GAME NAME: Madden NFL 17
DEVELOPER(S): EA Tiburon
PUBLISHER(S): EA Sports
PLATFORM(S): PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): August 23, 2016
Another NFL season is here and that means another installment of one of the top games regularly associated with a love/hate relationship. Rather than get in my petty licks regarding a Patriots cover (even if the player is well deserving of said coverdom), I’ll jump ahead to what matters. How good is EA’s latest monopolizing fall filler? I think it fair to preface the answer by saying I derive no pleasure from what the majority of this review is to be. My goal is not to nitpick. If anything, I consider myself an apologist when the inevitable Madden-hating comments start their annual, internet wide invasion. But this could very easily be referred to as a list of “Where They Went Wrongs”, with a slight dose of upside in the waning seconds.
Madden 17 is a go ’round that presents more room for mastery, but a requirement for commitment. This edition is not designed for successful pick up and play-ability, even if your experience with the series dates back to when Madden himself was the on the cover. Yes, that was actually the case once and yes, googling those early covers yields fantastic results. When you see the ex-Raiders coach’s child-like glee and remind yourself of his lovable propensity for stating the obvious, you’ll understand how failure was an impossibility for the series. But back to the present and all the ways the ever evolving (or at times devolving) series has tinkered it’s way to letdown town.
To start, the all-in-one intro sequence/loading screen is straight awful. Unlike past editions which included dramatic intros with actual footage, thrilling musical scores and league-wide representation, the latest will only pump you up if you’re really into slow-mo closeups of Gronk’s upper body. No offense to Rob, but I doubt the satisfied party is much larger than Roger Goodell’s fan club. When you get in game, you’ll choose your favorite team, thinking you’ve reached the Emerald City beyond the off-putting intro forest. But temper that excitement because doing so does very little in the way of customizing your menu. The in-game menu is essentially black and blue, colored mostly by an odd mix of music and the occasional split second sparkler effect one could purchase at Wal-Mart for $1.99.
But in-game play is what we’re really here for. Unfortunately, the menu was somewhat of an omen because things continue down the same disappointing path here too. The ugly Ultimate Team logo looks like something from college football (not to mention reads TU instead of UT). The game is filled with low angles, presumably intended to create larger-than-life depictions of beloved players, but the result is annoying and borders on dizzying at times. Aside from hyper realistic looking arms, the graphics do nothing to impress. Having jumped from Madden 15 on the Xbox 360 to Madden 17 on the PS4, I wrongly expected noticeable improvement. Instances when mouth movement syncs with audio are a rarity and don’t even get me started on the bamboo hair. While this is admittedly of low importance when it comes to graphics priorities, I even spotted a pixelated bush evidently imported from Minecraft and boldly placed in the Steelers practice facility. Now, I have no delusions of grandeur for the practice facility bushes of the Madden world, but really, the bar could be set no lower. At times, you wonder if EA is even trying anymore.
When the action goes down, difficulty and frustration are your new bedfellows. Receivers basically can’t catch unless you tell them how in the split second between the throw and the would-be reception. While I like the option to direct the style of catch, I’m not of the belief failing to specify should result in brick hands. And believe me, that’s usually what happens. The same could be said when trying to quickly avoid a tackle. Both can be slightly improved by leaving the game speed on slow, giving you more time to hit that all important button, but it’s certainly not an ideal solution. Admittedly, my thirty year old, wine-loving reflexes likely aren’t what they once were, but it seems the expectation of player capability may have ventured into surrealism with these additions.
Then there are the overly repetitive “commercial breaks”. These button held fade-to-blacks irritatingly break the game’s flow. In general, an aim for realism (no doubt, the intent here) is generally a good thing, but not when it’s an invasive detriment to fun-factor. This said, the game is more fun when you avoid skipping scenes, as the experience is more well-rounded. The downside being the extended time required to get through a single game, should you opt for the full experience.
All is not lost with this edition, however. The Restart Challenge ability is an appreciated one. The enjoyability of Skills Trainer, Solo Challenges and The Gauntlet modes are worth mentioning, all of which are great for people under time constraints. The in-game difficulty level also seems more evenly balanced. For better or worse, the days of massive blowouts and utterly humiliating losses may actually be behind us. And finally, Franchise mode. It’s in-depth, has nice touches such as certain play effectiveness boosted by the week’s practice, individual upgrades and the option to skip to crucial moments, if you so choose. There’s a lot to do in Madden 17, which is good. The bad thing is, identifying and navigating your way to that which is worth doing can be quite a challenge. While I consider Madden 15 the best Madden I’ve played (again, going way back), Madden 17 is an overall regression that leaves plenty of room for improvement. Here’s hoping that improvement is realized this time next year.
The PS4 version of the game was used for this review.