Wednesday August 24th, 2016

The annual release of Madden is often a signal for many that football is back. For football-starved fans, it’s also time to decide whether they should upgrade to the latest version. With Madden 17, EA Tiburon opted to not cram in a bunch of superfluous game features, and it succeeds largely due to that restraint. It was a smart decision as it allowed EA to focus on what matters most: the gameplay.

With NFL offenses putting a much heavier emphasis on the pass, it was a bit of a surprise to see the running game get the spotlight in Madden 17. Running seems much more physical than in years past. You can really appreciate how powerful and explosive someone like Adrian Peterson is after you watch him shrug off and bulldoze through smaller defenders. You also will come to truly appreciate a good run with the animations looking better than ever before. There’s nothing more satisfying than chaining together a series of moves and leaving defenders in the dust as you take it to the house.

While the mini-button game that takes place on runs is easy to learn, it’s difficult to master. EA Tiburon makes it easier on you with some assists and cues on lower difficulties but removes them when you play on All-Pro and All-Madden. Taking the time to practice and learn the moves is made easier by all the mini-games and training options that are scattered throughout the game. Whether it’s in Ultimate Team or your weekly training sessions, the game is far more welcoming to new players.

Of course, they couldn’t revamp the running game without making some changes to defense. Defense, as a whole, seems to be improved. Defenders seem to be smarter and more effective playing their zones. There’s a feature to auto flip the defensive formation to match that of the offense. Defenders are smarter about containing and getting after mobile quarterbacks that scramble out of the pocket, and defensive backs have more tools against the pass.

Whether it’s a defender stripping the ball out of a receiver’s hands at the last second or contact jarring the ball loose before the receiver is able to complete the catch, the game seems to play more true to life with regards to the success rate of catches. Using the aggressive catch function was almost like an easy win button in Madden 16 for receivers, but the effectiveness of the function seems to have been toned down significantly. A swat mechanic has also been added to help defenders combat receivers. A well-timed swat can lead to tipped balls that could be intercepted by a teammate, and it's fun to see defenders scramble to dive or slide under tipped balls in an attempt to get the turnover.

Special Teams also gets some attention, with more trick plays being added to playbooks and the biggest change coming to kicking. The kicking game has changed to a three-button system, which is simple enough to pick up. However, your mistakes are far less forgiving. Make sure you take the time to really time your button presses or you’ll be missing everything from simple PATs to chip-shot field goals. You can also put some backspin on punts, which you can use to pin your opponent somewhere deep in their territory.

Franchise mode seems to have been neglected in recent years, but it gets a facelift here. There are a few significant changes peppered in with some smaller tweaks that make for one of the best franchise mode experiences to date.

First and foremost, navigating through the interface is much easier. Everything is smoother and more intuitive, and there are some additions that allow you to quickly get in and out so you can spend more time playing the game. Upgrading players is easier with recommendations both for which players to upgrade and on which attributes to spend your XP.

The addition of a practice squad in franchise mode also adds another layer of realism to the game. You can assign players to the practice squad or call them up to the active roster. Fail to notice the progression of a practice squad player and he could be signed away to another team.

When players are returning from injury, you can opt to play them with reduced stats and a higher chance for re-injury, or you can sit them until they’re fully healed. If you’re up against a division rival, in a key matchup that could determine your playoff fate or simply don’t trust your other options, you might have to risk a major injury to a key player. These are the types of tough decisions you’ll have to make in franchise mode.

Let’s face it, a game of Madden is a time commitment. Play the Moments, one of the big additions to Madden 17, simulates the game in the background but puts the controls back in your hands to take over in key situations. Putting large stretches of the game in the hands of the CPU can be a risky proposition, but while my team played better when I was controlling all the action, I rarely ever felt things get out of hand with the CPU at the helm. I was confident enough to regularly use the Play the Moments feature when I was up against an inferior team, and even against some of the better teams in the league, the game played out mostly as I expected. Play the Moments is a welcome addition for players who simply don’t have the time to invest hours into the game every day or week.

Visually, Madden 17 hasn’t taken a major leap forward, which isn’t a knock on the game – it still looks gorgeous. This just may be EA Tiburon maxing out the capabilities of the current versions of the Xbox One and PS4. With new, more powerful iterations of the Xbox One and PS4 expected to be released next year, we could be in for some big changes on the graphics front for Madden 18. Until then, you certainly won’t be disappointed with Madden 17.

There are times when Madden swings for the fences, trying to add a bunch of features that can be underwhelming and often unnecessary. With Madden 17, they didn’t try to reinvent the wheel—they took the core of what they’ve been building in recent years and strengthened that. For EA Tiburon, Madden 17 is the culmination of years of hard work. The end of the last console generation left football fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. However, things took a noticeable turn for the better with the introduction of the Xbox One and PS4, and Madden 17 is the product of years of refinement and a tighter focus to deliver the best Madden experience to date.

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