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EGM Review: Madden NFL 15

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Posted on August 21, 2014 AT 12:01am

A playoff contender—but not quite championship caliber

Much like how Punxsutawney Phil supposedly predicts the coming of spring each Groundhog Day, Madden can set the tone for the coming months when it pops up at the end of each August. Football fans look to the rankings to see how their team stacks up around the NFL, and gamers hope a strong showing will get the busiest season of the year off on the right foot. Of course, this isn’t always the case—especially considering the difficulties the franchise faces as an annual title. But this year’s entry, Madden NFL 15, hopes to not just signify the end of the summer gaming drought but kick off the final major gaming quarter of the year with a bang.

EA Tiburon touted a bevy of new features, tweaks to existing options, and various upgrades in the months leading up to this release. It seems they wanted to prove to gamers that they could make big strides in a single year of a Madden development cycle instead of the incremental changes we’ve seen in years past. And while some improvements definitely help the developer make a run at this lofty goal, enough stumbles on that path keep Madden NFL 15 from being a true football fanatic’s dream.

Since the gameplay—especially on the defensive side of the ball—was the primary focus for this year’s game, I’ll start there. The new defensive-line dynamics now allow players to jump snap counts, choose if they want to use finesse or a power move to get to the QB with a single, well-time button press, or even shed blockers to make the big hit on the running back trying to scoot by off tackle. As someone who primarily plays on the defensive line, this was a welcome leap forward: With a few quick button taps, I got past my blocker—or occasionally, admittedly, I fell flat on my face. But more importantly, I knew why my actions did or didn’t work. The responsiveness, combined with the simplicity, reignited my passion for being in the trenches.

Unfortunately, not everything on defense was such a hit. While I usually play on the D-line, sometimes I like to go into the secondary depending on the down, distance, and my play-call. I’m no Richard Sherman by any means, but I can hold my own back there, and I’ve had my fair share of user picks over the years. The Ball Hawk feature was supposed to have made a big step forward this year, and in some regards, it has. It’s never been easier to pick up the ball as it leaves the QB’s hand and make a play on it. But for some reason, even when I played a pass perfectly, my cornerbacks kept dropping the ball. I kept track, and even if I leaped at the perfect moment to catch a pass at its apex, trained my defensive backs so that their catching abilities were in the 90s, and read the receiver’s route from the get-go, I’d still only make the interception about 10 percent of the time and while, yes, a fair amount of DBs are just failed receivers, these are still unrealistic numbers. For as much as I loved playing on the defensive line, I couldn’t stand playing in the secondary—it felt unrewarding for no good reason.

Now, some might rebut that by noting that if I picked off those passes every time, I’d set new records for interceptions in a year. This is true. But I more than doubled the all-time single-season sack record while playing on the defensive line (with the horrible Damontre Moore of the New York Giants, no less!). So, if the game is purposely trying to keep my numbers in realistic realms in the secondary, it should do the same on the defensive line.

The other defense element that irked me? The new tackle cone. You’d think after the Madden 06 debacle with QB vision, that would be the last we ever saw a vision cone in the series. Even more so than back then, I found it distracting more than helpful, but I’ve also been playing Madden for 20 years now—and I’d hope that in all that time, I’d know how to make a tackle. At least this feature is only optional, however, and I can see the potential of how it could help Madden newcomers who are just trying to learn the ins and outs of the sport.

You’ll find fewer tweaks on offense, but the big difference this year revolves around QB accuracy. Thankfully, this is another winning addition for the Madden folks. Not only are QBs a lot more realistic when it comes to throws on the run (and their corresponding accuracy), but the new pass-catching animations will have you sharing a lot of clips with your buddies. One-handed grabs in the back of the end zone, stretches over the sideline while standing on tiptoes, and sliding grabs across the middle are now a lot more commonplace depending on how off your quarterback is, and these new spectacular grabs were definitely a welcome sight.

