EA Sports’ Madden games have become an offseason institution and one of the best ways for football fans to pass the long last few weeks until the regular season starts.
That is no different this year, as Madden NFL 17 hit stores on Tuesday with a number of upgrades, new features and gameplay changes that will thrill novices and experts alike. Seeing as how the Madden franchise is entrenched in popular culture as the marquee football game on the market, EA Sports didn’t have to reinvent the wheel with the latest edition that features New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on the cover.
Rather, it made a number of subtle alterations that improve the overall product and experience with the game. Here is a look at a few of them, as well as some general impressions of Madden 17.
Trailer and Basic Changes
EA Sports released a trailer on its YouTube channel that highlighted some of the new graphics and gameplay:
As is the case every year, there are some basic upgrades such as roster changes and new stadiums. Former running back Maurice Jones-Drew highlighted those features, such as the best players in the league who are ranked 99 overall and the new stadiums in Minnesota and Los Angeles, per NFL Now:
Jones-Drew also pointed out running backs now have new moves depending on their style of play that will help users make defenders miss in the open field.
There is also a player ratings database available on EA Sports’ website that says, “For the first time ever, sort, search and share any Madden rating, plus see how overall ratings are calculated for each position.”
One of the first things users will recognize in Madden 17’s gameplay is the overall upgrades on the defensive side of the ball. Frankly, they are welcome changes that will help challenge the idea of “video game numbers” whenever an offensive playmaker goes off in an actual game.
Quarterbacks throwing for 500 yards will no longer be the norm.
According to EA Sports’ website, the game uses a “Behavior Coordinator” to help zone coverages against passing looks. Before this was implemented, “zone coverage logic was written independent of the play. … Additionally, we only had three underneath zone coverage assignments (flat, curl flat and hook), and we had to use those three assignments in a variety of coverages.”
EA Sports highlighted the smarter defensive approaches in zone coverage in a series of videos on Twitter:
Defenders don’t have to worry about unqualified receivers making ridiculous catches anymore, either. Bryan Wiedey of Sporting News said the “success rate” of the “aggressive catch” feature that was installed last year is no longer so high, so the only receivers who are pulling down incredible catches are the ones with the proper ratings who actually do in real life (think DeAndre Hopkins and Dez Bryant).
It isn’t just pass defense that will be more effective.
According to Clint Oldenburg of EA Sports’ website, there will be a “Defensive Gap control system that makes defending the run more engaging and authentic.” Every defender will have responsibilities and alignments that will help defenses contain the rushing attack.
While gamers don’t want to play 3-0 defensive slugfests, the changes will help curtail scores to a more realistic measure. That is a welcome step in the right direction.
The other area of gameplay that will feel new is special teams.
EA Sports’ website said it “was far past time to make kicking in Madden ‘less automatic’” and made the necessary enhancements to do just that. Users will now have to hit a button to start the kick, set the power and control the accuracy (similar to a golf game) instead of simply flicking the stick in a mindless fashion.
It will also be easier to block kicks with designated kick-blockers who can jump the snap, and the chance to aim onside kicks and the ball physics changes when those kicks are bouncing on the ground mean comebacks are more feasible with momentum swings and possession changes.
Jay Malone of Gaming Trend said the special teams alterations were “possibly the most useful” changes because it is no guarantee every single kick will automatically be good, and there is “an actual chance at blocking punts or kicks.”
Malone underscored the fact Madden doesn’t need wholesale changes when discussing the special teams aspects: “As the biggest gameplay shift, it shows the lack of evolution from Madden NFL 16 to 17. But in all honesty, no evolution was needed this go-around.”
Arguably the biggest change for the entire franchise was the introduction of a new commentator team instead of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Madden 17 uses Charles Davis and Brandon Gaudin, and it is a definitive upgrade to the franchise.
Malone noted EA Sports had the two new announcers record plenty of actual back-and-forth dialogue and anecdotes this year and said “the result is the best commentary a Madden game has had since Madden himself was in the booth.”
Wiedey praised the chemistry between Gaudin and Davis and pointed out there are plans in place to bring them back into the studio to regularly record new audio throughout the season so the commentary doesn't become stale and outdated.
The commentary isn’t the only upgrade outside of gameplay. Gamers can set season expectations heading into a new campaign (read: win totals, etc. if you are a coach), which gives the game a real-life feel. The rebuilding Tennessee Titans shouldn’t be held to the same standards as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and they aren’t with this new feature.
Gamers can also meet those expectations with more efficiency with the Play the Moment feature. Miguel Concepcion of GameSpot said it “can turn a game into a 15-minute compilation of playable highlights” that allows users to play just the marquee moments of a contest, such as red-zone trips and critical third downs.
Madden 17 isn’t perfect, however, and Malone singled out issues with going through the Dynasty Mode as an individual player and the training system in Franchise Mode as two areas that could use some work.
In theory, training with specific plays tailored to beat your upcoming opponent is a smart touch, but it boils down to running the same play a number of times in a row. Malone summarized things when he said, “It’s admirable that EA has paid so much attention to training, but it’s time to throw in the towel and realize that practice is never fun.”
As for the Dynasty Mode with a single player, Madden simply can’t match its counterparts such as NBA 2K and MLB The Show in that area. Malone said, “It’s disheartening to see so little attention paid to what could be the most personal mode in the game” in an area that hasn’t been addressed to the same extent as others.
There aren’t any enormous changes in Madden 17 from its previous counterparts, and that is not a bad thing at all. This is a widely successful gaming franchise that mirrors reality as much as can be expected for a football simulation.
Play the Moment brings immediate excitement for users, setting the expectations as a coach means it isn’t always Super Bowl or bust if you are a Cleveland Browns fan and the graphics are lifelike enough for teams and players to take notice:
@EAMaddenNFL graphics are right on pic.twitter.com/ExAT54sxEX— Damarious Randall (@RandallTime) August 20, 2016
Wiedey summarized this year’s edition when he said, “The developers stuck with the progress they made in recent years—aspects hardcore football fans appreciate like penalties and accuracy mattering for quarterbacks—while adding an element of unpredictability that makes the game feel much more like the actual sport.”
Madden 17 is a successful and enjoyable version of the popular franchise and one that will give football fans their fill of pigskin action until the regular season starts on Sept. 8.