The “Madden” franchise will outlive us all.
In the (hopefully) distant future, I will be lying on my deathbed. As things begin to grow dim, my favorite grandson will come over – the only one who braved the Bengay smell to visit me in the home every week – and ask questions like, “What was life like before ‘Halo?’ ” I will tell him, “Mathias, the time has come. I want you to take over my New England Patriots franchise in “Madden NFL 77.” I know you will run it as I have. Make sure to keep Tom Brady III away from the air pumps. Lessons learned through history ought not to be repeated.”
I finally review a game fit for all ages, and I have to open with a morbid introduction like that. I am the worst.
“Madden NFL 17” is the 28th annual installment in EA Sports’ football giant, and it may be the most polished game released this year. I had an extra week to check it out, given I spent last week reviewing “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided,” and I did not find a single bug or presentation issue.
The physics are better than ever. For years, tackling was a major weakness for the franchise. Bodies would contort or merge during the physical clashes, often yielding hilarious and cartoon-like results. That has been cleaned up entirely. The players behave like real people. When a running back lowers his head and plows through a defender, the force of the blow jolts him back momentarily. Little differences like that add up to form a remarkably authentic finished product.
The visuals are solid, as they always are. Like many sports games, star players’ likenesses are mirror images, but undrafted rookies look – less impressive. The new commentary team – Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis – freshens the audio. The franchise was named for a great commentator, but that area had also fallen off in recent years.
“John Madden Football” released on the Commodore 64, Apple II and other hilariously old computers in 1988.
This year’s gridiron offering looks and feels great, but is it one of the greats? Is this a first-ballot Hall of Fame “Madden” game?
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed it profusely. Fellow football fans will love it. But innovation is an important part of all sports franchises.
Sports games are unique in that they cover virtually identical topics each year. Baseball, football and basketball are the same each year. This doesn’t give developers a lot of freedom, so they make their mark through new modes. About a decade ago, the “control one player from his rookie year to his retirement” modes grew to prominence. In the past few years, the “collect past and present player cards to create an ultimate online team” modes have grown in popularity – though I am not so sure that players love them so much as publishers, who can continue to soak up money through the micro-transactions this particular mode features.
The point is, great sports games gives us a little something more by way of new modes. I remember “Madden NFL 06” as one of the all-time greats because it gave us Superstar Mode, the first time the franchise allowed us to create and control one player.
“Madden NFL 17” doesn’t offer much in the way of new content. It tightens some loose screws, which I definitely appreciate, but it doesn’t deliver that “Wow, how did they think of this? This is really fun!” moment.
“Madden” swallowed up the “ESPN 2K” franchise after successfully securing exclusive rights to NFL team and player likenesses.
The upgraded presentation also had what I believe to be an unexpected consequence: It dulled the game’s realism.
The loud, energetic commentary and dozens of camera angle changes create a very TV-like feel. And that’s great in a lot of ways. It definitely makes “Madden NFL 17” a game that will stop nongamer spouses in their tracks, as they may not immediately know whether you are watching a game or playing it.
But a major part of “Madden” – especially the go-to Franchise Mode – has always been putting the player on the field, not in the broadcast booth. We should feel like we are actually playing in an NFL game. When I play quarterback, I don’t necessarily want a massive field of vision where I can see 21 other players at all times. I should have to look to different parts of the field to find open receivers. I should get blindsided by a 300-pound defensive lineman every now and then.
Previous “Madden” games didn’t include commentary during the Superstar Mode, which has now been engulfed by Franchise Mode. You only heard what players heard: cheers, the yelling of their compatriots, heavy breathing. The old “ESPN 2K” football games – may they rest in peace – included a totally first-person mode. That may be a little extreme, but it might not be a bad way to shake things up.
“Madden NFL 17” is a beautiful, robust game worthy of your time. But in order to reach perfection, it may want to follow the timeless EA Sports adage and get us a little more “in the game.”
Madden NFL 17
Video Game Review
▪ Rated everyone.
▪ Developer: EA Tiburon
▪ Publisher: EA Sports
▪ Out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360