With Madden NFL 16 marking the franchise’s third outing on the latest generation of consoles, EA is looking to retain its place at the forefront of sports games. Despite some missteps along the way last year’s entry was a resolute success that brought the franchise right back the forefront of the public consciousness, but Madden 16 builds on that while introducing a number of improvements that make it the most immersive entry in the series so far.
However, EA aren’t wholly done with their slightly shady business practises, as they immediately ask whether they can share your information with NFL.com so they can get in touch about products and services you might be interested in. Leaving the box unchecked sees them offer you a free Ultimate Team pack in exchange for saying yes. They really want to give your information away, and while I know these things are prevalent in any number of online forms, I still resent being presented with it at the start of a game. Then agin, I do love Ultimate Team, and I’m sure my spam filter will weed them out… Well, that’s how they get you.
If you impatiently decide to play before the game’s finished installin, it drops you into Superbowl 50 as you lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to victory via an interactive story/tutorial type affair. It gives you a limited amount of actions to perform, but is certainly dramatic despite a somewhat choppy framerate while the game is installing. It’s actually worth returning to this introduction once the game is fully installed, as it does a great job of setting the tone for Madden 16, and the potential drama in store as you attempt to lead your team to glory.
Whether a veteran or a newcomer to the series, the returning Gatorade Skills Trainer offers a fully-fledged tutorial mode that looks to teach you the basics of Madden as well as more advanced play, and it’s an invaluable tool. It also takes you through the new features, such as the improved passing and receiving controls that now allow for more varieties of throws, and types of catch.
Holding L1 or L2 whilst making a throw will now see you perform a high or low throw, while on the receiving end you have the option of Possession, Run After Catch or Aggressive catch types. The reward for completion of each of the nine drills is an Ultimate Team pack, again pushing you towards Madden’s premier mode, or at least its most profitable one.
Ultimate Team was where I spent the majority of my time in last year’s Madden and it’s already got its claws into me again this time around, despite my own awareness that I’m now part of the problem. Pushing players towards the lucrative Ultimate Team mode feels even more blatant here, and while it’s a very enjoyable and fully featured mode which combines card collecting and fantasy football with the core Madden experience, there’s still something irksome about the way you’re drawn into playing the mode, and into parting with your cash.
Theoretically you can still play the mode without spending a penny, but progress can be slow, and with the cheapest pack of cards priced at £1.19 it’s likely that many Madden fans will simply reach for their wallet. Mind you, the in-game auction house can help you to find a specific player, or type of player, and thankfully uses coins earned through play rather than bought credits, with the added thrill of bidding and winning cards without damaging your bank balance.
Of course, if it’s fantasy football you’re after, Madden 16’s brand new mode Draft Champions has you covered. You take part in a fantasy draft, firstly picking a head coach whose style will carry over to your finished team, before taking part in 15 rounds of the draft, with three players to pick from in in each round. Your aim is to maximise your coach’s two play styles, whether that’s long pass and ground and pound or another combination, whilst analysing each players statistics and trying to fit them into the positions where you’re weaker, or crossing your fingers that a better player will come along in a later round.
You then take your finished team on a championship run, which simply asks you to win a series of three or four games, either offline or online where you can take part in a head to head draft. Draft Champions is a fun and engaging mode that’s also pleasingly immediate, with the draft taking less than five minutes before moving straight into leading your team to success – or abject failure. As with many of the modes, success sees the game dole out Ultimate Team cards and packs, once again driving you deeper into that mode.
Things haven’t changed much visually since last year, and while it may be a touch smoother and crisper, there isn’t the graphical leap we saw over from Madden 25 to 15 – forgiving the idiosyncratic numbering. The biggest addition is in the overlays that now appear during play, whether to display player cards in Draft Champions or Ultimate Team, or to show real life footage while running through statistics. The overall effect is that Madden feels more like an actual broadcast than ever before, and such touches are definitely welcome. The only hiccups are in the transitions between different camera shots outside of play, and there certainly seem to be far fewer of the inhuman animations caused by players piling into each other.
This year’s selection of music is perfectly weighted on the right side of adrenaline and drama, and the licensed music from EA Trax certainly kept me pumped between games, despite there not being any artists there that I was previously aware of. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms return for their third year in the commentary booth and their dialogue fits surprisingly well with the on-field action, with far fewer occurrences of mistakes or slow responses compared to last year.
Online play is relatively solid, though it has stutters at times and there seems to be some input lag when performing field goal attempts or punting the ball. Once you become aware of it you can compensate, but it’s disappointing in one of EA’s most prestigious titles. Overall there are still improvements to be made, which will hopefully be picked up swiftly, but it remains playable despite these imperfections.
The returning Franchise mode also supports an online option, making use of the cloud to run faster simulations, provide live tuning updates, and allow multiplayer while also supporting integration with the Madden mobile app. A new addition to this mode is the in-game goals for each player and your head coach, such as making sixty catches in a season or making a successful touchdown pass in a particular game, which in turn boosts the player’s confidence and providing bonus experience. These pop up during play and give you extra targets to consider, which serves to make the whole experience more immersive and involving, whilst also remaining fresh.
Madden 16 builds on last year’s fantastic entry in the franchise, and while there’s more refinement here than revolution the improvements are meaningful, with the addition of Draft Champions a huge success.
Version Tested: PS4