Besides the gameplay, Madden NFL 15 tries its best to help players learn the game of football, starting with the very basics. If you want to jump right in, new community playbook options offer the popular choice in different situations and give you a third opinion besides your own and the AI on what play to run. Also, Skills Trainer has seen a huge shift this year. Whether it’s teaching you the very definition of a Cover 2 versus a Cover 3 or when and where to blitz, Skills Trainer now feels like the perfect program not only to teach you about Madden, but also about football itself. The Gauntlet mode in Skills Trainer is a fun way to implement everything you learn with creative minigames, such as trying to use your blockers to avoid 10 would-be tacklers or kicking a 100-yard field goal in hurricane-force winds.

Another new feature comes in the Connected Franchise mode. Rather than the “hot/cold” system of previous years, players on your Franchise Mode team now have a “confidence” meter that can impact their on-field exploits. If an athlete who’s rated a 75 is playing really well and the team is on a winning streak, he may perform like an 80. And If he’s playing horribly and the team is on a losing streak, he might slip down to a rank around 70. I liked this idea a lot, but the game did a horrible job of explaining it in a one-minute Trey Wingo-narrated video at the start of the mode. From week to week, you can work on your confidence or on your player as a whole. There are only so many “hours” in a week, though, that you can use for training. It took me a long time to realize how important confidence really was and that I needed to spend as much time working on that as I did building up my receivers’ route-running abilities and my D-line’s block-shedding skills. The game really does a poor job laying everything out here.

And speaking of laying things out, the user interface is still a cluttered mess. I really wish they’d clean up the menu navigation so that I’m not constantly searching for the different modes on the front screen or for particular pages inside each mode. The worst in terms of user interface may be Madden Ultimate Team. The mode itself is better than ever, with hundreds of solo challenges for those who don’t want to play online, and a new team-specialty system that gives you bonuses based on what you want your team to excel in (for example, a “ground-and-pound” team will see bonuses in offensive line and running back performance), but getting around in Ultimate Team is a joke.

While on that subject, I did go online for a few matches, and everything seemed to be in tip-top shape. Of course, there were only a couple dozen people online, so we won’t see how the online play really handles until the servers are inundated with thousands more people.

My only other issue with Madden NFL 15—and this is something I hope gets patched—is the bevy of immersion-breaking glitches. There aren’t as many as in previous years, but you’ll still get your fair share of animation problems and audio issues. Some of my favorites this year include the player lying on the field who starts to spasm randomly like he’s having a seizure; the player who, when he trips over someone else, stiffens up like he’s been shot and slowly falls to the ground; and the receiver who never stops running when he gets out of bounds and endlessly rubs against the challenge review booth on the sideline. And there are just as many audio snafus as there are visual ones, like when the sideline reporter says your receiver will miss the rest of the season with an injury, only to find out after the game it’s only a 4-week injury, or when Jim Nantz says you have the least amount of interceptions in the league, when, in fact, you have the most (I’m playing with Eli Manning here—can you blame me?!). And if I have to hear Phil Simms crack the same lame joke about Jim Nantz’s golf game one more time, I’m going to start smashing some speakers around here.

Despite all this, however, Madden NFL 15 is still more of a step forward for the franchise than a step back. I’m glad to see EA Tiburon is trying to do more every year than just giving the game a roster update, and they’re putting real effort into the yearly adjustments with the franchise. It’s just regrettable that some of the changes they’ve made here clearly need to go back to the Xs and Os on the drawing board.

Developer: EA Tiburon • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 08.26.14
7.5
New defensive-line play and more defining accuracy with QBs highlight some of the many changes this year’s Madden brings to the table. Unfortunately, not all the other tweaks are nearly as successful.
The Good Revamped presentation and new defensive-line play work wonderfully and are highlights amongst this year’s changes.
The Bad Enough glitches and AI lapses to break immersion—and occasionally bring about my ire.
The Ugly Annihilating EGM freelancer extraordinaire Jason Fanelli online 31-14 and 52-7 while testing out multiplayer. Poor dude never saw it coming.
Madden NFL 15 is available on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review.
Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor
Ray Carsillo has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course! Follow Ray’s exploits on Twitter: @RayCarsillo. Meet the rest of the crew.

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