In preparation for sitting down to write this review, I went back and read some of my reviews of past Madden games. I’ve reviewed a lot of them. One takeaway I had was that late into the Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 era the games began to focus on a key new feature while keeping much of the game unchanged. The on the field football was always impressive but the changes from year to year started to get smaller and smaller. Going into Madden NFL 16 I had that same feeling. The new features didn’t sound on paper like huge shifts for the franchise. It didn't appear from my perspective that the game was going to be able to live up to the great improvements that were made in Madden NFL 15.
Luckily just like in football, the game isn't played on paper and what sounded like a standard release turned out to be a truly fantastic game. Let’s start with the new mode Draft Champions. It's part Fantasy Football, part tried and true Fantasy Draft featured in past Madden franchise modes. Basically the setup is you’re going to take part in a fifteen round draft. You start by having three random coaches pop up to choose from. After that it will fill in players based on your coach’s style with the mid and low tier players. Then you will go through fifteen rounds of drafting. Each round will give you three choices of players and often times of three different positions. You won’t know what positions are coming up next and won't be able to go back and change picks from previous rounds. For example, I picked up Cam Newton in my first round of my first Draft Champions and ended up passing on John Elway in round fifteen to fill another hole in my lineup. And yes by the way, not only will you be able to draft current players but also some of the greats from the past.
You then take that drafted team and bring it into a short tournament. In this tournament you will have to win three games against the computer or four against live individuals. This is where my one big gripe comes into this fantastic mode. Why can’t you just do this for one game? Why the tournament? I like the idea of the tournament and think it’s a fun dynamic but it's more fun to keep drafting new teams and trying different strategies. I found that having a good running back and wide receiver was more important then drafting Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but that's just my playstyle and may differ for you. What this mode does so well though, is capture my favorite part of fantasy football, the draft, in a nice bit sized chunk that I enjoyed far more then I thought I would. I think I’ve drafted nearly 100 teams at this point.
The other big change to this year’s game is on the field. In fact, there’s a number of big changes on the field. The first one and probably most noticeable one to anyone who’s watched any Madden NFL 16 coverage is the improved presentation. From the menu’s (which are the best of any sports game) to the in-game stats and presentation the game just looks slick. It keeps with what worked in last years’ game and adds more bells and whistles to the experience. One of those is the new throwing and catching mechanics. As the quarterback you’ve had the ability to throw different speeds of passes and even direct a pass. However, this year the mechanic to throw the ball up for your bigger receivers is a huge addition. Throwing a nice fade route in the back of the end zone is incredibly satisfying.
That’s in part thanks to the ability to throw it up but also because of the new receiving mechanics. Once the ball is in the air you have three options for your receiver to attempt to catch the ball. You have an aggressive catch (risky but will make for a great highlight), run after the catch (as it sounds) and possession catch (for those tight throws where you need the yards). It adds a huge level of strategy and choosing which catch to use at which time. Needing a first down badly? Probably will want to use the possession catch. Throwing a screen pass? You’ll want to hit the run after catch button to set up your running back for yards after the catch. Throwing one up deep in the end zone? You’re best best is to hit an aggressive catch. It seems simple but it’s another thing to worry about on the offensive side of the ball.
EA Tiburon did two really smart things with this addition. First they gave the same ability on the defensive side of the ball. If you’re playing as the cornerback or safety you have the ability to choose between a couple different options for how aggressive you want to be in defending against the pass. The other smart change was to slow the game down. Movement feels a hair slower then the past few games. This allows for more time to make cuts as a running back, decide who to throw it to as a quarterback, and how to catch it as a wide receiver. It was a necessary change with these new features and one that I really enjoyed.
Finally the new feature you probably haven’t heard about but ranks as my favorite feature of the year is the Connected Franchise mode. If you’ve played the career modes in games like NBA 2K or MLB The Show you will know that each game, there are goals for your player to complete to earn XP. EA has taken that idea and put it in the franchise mode. Now at each change of possession, game, season and career have goals. Your QB might have a goal on the first drive to make three straight completions. He might also have a goal for the game to throw three touchdowns. He might have a goal for the season to throw for 3,000 yards. And finally he might have a goal for his career to throw 60 touchdowns. These goals are all over the place and the game constantly is updating how your progressing on all of them. It sounds overwhelming but it’s a lot of fun. It keeps you engaged on each play and on each player on the field. It’s basically just an RPG Sports game mode at this point and I absolutely loved it. There are +1 XP bubbles on players heads all the time. It's pretty great.
Unfortunately, like any game of Madden before it, this game is not without some faults. I probably sound like a broken record at this point but Phil Simms and Jim Nantz are not great in the commentary booth. The good news is there is a ton of new dialogue for this year’s game so at least for the first dozen games or so you won't be hearing the tried and true commentary of the past couple of years. The bad news is that it's still is hard to listen to. I actually enjoy the duo in real life but in the game, their commentary comes off as flat and uninspired. There's no fluidity. If you play a game like NBA 2K it always feels like there are real life commentators calling the game. In Madden NFL 16 it still feels like the time between them calling the game and the action on filed is to big. Not to mention some of the things they say still make me slap my head in confusion. What do you mean that was a bad idea? I just got a first down. That sort of thing.
There were also some small technical issues I ran into. A couple of times players would get stuck in an animation. It happened to me specifically on kickoff or punt returns. Not every time maybe like four or five times in total in probably 50+ games of Madden over the last week. There also is still the issue of the game not understanding the challenges on the field. I had a couple of times where I would throw the challenge flag for a catch made in or out of bounds and even when the official would overturn the call on the field the game wouldn’t make the change. The commentators would even comment that it was a good challenge, but the game didn't react accordingly.
At the end of the day, my minor gripes with the game are far outweighed by what is a fantastic game of football. The additions to Madden NFL 16 are superb. Draft Champions has changed the game. It’s an addicting new mode that I really hope to see continue to develop and morph in future games. And let’s face it EA Tiburon has been doing a bang up job on the field. Madden has never played better. The game is smooth, strategic, and a lot of fun. If you slept on last years’ game or are just ready for some football, Madden NFL 16 is another great entry into the series.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.