To use a real-world analogy, Madden NFL 16 was a lot like last year’s Carolina Panthers squad. Both had been solid for the past few years, and both had potential to improve. Unlike Cam Newton’s team, though, which fell apart when it mattered most, last year’s iteration of EA Sports’ long-running franchise was a major success. For the first time in awhile, it felt like the series was better received by both critics and fans than past versions. And while we have to see how the NFC Champs rebound this season, Madden NFL 17 has arrived to defend its crown as king of the genre.
As with the past two iterations, Madden NFL 17 begins with a playable showdown between two teams. Unlike the past two years, which you placed you in the shoes of successful teams like the Panthers and Steelers, this time around you’re given the opportunity to play as the newly relocated Los Angeles Rams. Squaring off against the Washington Redskins in the NFC Wild Card Game, you’ll need to rely on new QB Jared Goff and star in the making RB Todd Gurley II to win the game late. Despite the drop in team quality, I actually think this little intro comes off better than the previous ones. It doesn’t feel as scripted, and it’s still a good introduction to the new mechanics present in the game.
With the passing game getting a face lift last year, this year EA Tiburon decided to shift their focus to the ground game. With ball handlers already having several ways to get around defenders, EA decided to tweak these moves to fit their real-world players. What this means is that certain players will be better at hurdling than stiff-arming, and vice versa. Moves are broken down into two distinct categories, speed and precision, with R2/RT and L2/LT handling each one, respectively. Precision moves are stronger than Speed moves, but have the greater potential for fumbling.
When combined with the improved animations on both sides of the ball, the changes in running the ball are immediately noticeable. Stiff-arming a defender to the ground or juking another one out of his shoes makes those long TD runs feel that much better. And with Run Path Assist and Automatic Moves in place to help out, it’s easy for anyone to feel that thrill. As a whole, the changes don’t feel as game-changing as the changes made to the aerial aspect of the sport from last year, but that’s okay. I didn’t think this aspect of the game really needed a change, but I enjoy the improvements made here nonetheless.
While the ground game was the beneficiary of the most of the changes in Madden NFL 17 on the offensive side, defensive play has been changed in several ways. For countering slippery running-backs, defenders will now automatically manage their specific gaps on the line. This lets line-backers and other defensive superstars know where to go so that they can break through the offensive line and disrupt the play before it gets going. Tackling has always felt pretty good, but smashing through a tackle with one of my favorite players, Chiefs superstar Justin Houston, is both easier to pull off and really enjoyable.
Zone coverage has also been reworked so that quarterbacks have a harder time tossing it all over the field. The biggest way EA Tiburon tweaked this aspect of defense was by creating ten new zone coverage assignments, which is a noticeable improvement over the four they previously had. These concepts allow players to create a defensive scheme that best fits the offensive patterns of the team you are facing. Getting torn to shreds by short passes? Give a player a Hook Curl assignment and let them protect the inside. More than ever this feels like playing a game of physically demanding chess.
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Finally, Madden NFL 17 features a completely reworked kicking/punting meter. In years past, both were handled by moving the analog stick up and down to account for power and accuracy. This year, though, the meter has changed to a three-button press style. The first one starts the meter, the second sets the power, and the third accounts for accuracy. It’s not the biggest change, but it does make extra point attempts feel less automatic than before.
Special teams as a whole has been improved in order to account for the increased amount of trick plays and blocks present in modern NFL. Before, if you were going to try a fake punt or kick, you were restricted to basic run and pass plays. EA Tiburon has opened the playbook, though, so now you have a variety of ways to get that crucial first down or TD. Likewise, defenders now have a better chance of blocking a field goal or punt thanks to improved coverage schemes. I haven’t been able to pull off a successful block yet, but I’ve come close, which is more than I can say for my efforts last year.
Besides being enjoyable, the fact that none of these additions feel superfluous is wonderful. After improving the passing game the way they did last year (which has actually been tweaked for the better again this year), EA Tiburon successfully managed to improve the other aspects of the game. The ground game is still engaging, and the focus on different moves allows players to approach a gap any way they want. And, speaking as a defense-playing hater, I don’t even mind hopping on the other side of the ball now. Breaking through the line of scrimmage and swatting deep balls away are both easier and more enjoyable to do than last year.