It’s that time. Madden NFL 17 is here and with it the official (in my own head at least) start of the video game season. After a couple of truly stellar releases from the guys and gals down in Orlando, we have this year’s release of Madden promising a better running game, improved defense, and a feature rich franchise mode. After over twenty hours of game time, I’ve got some thoughts and I’d love to share them with you.
The short of Madden NFL 17 is that it remains an incredible game of football. I’ve used some lofty terms to describe the last two years of Madden games. For me Madden NFL 15 was a return to form for the series, and I loved what they continued to do last year with Madden NFL 16. Not only did EA Tiburon focus on the in-game moment to moment gameplay but they also improved the modes that surrounded them. I spent more time with Madden NFL 16 then any Madden game in the last decade. Madden NFL 17 opens like the past couple of games with an opening cinematic experience in the guise of a football game. This years is by far the most ludicrous playoff match up imaginable, with the LA Rams facing off against the Washington Redskins, a playoff paring almost impossible outside of the confines of Madden NFL 17.
For me Madden NFL 17 is not a step backward for the series but a very small step forward. The most noticeable thing any Madden player will notice, whether casual or hardcore, are the running mechanics. Madden NFL 16 focused on the passing game, and this year it’s all about going between the tackles and breaking for big runs. The big improvement here is that you now have more direction on lower difficulties for how and when to run through the tackles and also a button prompt for trying to break-free. It’s not something that you will hit every time but when you do its glorious. The series continues to get better at teaching you too. Madden NFL 17 has more drills and more tutorials to help you become better at playing the game. As someone who plays a very conservative game of Madden, the focus on improving the run-game was huge for my success, and the tutorials go along way to allow both casual and more seasoned fans to get better at running the ball. It's a nice and needed addition that brings some balance to the offense in Madden.
The one area that has desperately needed help is the defensive side of the ball and there are some slight improvements here. More than anything, calling the right play for the situation is huge. The computer AI is far better at picking your defense apart, but so too is the defensive side in defending a poorly chosen offensive play. I found that receivers were better covered and runs were stopped like you would expect when the right play is called. I felt more in control with the action on the defensive side then I have before. But I still think EA is missing something. Like the NFL, Madden NFL 17 favors the offensive side of the ball. There were times I would call the right play and would have a 2 on 1 with a receiver down field and more times than not the receiver would end up with it.
Neither of these improvements changes the game on the field that much, leaving Madden feeling like a very familiar game when compared to years past. While I still think it is a top notch re-creation of the action on Sundays, there are still some wonky elements. There are times when the animation will chug towards the sidelines, or tackles look like something from a bad science fiction movie. But for 99% of the time, the game runs and plays beautifully. I wouldn’t be surprised, now that they are several years into using this Ignite engine, that like its FIFA brethren, Madden moves to the Frostbite engine next year. Just something I started to feel the more I played Madden last year and continued to see in this years release. It might be nice for a fresh coat of paint.
Although the running game and franchise mode were the two big bullet points for this years Madden, they weren't the two things I took away from the experience. The first is the new commentating team. Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis call the games and are a marked improvement over Phil Simms and Jim Nantz. Brandon and Charles are just better at calling the game on the field. They are more accurate, more entertaining, and their delivery feels fresh. It’s not up to the standards of NBA 2K but it’s darn close. The team does plan on recording new commentary throughout the season to try and keep the game as fresh as possible. I will say that, at least so far, I love what they’re doing and embrace the change. After loathing every Phil Simms comment, the new team provides a nice balance and flow to the experience that the franchise desperately needed.
The other big change comes in the franchise mode, which in its own right got a huge overhaul this year, which shifts to allow the ability to play only offense, only defense, or just play the highlights of a game. Similar to what we’ve seen in Sony’s MLB The Show, they are trying to streamline the experience letting you play more games in a shorter amount of time. There were a couple of times that I wanted to sit down for a game of Madden but didn't have the hour to devote to a game, so instead I would jump into the highlights and play whenever things got interesting. Not everyone is going to want or need this, but for me, the option is huge and really improved my enjoyment with the game.
The other highlights of the new franchise mode are the increased control over the progression of your team. There are two practices you can run before every game, one on each side of the ball. These are short yet enjoyable practices that help gain experience for your team. You also have more control over what you’re team is doing in negotiating salaries, signing players, and picking up free agents or trades. The entire system has been given more options without over complicating things. It’s an extensive RPG within a sports game, and fans of franchise mode (like myself) are going to eat it up.
One of the major disappointments I had with Madden NFL 17 was the lack of updates for last years new mode, Draft Champions. This is a brilliant mode and one that takes fantasy sports and brings it into a bite size chunk in the game of Madden. Outside of Franchise mode, I spent the most time in this mode last year and was disappointed to see its all but unchanged from last years game.
Madden NFL 17 is an incredible game of football, however it feels like the safest step forward in a while. The improvements are good, but not earthshaking. It’s the first release in a while that I actually have to think about whether or not it’s worth an upgrade from last year’s game. If franchise is a big deal for you I think this is a must have upgrade, otherwise I don’t think there’s enough here to have to run out and get this year’s game at launch. Maybe wait until Brady is allowed back on the field and then it might be worth picking the game up.
I'm the Owner & Editor in Chief of Darkstation.com. After spending seven years as the reviews editor I took over the site in 2010. The rest is history. Now I work with our amazing staff to bring you the best possible video game coverage. Oh and I really like sports games.