice.
Moving on, the crowd isn’t perfect as of yet, but it looks like an actual crowd from a distance with enough variation to keep things interesting. I really wanted to see if I could find something that we could use as an example of where the visuals fail to live up to their “next-gen” expectations, and ended up only being able to find one: Up close, blades of grass look too much like shredded paper than actual grass. If that’s not being nitpicky, then I don’t know what is.
Madden NFL 15 is truly the first “next-gen” sports game out there. Everything from its gameplay to its visual fidelity epitomizes exactly what we were hoping to find in the the consoles’ sophomore release. And while I’m 100% positive that over the course of the next year groups such as /r/MaddenBros and experts such as Jmffn360 will go through every minute detail breaking down just what works and what doesn’t, the important thing here is that they’ll be playing a year from now. That said, it’s really a crying shame that EA let those massive issues sneak into the final product, since having one of the game’s two main modes be operational is a pretty important factor. Once those are addressed (which may very well be within a few days of this being published), this will become one of the most complete sport game experiences available.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game.