1st Overall Pick.
This question has been asked hundreds of times, in many different ways, so let’s get it started right now: Are you ready for some FOOTBA… you know what, that’s been done to death. We all know damn well you're ready. John Madden asked that question some 20-plus years ago and now we all wait anxiously every August for those words to be uttered and we're all showered with little rays of sunshine from the NFL heavens. That and some of us feel we have sat patiently after basketball season has ended (how bout them Warriors?) and only been left with baseball to fill the void.
Sometimes, Madden doesn't follow through all the day, but this year marks a brand new addition to the franchise. In the past we’ve seen many different features come, go, change, and adapt. Most years, as in every year for Madden, EA adds and/or subtracts features fans love/hate almost randomly. With the new Draft Champions mode, Madden is grabbing some well-needed attention.
Much like Madden Ultimate Team (MUT), Draft Champions is centered around forming teams with a collection of players from around the league. Instead of starting from scratch, building up a better team as you go, you will head into a 15-round selection hub, recruiting players rated anywhere from benchwarmer skill level up to guys like Rodgers and Bowman.
Though you are drafting players, this isn’t exactly like your buddy Anthony’s fantasy league. Each round only presents you with three players of three separate positions to choose from at a time. So you have to be strategic in the way you pick. Round 7 may give you the option of choosing Alex Smith, a decent selection if you haven’t gotten a quarterback yet, just for round 10 to turn around and offer you Andrew Luck. Some might bite the bullet and take that round 7 as a loss and pick up another QB or some might fill other needs. But you might not get that late round chance at a better player, so what you can get early may be the wiser route.
Whichever way, your remaining roster will be generated by the computer, and your core 14 guys will either help or hurt you. Round 1 is dedicated to selecting a coach and his coaching style. The kicker (no pun intended) to all of this is that once you get to the final round, you will be given the opportunity to select a retired legend, OGs like Shannon Sharpe, Randall Cunningham, Ty Law, and Jason Taylor. With every victory, either in solo or head-to-head competitions, more rewards become unlocked and can be used throughout your Madden experience.
Connected Franchise has made its return, introducing a few new features to the mode. It is still possible to play through as a coach, player, or the whole team with the goal of winning a Super Bowl. The added twists include beating tasks and achieving milestones for experience points and other rewards. Each milestone isn’t limited to the season or even just one game. Every single drive and possession on both offense and defense gives you a new task that can be complete for said points, and at the end of each week you are able to use those points on actions like improving player ratings. Teaming up with a buddy locally is also possible, making this mode much more dynamic and cooperative.
Like mentioned earlier, another major game mode that caters to achievements is the ever-so-popular Ultimate Team. Not only do you play through seasons, but you're able to play through a range of categories in order to further the reward packages. Each category is about ranking up, beginning as a prospect and working up the ladder through rookie, starter, pro, all the way to All-Madden and Ultimate.
“NFL Journey” allows for fans to relive some of their favorite moments from the 2014 season. “Gauntlet” is a simple exhibition game except players must defeat all other teams in the NFL. “Style” is about skill challenges. “Legends” will pit you up against the past greats and their respective teams. Finally, after getting through all of that, take your skills into “MUT Master” and battle against the super team to “receive a MUT Master pack that rewards you a 99 Odel Beckham Jr. with 102 spectacular catching."
For Madden Ultimate Team, its features can be its downfall. Though there’s plenty of content, after a few playthroughs in each category, gameplay can be a bit mind-numbing. How many times must I continue doing the same thing? I just beat that team, oh but now I have to do it on a harder setting? What do you mean there are six more games before I can even unlock the next one?! Sometimes it’d be nice to skip challenges so you can play ones you may want to right away. This particular mode is definitely for the Madden heads who can’t get enough of repetition and enjoy playing long sessions.
From the start, tutorials and in-depth teaching illustrations are constantly fed through, kicking off with Gatorade skills trainer (enter product placement here). I remember, or in some ways forget, the old skills drills, back when you took the “bus” from city to city fighting in the trenches, becoming a pocket passer, running the cones, attempting to pass easy, medium, or hard tasks in fairly basic drills. Now, even the smallest details are accounted for. Finding new ways to challenge learners hasn’t been quite this grueling before, but it's well appreciated when taking a stab at some of the newer mechanics.
An example of these are the new techniques players can use to make a play on the ball, offensively as well as defensively. When taking control of a receiver, you have the option of catching a pass in three different ways. A simple possession grab is the most likely and highest probability in securing the ball. Have some open space to run once you get the ball? Use the “rac” (run after catch) button to keep your momentum going in order to jet for extra yards and a TD. Lastly, and this one is my favorite, play the ball in the air with the aggressive catch. This is great for those endzone fade routes and for that big tall, box out-type tight end who loves picking on shorter defenders.
But like I said, this goes for the defense too. DBs as well as any other defender attempting to make a play on the ball can play it conservatively with sure tackles or with an aggressive attack on the ball. Much like Madden 13, where interceptions were very common, we could see a spike in picks, so watch where and how you throw the ball.
This makes playing defense much more fun and manageable. When matched up against a great offense, counter-balancing their attack with a solid defense can level the playing field. This doesn’t mean guys like Calvin Johnson and Antonio Brown will be locked down forever because they still make those amazing grabs, but it just keeps QBs honest. The league itself has changed over the years from ground to air and this year’s Madden wanted to represent that in the truest form.
That doesn’t mean the run game isn’t present but very little has been done to enhance the experience. Most, if not all, of the precision modifiers are still present. Taking control of a lead blocker still is a great way to spring free halfbacks for monster gains, but that’s about where the excitement in the run game ends. It’s more about honing techniques and becoming a smarter player, which can all be learned in a variety of ways. After learning what it means to have a single high, how many men are in the box, or what a nickel package is, translating it on the field should come natural, as natural as some of the interactions players have on the field.
The graphics and frame-rate could benefit from a better update, though. Many of the textures have a boxy quality to them and can distract the eye. On field action also occasionally has an awkward motion, especially with the dancing and celebrations. Okay, Madden, we get it, you’re hip, you’re cool, you have Odel and all of the other guys doing the “Whip”. But please tell me the last time you seen a vet like Frank Gore “Nae Nae”?
Madden NFL 16 isn’t perfect. None of them ever are, but it’s always been about finding that balance of what sounds good and what looks good. For those familiar with the franchise, jumping back into the swing of things will be a breeze. New users could benefit from the training gauntlet. Player mechanics are decent but could be stronger; this may be due to the focus being on game modes, especially with the addition of Draft Champions. Still, ’16 has been one of the best in recent history and it’s a delight to see EA continually cook up new ways to serve an old dish.