Way back in 1988, Electronic Arts released the very first Madden NFL Football title, which actually bore the iconic coach's full name and not just the abbreviated title. It's hard to believe that, since 1988, the franchise has evolved the way it has. IPs nowadays have a difficult time maintaining a fanbase, but with the NFL still sitting on the throne of American sports, EA Sports continues to churn out the title year after year. Complacency is absolutely a concern year in and year out, and reviewing the legendary franchise becomes less about what the game is about and more about whether or not there's enough new content to justify a $60 price tag. Madden 17 brings some new features and gameplay to the table, but is it enough this time around? Let's find out.
Refined gameplay is refreshing and fun
There isn't a significant difference in last year's gameplay to this year's, but the changes are enough to take a good experience to the next level. Mechanically speaking, last year was good but I felt that the systems in place were just a fresh coat of primer and the developers forgot the paint. The RAC system is back, which I loved last year, but this year it's easier to engage. The problems of hitting the X button and your receiver basically deciding with a flip of a coin whether or not he was going to do it are few and far between, especially in career mode where it's almost vital as a receiver or running back coming out of the backfield. The downside in the tweaks to RAC is a random burst of speed that randomly happens when a receiver catches it. On numerous occasions, I felt that I had overthrown a receiver by a good five yards....only to have the receiver boost as if he had a jetpack strapped to his back and pull off the catch even faster than his peak speed. This is going to annoy everyone online, because it appears to just be a mechanic.
While passing the ball has supposedly been tweaked, I saw no real difference in the mechanics, motions, or decision making in quarterbacks. The windows still appear as normal and the ball gets out the same with the same types of penalties that come up if you're on the run, back-pedaling, etc. In the time I played, I looked for any changes, both positive and negative, and simply could not come up with anything noticeable.
Running the ball has received a major facelift. EA Sports has touted a new system that gives full control both on offense and defense when it comes to tackling, appropriately named tackle battles. If an icon appears over a players head, the quickest to the button will either finish the tackle or complete a move, whether it be a juke, spin move, or hurdle. Running backs, however, get the advantage of basically having a pre-emptive strike with their moves. In the first two skill levels, these moves are actually executed for the player. The downside to this is that if a player, for example, doesn't have a great stiff arm rating but it triggers a stiff arm, chances are high that it's going to fail and the runner will get tackled. Building upon this, if you're playing on Rookie or Pro difficulty, these moves are executed for the player. It can be turned off in the options, and I would strongly suggest doing this because it can truly throw off running.
Catch-up AI, sadly, is definitely still a thing. Instead of re-hashing the same tired argument back and forth, let me just hammer this home: Let's pretend for a moment that EA Sports is right and that catch-up AI doesn't exist in the game, even though we know it does. If that's the case, then I have no explanation over the number of dropped passes I've experienced in multiple fourth quarters when up by at least two touchdowns. On a few occasions, I've found myself up big in the fourth. It's best to just run the ball because any pass that is remotely covered seems to be dropped or batted away at the last second, even if my receiver seems to grab it and goes to ground. There's this long pause and then the ball just rolls away.
Special teams have supposedly received a revamp, but honestly, it hasn't really needed it. Blocking and setting up plays are essentially just following your wall and making sure to get as much as you can. The big change comes with kicking, which is nothing "new" and is actually somewhat insulting to call it such. A few years ago, Madden and NCAA Football switched the kicking from a three-click system to pulling the analog stick back and pushing forward. It was intuitive and made sense. It also brought a bit more skill and fun to something that is largely an afterthought. That's now gone, and the three click system is back. While the trajectory can be changed based on the left analog stick, the three click system is garbage. I hate it, I've always hated it,
Franchise mode has largely been ignored
Franchise mode is my jazz. I absolutely love taking control of a franchise and building them up into the ultimate powerhouse. While I can still get some fun out of the mode itself, to see it practically get no love for the last three versions is not only disheartening, it's downright infuriating. The new addition to Franchise mode is an enhanced practice mode that allows a player to setup a gameplan. The problem is that these gameplans are largely determined for the player and only serve to give a minor boost to stats if you use them in the upcoming game and not overall for experience. It's frustrating that after a year of players clamoring for more than just the standard franchise mode, this is what was conceived. To be fair, full editing has been included after many years of requesting, so those who want to go in and edit individual players' stats and salary can do so now, though that's a bit bugged as well. I'm not entirely certain as to what's causing it, but to test it out I went into these ratings and, after editing the salary first, sometimes editing ratings became a game of 0 or 99 instead of somewhere in between. The game would not allow me to set anything in the middle and would jump to opposite ends of the spectrum. This ability also completely takes the fun out of franchise because now you can just let that higher age veteran go, draft someone fairly bad, and edit their stats to basically make them a superstar out of the gate.
