The clock ticks down to the last twenty seconds of Super Bowl LI. My team, the Carolina Panthers are currently drawn with the Cincinnati Bengals at 0-0. The commentators announce that this is the first time in history that a Super Bowl has gone into overtime. I can only assume it’s also the first Super Bowl to remain scoreless at the end of regulation playing time. Unfortunately for me, the Bengals are looking to end this stalemate with a 30 yard field goal attempt. As the ball leaves the boot of their placekicker – I make a frantic scramble for the rising ball and somehow manage to smother the kick. As a result of this block, the ball ends up in the hands of my fullback, Mike Tolbert aka ‘Fat Boy’. As Tolbert waddles towards the end zone as fast as he can – commentator Brandon Gaudin poses the question “Does the big guy have enough to bring it home?” Thankfully, Tolbert was able to bring it home in what was a hilarious end to my road to glory. An adrenaline fuelled road that was marred with technical issues and plenty of incomplete passes.
With the release of Madden NFL 17, EA Sports have managed to perfect the juxtapositional balance of remaining true to the intricacies of the sport while still keeping it universally accessible. With a dedicated focus on educating players about every facet of the game – Madden gives players every tool necessary to enable them to become the player they want to be.These skills can be put to the test via such outlets as Madden’s marquee modes – Franchise and Ultimate Team.
As per previous iterations, Franchise mode provides a single-player campaign that allows you to coach and manage a team over several seasons. For a game that provides such a myriad of choice in every aspect, the amount of effort that has been put in to allow a player to blitz through a season is astonishing. Don’t know which players to sign? Madden will suggest some for you. Don’t know which players to focus train? Madden will pick for you. Want to only play attack and simulate playing defense? Madden will let you do that. It’s a self-aware component of Franchise mode that recognises that there are some people who don’t necessarily enjoy everything gridiron has to offer. This air of efficiency also permeates the games you play, as you can now skip in-game cinematics and get straight into picking your next play.
The epitome of this efficiency is Madden’s new mode of play called Play the Moments. This mode allows you to simulate the majority of playing time, only requiring you to take control of what Madden considers the crucial moments of a game. Simulation in Play the Moments can feel like a risky endeavour at times, however, having the ability to jump in whenever a simulation starts to go a bit awry negates any major risks.I personally did not utilise the simulation function that often as I found the grandiose theatricality of Madden’s presentation utterly compelling. From players posturing into the camera after a successful play to the meta-humour provided by commentators, Madden possesses a tongue-in-cheek brashness that I personally didn’t expect from a title about what is essentially a testosterone-laden sport.
As is tradition in any modern EA Sports title, the card collecting madness of Ultimate Team returns in Madden NFL 17. Fortunately, if microtransactions aren’t your thing, you have the option of completing solo challenges. These challenges not only reward you with new cards but also, the satisfaction of knowing you didn’t have to pay a cent for them.
In the past few years, Madden’s presentation and gameplay has consistently been the benchmark for sport video games. This year’s iteration continues to build on these previous successes with tweaked gameplay mechanics and improved player animations. Most noticeably is the improvements to the running game and the noticeable distinction between each individual player and how they control. How a player interacts with the ball and the space around them is remarkably indicative of their overall skill level. Madden NFL 17 is fast, fluid and full of play-by-play panache.
That’s not to say that Madden doesn’t have any shortcomings. My favourite mode of the game, Franchise, was also the most problematic. When starting a franchise, you’re given the option of saving offline or on the cloud. Saving on the cloud allows for faster simulation and the ability to access your saved game on consoles that have Madden 17 installed on it. After selecting the cloud option, I encountered a couple of problems. Several times while playing, I was disconnected mid-game due to the EA servers going down. As Franchise is a single-player mode, the requirement of needing to be connected at all times was immensely frustrating. The worst cloud related problem I encountered was when it rendered my franchise mode unplayable. After playing two games in my first season, every time I attempted to start the next game, the game froze on the loading screen. I tried to load the same game over ten times to no avail. These multiple attempts eventually culminated in the game crashing – a first for me with a Playstation 4 game. I fixed the problem by starting a new Franchise mode and selecting the save offline option. For a game with Madden’s polish, to encounter this many problems was really surprising.
Along with these bugs, some of the loading times in Madden are quite long. The long loading times seem to be most prevalent in the Ultimate Team and Franchise modes. Most noticeable is the loading time it takes between starting a game and actually playing it. On average this took two to three minutes. With the loading times as long as they are, some skill challenges to pass the time like the FIFA series offers would have been nice. Instead, I used this time to clean my room. So mum if you happen to be reading this, you can thank Madden for that.
By focusing on improving the minute that matters on and off the field – EA Tiburon have created an experience that is a phenomenal triumph. Even with all the problems I encountered while playing, the balance of accessibility and depth the game provides may make Madden NFL 17 the best game the series has ever produced.
The PS4 version was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.