Tuesday August 25th, 2015

Madden 16 hits stores on Aug. 25. Should you buy the latest version of the football franchise, which features Odell Beckham Jr. on the cover?

Find SI.com’s review—and a recommendation—below.

Best Feature

Ben Eagle: The revamped passing game.  The NFL has been a passing league for years, but the Madden series has had trouble keeping pace. Take Madden 15, for example. With Richard Sherman acting as the coverboy, Madden 15 empowered the secondary. Cornerbacks smothered No. 1 receivers, safeties eliminated tight ends, and if you schemed it right pre-snap, you could ensure QBs had absolutely no shot downfield. For fans of defense, it was a welcome feature. For fans of high-flying offense, it was frustrating, to say the least.

Luckily, Madden 16 brings the power back to the passers. It starts with revamped passing controls. In addition to the staples (bullet pass, lob), you have a touch pass (which you can use to drop in a ball against a soft zone), a low throw (which is useful in tight spaces) and a high throw. This last addition may be the most important. A staple of NFL offenses, the back-shoulder throw was nearly impossible to execute in previous versions of Madden. The high throw changes that.

Often neglected in video games, receivers also get a new toolbox in Madden 16. After a throw is released, you can select from three different catch types, depending on the situation. Up against the sideline? The possession catch makes sure you get two feet down. Have room to run? There’s the run after catch option. Streaking toward the end zone on a deep out or posted up one-on-one in the end zone? There’s the aggressive catch feature, where wideouts will attempt to high-point the ball over a corner. No. 1 receivers dominate the NFL in real life. With these new catching features—especially the aggressive catch which makes guys like Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas practically unguardable—receivers dominate Madden, too.

Fantasy football draft kit | POSITION PRIMERS: QB | RB | WR | TE | K | D/ST

Allen Kim: The new Draft Champions mode. Looking to appeal to the fantasy crowd, Madden introduced this new mode that lets you assemble a squad of stars and legends. You start off by choosing whether to play against the CPU or head-to-head, and then you’re given a randomized base team of mostly backup and bench-warmer talent. You’ll then have an opportunity to improve your squad through a unique 15-round draft, which will force you to make some hard decisions. Each draft begins by presenting you with three random coaches from which to choose, and this will serve as the template for your team. Each coach has a different style, and you’ll have an opportunity to tailor your team to play to your coach’s strengths through the draft.

Every round gives you the option to choose from three random players from different positions, and this is where things get tough. Do you take the left tackle that fits your ground-and-pound style? Or do you select the elite defensive end that could anchor your defense? You’ll have to take some risks, as there are no guarantees that you’ll see another premiere player at a specific position come up again in the draft. And the final round has you choose a “legend,” which ranges from players such as John Elway to Jason Taylor.

After wrapping up your draft, you’ll get a chance to play with your squad to see how it fares on the field against an opponent. And depending on whether you chose to play head-to-head or against the CPU, you’ll earn rewards for every win you get that can go toward unlocking items for the Ultimate Team mode.

This is a pretty addictive mode, and it keeps things fresh as you continually redraft new teams. Draft Champions is a worthy addition that I hope sticks around for future iterations, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it eventually surpasses Ultimate Team mode in popularity.

Courtesy of EA Sports

Worst Feature

Eagle:  The opening game mode. There’s a disturbing trend taking shape in sports games. We’ve seen it in NBA2K and in past versions of Madden. With traditional game modes relatively exhausted at this point, every new release seems to include some type of RPG (role-playing game) mode. Madden 16 is no exception, putting players on the Steelers’ sideline in a hypothetical Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl 50 matchup seconds after you boot up the game. Scenario after scenario is presented to you as you attempt to drive the Steelers to a Super Bowl title. Miss a pick-six opportunity on defense? Mike Tomlin will brood on the sideline, then you (Ben Roethlisberger) will have to rally the troops and find a way to carve up the Cardinals’ D.

Dropping straight into gameplay mode isn’t a bad idea, especially for a game with many new features. But the inability to opt out is frustrating, and it occurs throughout the game. Madden 16 is gorgeous, there's no doubt about that. But if you don’t want sit through the opener or the bevy of cinematic cut scenes that litter the game, you should be able to skip through them. In a game with few flaws, this one stood out to me.

Kim: Not being able to skip cut scenes. While it’s not exactly a feature, it’s too annoying to not point out. The graphics are better than ever before, and the presentation, as usual, is top notch. However, I'm with Ben in saying that I typically just want to get to the next play instead of being forced to sit through replays and cut scenes.

The cut scenes generally only last a few seconds, but they add up over the course of a full game. Why not give players the option to watch it if we want and to skip it if we don’t? I can only hope that EA Tiburon decides to change that in a future update.

Courtesy of EA Sports

Should you buy it?

Eagle:  Definitely. It’s telling that the only thing I can complain about is a feature that keeps me from playing more of the game.

Madden 16 is a beautiful game with even prettier gameplay. Offense rules, but what would you expect from a game with Odell Beckham Jr. on the cover? Ultimately, my decision comes down to this: Can I see myself playing this game into 2016 and beyond? With the improvements to the passing game adding to an already refined game flow, the answer is an emphatic yes. Madden is a joy to play and watch, and it's a must-add for all sports gaming fans.

Kim: Yes. The hardcore Madden faithful will go out and get this game no matter what, but for casual fans on the fence about buying the latest version, the Madden 16 is a strong buy. The new passing and catching mechanics have a major impact on gameplay, and ultimately, that’s what will drive people to play this game. While the controls are easy enough for casual fans to pick up and play, hardcore fans that have been clamoring for changes for years will really appreciate the new additions.

EA Tiburon has now had some time to really polish the next-gen versions of Madden, and this year seems to be a culmination of everything they’ve been building throughout the years. This is easily the best Madden to come out since next-gen consoles were first released, and it deserves a place in your game collection.

Madden 16 was reviewed on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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