It's hard to believe that 2015 marks the 26th annual installment of EA Sports' Madden series.
I know that I had "Madden 99," which means this is at least my 16th trip to the digital gridiron. That thought alone makes me feel as old as a 26-year-old can feel.
"Madden NFL 15" is like a great reunion with an old high school friend. You've changed a lot since high school, and you want different things. However, the rendezvous gives you that warm feeling of nostalgia that can only come from an old friend.
"Madden 15" is the best Madden title in 10 years. It stumbles in a few minor areas, but everything paramount to a great football gaming experience is there.
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The first thing I noticed about "Madden 15" was the graphics. The visuals are incredibly realistic and worthy of that coveted "next-gen" tag.
The way these striking players interact is also improved. The series struggled for years to accurately portray the physical aspects of football. With 22 guys moving around the field at one time, the difficulty in animating each individual's relationship with other players and the environment is considerable. I played "Madden 15" for over 40 hours on the PlayStation 4, and I noticed only a few occasions where a digital player or players did something counter to the laws of physics. (EA Sports provided The Fresno Bee with a retail PS4 copy of "Madden 15" for review.)
The customization options are also off the chart. Players can customize their own leagues in whatever way they see fit. Want to control one particular player on a team? Done. Several players on several teams? Done. One player, one coach and one owner from three different teams? Done. These leagues can be online or offline and can also include whatever rule changes you desire, such as fantasy drafts.
This year's madden features two new key features: upgraded defense and improved quarterback realism.
The defense features are fantastic. Players must now press a button during the tackling window (your player is close enough to the ball carrier to make the hit) in order to bring them down. On PS4, X is used for a conservative tackle, square will try a more aggressive tackle and the right stick can still be used for bone-crushing big hits. Players will also follow these prompts to shed blockers, rush the quarterback and intercept the football.
These features add some dynamic color to what has been a pretty bland section of the Madden series for years. Although half the players in the NFL are on defense, they've typically received only a fraction of the love showered on offensive players in football games. I enjoyed playing middle linebacker in "Madden 15" as much as running back.
The quarterback realism tweak seems minor at first, but it plays a big difference. "Madden 15" pays close attention to a quarterback's accuracy attributes. Quarterbacks with low accuracy numbers will now miss wide open throws from time to time. Those with higher numbers miss less, but still miss the occasional open pass.
Previous versions have tried to do this, but the passing in "Madden 15" feels more real because of this small detail. Nobody's perfect. Tom Brady misses open throws in real life, but his avatar hardly ever did.
Every year, the computer-controlled secondaries are the worst part of Madden. This year is no different.
The corners and safeties on defense are still erratic and unrealistic. The AI-controlled players typically either wiff on the coverage completely or make an impossible play on the ball and intercept it.
I noticed this on offense and on defense. The quarterbacks on both sides racked up insane, unrealistic numbers because of the hit-or-miss coverage they faced. In more than half of the 100+ games I played on various difficulties, both QBs ended with completion percentages above 75%, which is very rare in actual football.
I also found the menu screens confusing. It's hard to manage your rosters in Connected Franchise mode or locate and change game settings.
For example, one menu section used to have both the free agent and manage roster screens. Players could release someone on one screen, then click over and sign a replacement. Now, they are in different sections. It isn't a huge deal, but it is a very unnecessary inconvenience.
I also found one persistent bug in the PS4 version of "Madden 15." Punters are all supermen. Three or four times a game, every punter in "Madden 15" will launch a kick that sails 80+ yards before hitting the ground. An NFL fan could go their whole life without ever seeing this happen once in an actual game. These crazy punts occur regardless of geographic location or wind conditions.
I'd also like to see them integrate the defensive command prompts on offense. I think receivers should have to press a button at the right time to catch the ball, not simply run to the general location it is traveling.
"Madden 15" delivers a fantastic football experience consistent with the next generation of sports gaming. Almost all of the core football elements fans desire can be found in the title. I found a few problems that subtracted from the score, but most of them are so minor that the average player won't notice.
Overall Score: 94/100