Game Reviews

Madden NFL 15 Review

Last year’s Madden 25 was the PS4 and the Xbox One’s first Madden game. It was not much more than an upscaled port of the last-gen version of the same game, and other than sharper visuals and a slightly tweaked physics system, not much differentiated the last-gen version from the current-gen version. That being said, Remote Play via the Vita was an excellent feature.

Now that these current consoles have been around for nearly a year, games are starting to look and play much better, and Madden 15 offers us a nice glimpse into the future of the franchise. While last year’s game looked good, Madden 15 is our first look into the true-type of visuals that the PS4 and Xbox One can provide…and it looks fantastic. The difference between this year’s Madden compared to last year’s Xbox One/PS4 version is staggering. Whereas last year’s game looked like nothing more than a repainted remake, this year’s title truly showcases what the new hardware is capable of. It’s even more exciting to think that developers will continue to tap into the full power of these consoles, further down the road.

The quality of the players is amazing, with significant upgrades to fabrics, textures, pads, equipment, and resemblance to the players’ true selves. The Madden development-staff visited a number of NFL teams during the offseason, this supplied them with the head scanning needed for the majority of their rosters. Not every player was scanned, but take one look at Colin Kaepernick or EJ Manuel and it is clear to see how close the character models look like their real life counterparts. The stadiums look fantastic as well, weather looks realistic (check for footprints in the snow) and in a somewhat amusing but appreciated way, the amount of confetti in the Super Bowl has been turned up to 11. It’s hard to see anything through the thick fog of falling confetti, but hey, why not use the new hardware the best way you can?

Animations still look a bit robotic at times, especially on replays, but with the upgraded visuals things don’t stick out as badly as before. Rest assured though, fans of the post-play physics shenanigans will be pleased to know that they will still run into various post-play hilarity. Overall Madden 15 is a treat for the eyes, a fact that the devs are proud if the new default camera view is any indication. The default camera is a much more zoomed in view, allowing you to see the players up close at all times (the camera can be cycled at any time depending on your preferences).

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As far as gameplay enhancements, I felt that defense saw the lion’s share of the upgrades. Madden purists may balk at the new features but truth be told, they are less cheats in this version, instead it offers new ways to make playing defense more effective. The first thing you’ll notice is that by holding down the right trigger while on defense, a tackling cone now pops up. This cone indicates your position in relation to the ballcarrier, letting you know if you are in range for a conservative tackle. If you are closer up you can make a much more aggressive tackle. On a simpler level, it let’s you know if you are even facing the ballcarrier correctly. If you feel the cone adds an unfair advantage to the defense, you can turn it off completely in the user-settings menu.

The Defensive line saw in upgrade on their moves and positioning changes. You can now jump the snap, perform power/finesse moves with face buttons and push/steer the offensive lineman once you are engaged. It’s a fun mechanic that highlights the war in the trenches in a brand-new way. Players can also cycle to a defensive camera if they choose to change things up or need a better view.

The offensive side of the ball saw fewer tweaks at face-value, as most of what has been changed is mostly hidden behind the scenes and are not actual gameplay features. QB pass variety has been given some polish and so has pass accuracy, both were given better physics and now have much more variety.

Rather than just on target or off target, there are now accuracy parameters in between. This gives QBs more varying degrees of accuracy. This serves to highlight the difference between elite QBs like Peyton Manning, and not so elite ones like Blaine Gabbert.

The play-calling screen have seen a massive overhaul as well, all with an added emphasis on data. You can still call plays based on formation and personnel packages, but you can also select plays based off strategy, community picks, or favorites.

These three methods utilize situational play calling, which attempts to emulate what coaches are faced with on gameday. Those who don’t wish to cycle through an entire playbook can now utilize these situational play calls on the fly, but if you prefer to leaf through every play you can still do so. I feel that the new layout of the play calling screen may take a bit of getting used to if you are accustomed to previous installments.

Madden 15 also brings with it the addition of pregame and halftime shows. Larry Ridley is the studio host in the game, he takes you through the upcoming matchup in the pregame show, and also recounts the action during halftime.

I may be too spoiled by the excellent halftime shows in ESPN NFL 2K5, but the Verizon Halftime Show on display here is a bit on the choppy side. It seemed stitched together and generic overall but perhaps this can be improved upon next year, and I suppose it’s nice to have it included in any form.

Skill-Trainer makes its return for those who are either new to the game of football, or seasoned vets who need a brush up on specifics. The best part of Skills Trainer is the addition of The Gauntlet, which offers forty increasingly difficult challenges to complete. This also features a sort of ‘boss battle’. It’s fun, useful and slightly ridiculous (in a good way) and the feature definitely adds a bit of spice to the Skills Trainer for the new game.

While it mostly remains the same as last year, Connected Franchise did see a few new improvements for the better, making it a much more realistic experience overall. The new Confidence stat now plays a larger part in your players’ performance week to week. Throughout the course of the season players’ confidence will will move up or down based off of their on-field performance. Other factors like trades, teammates being signed or released will also play a factor in the stats. A gain in confidence will see key-ratings increase, while a loss in confidence will have the opposite effect.

Going hand in hand with Confidence is the new Game Prep feature, which replaces the Practice feature that everyone probably skipped from previous years. Taking a cue from the Recruiting feature from the NCAA Football games, Game Prep allocates a certain number of hours to divvy between your players. You can spend time boosting a player’s confidence, running drills to improve XP, or even partake in film sessions with an entire unit. You have full control over how you wish to spend your allocated time, and who to spend it on in your roster.

Free agent bidding saw some tweaks as well this year, giving players more information on which free agents are the best fit for their team. Players can now gauge an incoming free agent’s interest based not only on salary, but also scheme-fit. Incoming draft classes are now truly random, and the rookie storylines are branching. I didn’t notice too many changes done to this mechanic, but it’s nice to see the added variety and minor updates.

Madden Ultimate Team did see some improvements this year. For newcomers to MUT, there is now a list of objectives front and center so you aren’t overwhelmed with the staggering number of choices to make. These objectives cover basics like opening a pack, selling items, placing items up for auction or other simple features that are included in the game-mode. If you complete the objectives, you receive a reward pack. So even those familiar with MUT might want to go through the list just to get some free cards.

All of your player cards are now stored in one central location, called The Binder, as opposed to scattered about in active roster screens or reserve screens in previous games. The Binder also allows you to organize your cards by position, team, style or other variables to make searching easier. Everything you need to manage your cards is done through The Binder, making item management more streamlined than before. I play MUT every single year, and even as a vet The Binder is very much appreciated and eliminates a lot of the menu-screen jumping that other Madden titles offered.

Madden 15 is a strong entry to the annual Madden franchise, and I’m happy to see the devs taking advantage of the current-gen hardware and capabilities. The game looks gorgeous and adds just enough new features to make it seem fresh, but also maintaining the same Madden core-experience that made the franchise such a hit. If you chose to skip any of the Madden titles over the past few years, this would be the year to grab a copy and get back into the franchise.