WARNING: this article has been written by someone who has about as much knowledge as American football as they do about quantum physics. Expect sincere levels of tryhard throughout the review, but please don’t hold that against me.
Being someone who has never grasped or appreciated the art of American football, I approached Madden NFL 16 with the same trepidation as a man being offered spritzes of cologne in a club bathroom by a shady character who may or may not work there. If I knew then what I know now, I would have strode up to the guy, tearing open my shirt in the process and demanded he spray me with the entire bottle of the possibly poisonous concoction.
Right from the offset, the newest edition of Madden wants to let you know that it’s a class act. Opening with a tutorial that also serves to re-enact Super Bowl 50, it is one of the finest narrative pieces in an EA Sports game since the criminally overlooked Fight Night Champion. The editing on display is reminiscent of a drama, making it an absorbing and inviting way to open a game which could otherwise be seen as two-dimensional by those not in the know.
Once you’re given full control, Madden NFL 16 doesn’t shy away from throwing all the modes it has at you straight away. Franchise, Ultimate Team and Draft Champions are your three primary choices, but there’s also the new Gatorade Skills Trainer, Practice mode and regular online match-ups to pick from. After choosing my team (New York Giants; Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr forever), I dove into Franchise as it looked like the one least likely to ask for money from me.
As a seasoned FIFA player, it is essentially Madden‘s Career mode that takes far longer to make progress with. Due to the nature of the sport, you can spend hours and hours with it and only complete a few matches. However, this just makes it feel that much more special when the wins start to rack up and you make agonising steps towards the Super Bowl. There’s a decent deal of depth here as well, allowing you to utilise the trade block and fine tune your team to the nth detail. As the season progresses, your team will gain experience, which you can increase further by meeting specific goals. It adds an interesting dimension to each play – would you rather your QB reach his weekly goal for touchdown passes or have your HB meet his running yard quota?
Although Madden NFL 16 doesn’t try to explain the entire sport to you, it manages to explain a fair amount simply by way of repetition. The on-screen prompts show you where to allocate the ball and the commentary does a fine job of being as informative as possible, cluing you in without ever needing to jab you in the ribs to make you aware. Their soundbites are some of the best I’ve heard in a sports game, coming across as genuine and passionate, which goes a long way towards imbuing you with the same kind of passion for the sport.
The presentation is where the game really shines through as it is quite simply fantastic throughout. The player models are immensely detailed, showing every bead of sweat and facial distortion after every tackle, catch and fumble. Despite the hours of playtime I have had so far, I am still seeing new animations with seemingly every game as bodies collide into sickeningly satisfying crumples following heavy tackles with celebrations also being riveting to watch following a touchdown. The sidelines are also alive, showing coach and inactive players’ reactions to play outcomes. Madden NFL 16 is a game of small details that all add up to a captivating overall experience.
It would be naive of me to try to explain the merits of choosing one play over another or even the individual positions (of which there seems to be countless many) players take as it would just come across as dribbling nonsense from someone who’s only been familiar with an entire sport for less than two weeks. However, despite any initial confusion, I can understand the basics of play; the throw that might be the decider or the run that could prove too risky. Making painfully slow yards as 4th down approaches is almost as tense as any shootout in action games, leaving the player with a sense of elation or frustration as time ticks on. ‘Immersion’ seems to be the buzzword for most games developers these days, but EA Sports are one of the few that genuinely accomplish it with Madden NFL 16.
With the inclusion of Draft Champions, there’s now more depth for those who might be deterred by the pay-to-win nature of Ultimate Team. Though it is possible to get ahead with the latter through the grind, the temptation to part way with a few extra notes to progress quicker is always there. It’s not a practice I particularly agree with in any EA Sports game, but it’s easy to see how some players can get sucked into it. There’s a lot to delve into here still as you can gradually build your team up with depth for every position until you’re comfortable enough to take to the field. You can supplement your coins – the currency used to buy new packs – by competing in matches or completing solo challenges. The variety here means that it’s very easy to get sucked in and I often found myself debating whether or not to pay real money for packs.
There’s no such thing as a perfect game and Madden NFL 16 certainly isn’t one either. The loading times can sometimes border on the obscene, the soundtrack repetition is almost as bad as WWE 2K15‘s and there are lots of updates to get through seemingly every time you insert the game disc. As mentioned, the sport as a whole is slightly bewildering for those new to it and although this obviously isn’t the game’s fault, it might be an idea to include a specific tutorial for European audiences to help clue us in on the basics and rules of the sport. It would certainly help to widen the audience for it overall if it was seen as more accessible.
For American football fans and newcomers alike, Madden NFL 16 is an enthralling ride throughout its many modes. There’s something for everyone here, so don’t be deterred by not understanding what the hell is going on most of the time and just dive straight in.
PROS – The presentation is simply stunning at times – Gameplay is simplistic enough for anyone to pick up – Immersive with a capital ‘I’ – Great commmentary – Huge variety of modes – Smooth animations make for satisfying plays – Decent level of custimation
CONS – Loading times can quite often be obtrusive – Ultimate Team is pay-to-win – EA Trax is repetitive – Constant updates means it’s never really a ‘pick up and play’ game