Opening with the re-homed LA Rams in a dramatic battle against the Washington Redskins for a place in the playoffs, it’s safe to say that Madden 17 throws you straight into the action. The team at EA Tiburon approached this year’s Madden with a focus on three key aspects of the game; an enhanced running game, zone defence and special teams, and while this has meant that we’re not seeing a huge sea-change like we’ve come to expect in recent years, it continues to be a sports franchise that is at the top of its game.
The changes to Special Teams amount to a new kick meter that takes more than a few cues from PGA games of yesteryear, with a three click approach that makes for a potentially more accurate action. Personally I’ve always preferred this kind of button-led approach over analogue stick ones, but that’s going to come down to a personal preference.
Otherwise, there’s perhaps not much here that will surprise anyone but Madden veterans, with none of the sweeping game-changing improvements that the last two years have brought. What we are getting is a refinement of everything that’s gone before, and when Madden is as good as it has been lately, that’s no bad thing. Tweaks to both the offensive game and tackling ensure that this is the most even-handed version ever, and fans can now feel fulfilled no matter which way they’re heading down the pitch.
My favourite – though most dubiously expensive – mode returns again this year, with Madden Ultimate Team bringing compelling card collection and fantasy team building to Madden 17. There’s not a great deal of difference here over previous years, with various in-game actions earning you packs of cards, while you can head to the auction house if you need to improve a particular position or look for your favourite player. Instead of last year’s Style rating, you’re now looking for the returning Chemistry attribute in order to improve your team as far as possible. It adds an extra level of depth to your selections, with attempts to min-max your team able to suck away hours of your life.
You can take part in both solo or weekly challenges in order to earn rewards, but fundamentally the strongest cards will only really be within reach if you invest real money into buying packs of randomised cards, and your mileage will depend entirely on how you feel about that. It can be an expensive hobby if you’re not careful, but it’s such an all-encompassing mode that constantly provides new content and challenges that it’s easy to be drawn in.
There’s also the improved franchise mode with the new Play The Moments feature, which allows you to drop into a pivotal point in a game in order to swing it in your favour and seriously reduces the grind of a whole season, as well as the return of Draft Champions. This brings the connectivity of Ultimate Team to bear, as you fashion a team of both old and new players into a game-winning unit. The rewards for success stretching from in-game currency to packs of Ultimate Team cards which, as with last year’s entry, may draw some ire from those who can tell which direction EA are trying to push them. Of course, everything is fully playable without spending a penny.
Graphically this is the sharpest Madden we’ve ever had. Animations continue to steadily improve, bringing us ever further away from the uncanny valley. There are still many moments during your time on the field where it becomes clear that you’re playing a game, whether it’s a character turning unnaturally or a hit sliding off in an unrealistic way, but the fact that there are also times where it looks genuinely like a real game is frankly remarkable.
Alongside that, the presentation of this year’s release is exemplary, from the bold and clear menu systems through to the broadcast-aping main game, it all serves to pull you further into the game. The player card overlays in Ultimate Team and Draft Champions in particular look fantastic, and add to that sense of ownership and achievement – when you’re playing well, at least.
It would be easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information that you have on hand in Madden 17, but you’ll quickly learn what action fits what scenario, why you’re doing it, and who has done it in the past. You can graduate from being a complete newcomer to a bonafide aficionado in very little time, and while Madden has probably taught plenty of people about American Football in the past, this year’s also does so with aplomb.
One of the nicest new features to this year’s edition of Madden is the constantly updating commentary. Each week sees a fresh update with content that reflects much of what’s going on in the NFL at that moment. The overall quality of the commentary this year is excellent, with the new team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis providing natural, accurate and exciting coverage that makes each game feel like you’re watching the real thing.
The rest of the audio doesn’t quite share the same strengths, and you may well find yourself removing multiple tracks from the playlist, as well as growing increasingly tired of some of the oft repeated musical refrains. At least the on-pitch action sounds great, with the Solid Audioworks team handing in a powerful soundscape to frame everything on screen.
While Madden 17 isn’t a huge leap for the franchise, it does a fantastic job of continuing to move it forward. With stellar graphics, vibrant commentary and intuitive gameplay it is certainly amongst the finest games in the series and, at this point, it’s difficult to see where the next dramatic improvement for Madden can come from.
Version Tested: Xbox One