A chill in the air, pumpkin spice everything, and team colors flying nationwide in major cities and on college campuses. Few things signal the changing of the seasons like the dependable release of Madden each fall. But does Madden 15 offer up enough, if any sort of change to dictate picking up the annual football franchise? In short, yes.
The Madden series always sits in a sort of pay or pass limbo for some gamers, while thousands of others flock to the stores and online for their yearly dose of gridiron gaming. Madden comes down to one simple question each year, what has changed? This year, we’re happy to report the answer is; quite a bit.
PRESENTATION, AND THE ART THEREOF
Many would argue that Madden has some of the best presentation values and user interfaces in the sports game realm, and they’d be correct. From the moment you fire up Madden 15, you are transported directly to a rematch of 2013’s week one slug fest that saw the Seahawks beat the Panthers in a nail biter, but now it’s up to you to change history. The sequence serves as an excellent introduction to the atmosphere of not only Madden but the NFL and a great primer for the feel of Sundays to come.
Complete with field dialogue from Russell Wilson, dramatic camera cuts, and intense music, the opening scene does its best to put you in the helmet of the quarterback, charged with bringing home a W. Progressing past this scene launches right into the main menu, which presents players with what are sure to be the focal points of the Madden experience: Connected Franchise and Ultimate Team.
Connected Franchise will be familiar to those who got time with Madden 25, a classic franchise mode that is replete with options, allowing for maximum control over how you play your franchise. Players immediately decide not only if they want to play on or offline, but also the role they will fulfill in their franchise from player, coach, or owner.
Menu and presentation throughout games and management look extremely crisp, and respond as such. Playing a game in Madden 15 feels as a thoroughly representative approach to Sunday game; complete offensive and defensive lineups shown during the first possessions, a full halftime report that truly captures what has happened throughout the game, and stadium atmosphere that only gets better the more volume you supply.
While the general presentation and menu system is quite good, small annoyances such as not being able to drop players directly from signing free agents, or finding the exact menu item you’re looking for in the hierarchical system can be a bit tricky, and they’re just that; small annoyances. One of the bigger pests is not only Phil Simms announcing talent in general, but the repetition of lines used in Madden 25. Overall these small hiccups don’t detract from the full experience, and the strength of the rest of the pieces of the puzzle make this the best Madden in years from a presentation aspect.
SMASH MOUTH FOOTBALL, D-FENCE, AND A FRONT FLIP JUST BECAUSE
Madden has a tough job, selling itself on merits of a new game each year, but the changes to defense alone this year make up for quite a bit. Playing defensive line or linebacker has never been so satisfying, as EA has introduced a small mini game immediately following each snap. Players hit the right trigger on their controller at the half second following the snap, giving that player a boost to their point of attack. Once locked up with a blocker, a small Square (X on Xbox One) or X (A on Xbox One) will appear quickly above your player’s head. Hitting the button at the right time gets you past your blocker and on the way to what is hopefully that poor quarterback’s unguarded backside. This quick interaction goes a long way to make you feel as though you actually contributed (or perhaps detracted) from a big play on defense, and keeps each snap fairly interesting.
We have to chat about the physics though, as Madden 25 had some hilarious, yet aggravating physics glitches resulting in a running back laying awkwardly on top of a linebacker until his precariously fallen body flops to the turf, finally ending the play. Gone are these moments, as the physics immediately feel much more realistic and snappy. After a bit of play though, you will find that sometimes your linebacker will take a hit from a receiver, and just sort of…flop. It looks strange, it takes you out of the experience, and more often than not, just looks like your player was struck in the spinal cord by a stray bullet. More awkward was during play when our tailback ran up the middle, and a Colts safety came up with a move that could only be described as “fine worthy” in the form of a flying shoulder front flip that immediately took down poor Ronnie Hillman.
These physics “moments” we will call them, are pretty sparse, but when they do happen, they’re jarring, and cause you to look around, or scream “Xbox Record That”. It also is of note that from time to time it seems defenders still possess mystical powers of teleportation, and find themselves sliding at superhuman speed directly in front of your receivers, or even standing in the way of your receiver while he is mid catch. These get a bit more infuriating, as most of these instances would either be ruled as penalties, or crimes against physics.
Some of the most satisfying aspects of Madden 15 are when the myriad of great features work in concert. When a pass falls incomplete, as opposed to being clearly a game mechanic failure, realizing it's an actual limitation of your offense, it seems much more plausible and acceptable. More than once the game seemed to not care for being behind late in the game, and started to do what could probably best be called “rubber band”, thus bringing the CPU right back in to the game. Some of this could be acceptable against more skilled teams like the Seahawks, or possibly Chiefs, but when the Browns come back from a 24 point deficit to send the game to overtime, questions arise.
ULTIMATE TEAM – THE *SIGH* OF ‘MADDEN’
Upon first glance, Madden 15’s “Ultimate Team” mode proves an extremely interesting concept. Essentially a collectible card variant of traditional fantasy football, players are gifted cards denoting a certain amount of players, defensive schemes, offensive playbooks, and coaches. With those basic cards the player begins their dynasty, and while it can’t be expected that the starting cards are stellar, they prove to offer at least some value. Ultimate Team also allows players to jump in to a game against opponents, earn coins, and spend those coins on new, better cards. The game mode can prove extremely rewarding if players stick with it and “grind” but that may be a concept foreign to some Madden players.
*Reviewer’s note – the following is merely an observation and means to bring up the point. The following did not factor in to the final review score, nor should it be considered a reason nor cause not to purchase or play Madden 15
The issue with Ultimate Team comes in the “point” system. Players do not earn points, they are purchased with real world money. The cost associated with your first pack of decent players in a pack could be as low as $.99 and should prove to get some actual talent on your bench. The problem that became apparent shortly after browsing the marketplace appears to be the 60 player pack bundle. A 60 pro pack would unlock at least 1 gold or elite player per pack, as well as a mix of 9 other player or team items per pack. This would include things such as stadiums, trophies, and other seemingly meaningless cards that could be the luck of the draw. The cost of this pack is $74.99 real world. This presents an interesting point of contention, in that players with the means, can easily stack teams in their favor quickly, and will likely do so.
Players earn coins by playing solo challenges, head to head seasons, or against friends. Most sessions should net players anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 coins depending on challenges completed and such, but players looking to build the best team quickly, will certainly need to input real world funds. The Madden 15 Ultimate Edition gives some faithful a leg up by including a quoted $40 value for the Ultimate Team mode, including 30 of the aforementioned Pro Packs.
POST GAME WRAP UP
The long and short of Madden 15 is this; if you are a year in year out Madden fanatic, you will enjoy the latest addition to the series. It might not have a ton of new features, nor a breadth of new content, but there are enough changes to entertain, keep the games fun and challenging, and you have your football game for 2014/2015’s season. If you have not played Madden in a few years, this title is in all reality a fantastic step forward. Madden 15 goes a long way to immerse the solo player, embroil the head to head match ups, and draw you in to the sport we all miss when February finally rolls around.
Madden 15 is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, and Playstation 3.
Review Disclosure - Examiner.com was granted a review copy of Madden 15.