NFL is one of those sports where every single sports fan will have a team. Sure, they may not know any of the players on the roster, they may not watch any of the games and they may not even know what the rules are, but you ask any fan and I guarantee they’ll have a team. For me that team is the New Orleans Saints. Why? Well, I went to NOLA once and it was my favourite stop on my US vacay so I thought hell, why not follow the team!? So when I jumped into Madden NFL 2017 I picked my favourite team and headed straight for the skills trainer to learn the ins and outs. I’ve played previous NFL games but not for many years, and it seems in my absence the series has grown enormously not only in look but also overall feel. It’s not easy to create a flawless sports game, but some minor issues aside, EA have done an impressive job here.
The great thing about this particular sports franchise is it doesn’t matter if you’ve never played before, you’ll be able to pick up a controller and have a crack. For the most part things are done for you – the players will move about, the buttons to pass will come up and defenders will tackle on their own. However, to be truly great at Madden, you’re going to need to spend a whole shit-tonne of time learning how to git gud and that’s where the Skills Trainer mode comes in nicely. Never before have I encountered a tutorial mode that really does take you through every facet of gameplay. You’ll start out learning the absolute basics going through to advanced techniques, and each drill you complete will earn you an Ultimate Team pack. When you think you know what you’re doing there are a number of modes to check out and each of them brings something new and interesting to the experience.
The sheer amount of new content and features is rather impressive, and to list it all would take longer than a torrent download using Australian internets. The biggest and most notable update this year is the gameplay; the focus has shifted from receiving the ball to the running game giving it a more authentic feel. The ball carrier now has an expanded set of skill moves and at the lower difficulty levels there are automatic skills moves that kick in for you. When running the ball there is now run path assist in the form of on-screen visuals that will show you run direction and predicted path. On the defensive front there are now Concept Counters that will allow you to identify what the offence is doing and suggest options for stopping it. Individual players have been customised to ensure their style is as realistic as possible. For instance, Adrian Peterson has a stronger stiff arm than LeSean McCoy but McCoy’s jukes are far more effective against defenders. Updated animations increase the realism; no longer will players just stop what they’re doing but will now react as they would in the NFL. One thing that never feels real in sports games is the ball movement, and to fix that this year EA have introduced real ball physics that are calculated and applied in real time. Because of this no two situations will ever be exactly the same, but the pigskin will fly and bounce with palpable realism.
I’ll just hop over you there mate
EA have mentioned their focus for this year has been on the ground game, zone defence and special teams and for the most part, they’ve absolutely nailed it. Instead of having four zone defence options you now have thirteen, and still on the defensive side they have introduced defensive gap play which gives you the ability to control the gaps and immerse yourself further into the defence. A really neat new feature is the strategic defensive throwing options. Players now have total control over how they choose to shut down a throw. You can now play the receiver which works a treat when they are short of a first down and all you want to do is stop the run. Alternatively you can play the ball and either try to intercept or swat it away from the receiver. If you’ve got defensive help around, trying to intercept will work best but if you’re a lone defender and you just need to prevent the completion then swat that shit outta here! For the most part EA have scored a touchdown (see what I did there?) on the new features, that is with the exception of special teams. The introduction of a new kick metre is fantastic and gives you better control, the issue I have is with the defensive side of a kick. EA have introduced new plays and mechanics to really focus on special teams and potentially make each play a game-changing moment by being able to block the punt. In the skills trainer this works really really well and got me much excite. Not once since the trainer have I been able to block a kick and I suspect it’s not just my inadequacies that are stopping me from doing so. Not a major problem but one I encountered nonetheless.
The Franchise mode has been revamped this year so you can “get to the fun faster” by only showing the important moments. The introduction of Play the Moments lets you halve the total game time by only having you control the most important parts of the game. This function can be turned on and off at any time, including mid-game for those times where you really just need to take control. Big Decisions is a new feature that allows total control of your teams most pressing matters, including return from injury, contract negotiations and overall team make-up on one screen. For me this is one of the greatest new features as it means I no longer have to flick between screens to find out what’s best for my team. The Madden community is large and has a loud voice and thankfully EA actually listen to what fans want. This year they have included many community requests and the biggest to that is player editing. You can now edit pretty much everything and of course, I gave my dude a huge ass booty to go with his ego.
This year’s commentary team has changed to Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis with the view of changing it up a little from previous games. Whilst the difference is certainly noticeable, I’m yet to hear anything ground-breaking as promised. There is still quite a lot of repeated lines and it gets a little dull at times, but it seems that every time I play the game there’s a new commentary update. The updates to the game are many and often and it really gives you a feel of being in the moment. It’s great to see the updates so early on and long may they continue. The overall look of the game is pretty nice and the graphics certainly do it justice. There’s just one thing they haven’t quite nailed and it’s the look of the player’s bodies. When they walk around it looks like they are actually fauns or satyrs with their legs protruding a little too far from their bodies. Now a half man, half goat QB may not be such a bad idea it just doesn’t look right on a human. The soundtrack has a nice mix of rock, rap and country music that reminds me of road-tripping across the southern part of the United States and I think it matches the game perfectly.
Beat the niners, I’m a god…
This year’s Madden NFL is one of the best sports game’s I’ve picked up to date. The realism of the ball, new gameplay mechanics and kickass soundtrack as well as the in-depth franchise mode all mix together beautifully to provide an authentic NFL experience. Whilst the game probably doesn’t look as good as a title like FIFA 17 it’s certainly not a let-down. In my time playing I felt in control and part of the action at all times. EA have raised the benchmark and I look forward to playing this iteration long into the future with regular updates.