My biggest beef with franchise mode is that there has been almost nothing new beyond what I've listed above. To hammer this point home, here's an excerpt from my review of Madden 16 around this time last year:
I'm quite disappointed that the customization for relocating a team and picking a new stadium has yet to change, because it's in desperate need of a face lift. The stadiums in general are good to look at, but we've seen these same stadiums and team choices for the past few years. Let's stop acting like fans of the game haven't noticed this. Also, it is inexcusable to not allow players to have free reign over picking colors and designs of new uniforms when relocating a team. Giving players three relatively generic uniform combinations is pretty poor, and most of the designs are forgettable. How about meeting players in the middle and giving a few nickname options and color schemes, but letting the player have total control on what the uniform and helmet will look like? Simple solution, and probably wouldn't take long to change up.
The reason for including it in this year's review? It's literally the exact same thing from '16. I get that developers can't fix everything and there's a focus year in and year out, but we're going on four versions where this portion of the game is exactly the same. Players have had it and I've had it. A year or two I certainly get, but not three and certainly not four.
Online play is about what you expect
Most of Madden gamers are going to hop into online mode and go straight for either Ultimate Team, Connected Franchise, or just online versus play. There's nothing really mind-blowing about the online modes other than EA didn't mess with them too much because their fanbase largely thought they were fine, with the exception of the problematic EA servers, but that's out of the developers hands. There is a new mode in the form of Draft Champions that allows players to basically create their own fantasy team over the course of a club's history. It's a quirky little change that needs a lot of time put into it, but the rewards are certainly enjoyable. I could only imagine putting together a Chicago Bears all-time team that lines up a defense featuring Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, and Brian Urlacher. That's pure fear, so Tiburon and EA get a thumbs up on this. Ultimate Team also got a minor change to how card packs and coins are dished out at the end of seasons, but this isn't anything new as FIFA made this change last season and it's simply being implemented across the board. There will be initial outcry about it, but it's not anywhere close to an egregious change.
Wrapping it all up
Madden is that game every single year where players have to decide whether to pony up the money for what essentially is a roster change with a few new modes. Most players are going to forgive some of the issues or lack of changes and buy it because they love football and want to play it throughout the NFL season and I certainly get that. However, we've reach a turning point with this franchise between online and offline players. Yes, online competition is always big in this era of e-sports where gamers want to prove how good they are. However, there are plenty of those who enjoy the challenge of building up a franchise and seeing how long they can keep it going. Tiburon needs to show these gamers some love too, or they risk alienating a fanbase. It's also not just about people who don't want to play online, but people who can't play online because of connection speeds, unfortunately. Offline may be all they have, and with yet another year gone where franchise mode looks to be an afterthought. Yes, the gameplay is fun and the changes to make the in-game experience feel like it was worth the money is fine. The problem, though, is that we're reaching a point where the proverbial house is getting dilapidated and all that's suggested is a fresh coat of paint. Address the offline modes more and gamers won't feel like they're getting the runaround from this long-storied franchise.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been writing about games and entertainment since 2006 after starting out at Xbox Ohio. Since then, I have made the jump to Gaming Nexus and have enjoyed my time here. I am an avid gamer that has a solid old school game collection that includes the likes of Final Fantasy games, Earthbound, Gitaroo-Man, MvC2, and a whole slew of others. I have a primary focus on Xbox/PC games and PC peripherals and accessories. If you ever want to game against me, you can look me up on XBL with the gamertag GN Punk. View Profile