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The new generation of consoles has been kind to Madden. While the PS4 and Xbox One version of last fall’s Madden NFL 25 only features slightly upgraded visuals from its last-gen counterparts, its significant gameplay improvements won over hardened football fans. Less than a year later, Madden 15 arrives as a more ambitious effort. There are significant modifications in key areas--analytic data and play-calling among them--that bring a more modern feel to Madden even though they border on information overload. An impressively spruced-up presentation combined with further refinements of the core gameplay results in steady progress for the better--and a really fun game of football most of the time.
Analytics are all the rage in real-world sports these days, and Madden 15 delivers them in a big way. Information is presented to you in real time, and much of it takes place as you’re walking towards the line of scrimmage. A nifty right stick-driven analysis module allows you to judge matchups and check tendencies before you snap the ball, giving you actionable data about potential success points or risky choices. If the right side of your line is struggling to block an overpowering defensive lineman, you’ll know this immediately and can make adjustments; conversely, if your slot receiver has a big speed advantage against a defender, you can tinker with his route and exploit that weakness. Even if you’re just observing, the coaching tool becomes a go-to feature every play. The effect is immediate and positive, as you learn to make sense of what’s presented then employ tactics based on the feedback.
When the whistle is blown, Madden serves up the plays called by the offense and defense so you can determine what worked or failed. This information may seem trivial, but it's vitally important to players yearning to understand how to be more successful. It puts powerful information in your hands; if your opponent is calling the same few defensive plays over and over again, you’ll know and can then plot a counter-attack. Opponent strategies are laid bare--just as they are to observant coaches in the real-world NFL--and your success ultimately comes down to your ability to call the right plays and executing them properly.
Longtime Madden veterans definitely have their work cut out for them in the play-calling department, as the new menu system for selecting your personnel and strategy takes some time to process, especially when analytics are served up at the same time. Madden is more intent than ever on making play recommendations, and now that it backs them up with quantitative reasons for its suggestions, it feels like you’re the head coach watching an offensive or defensive coordinator sending in the plays. It’s very easy let Madden pick every play for you, and veterans of the series may resent the need to do more work to drill down into formations and specific calls. Conversely, newcomers are given a much clearer idea of what may be a good idea to run and why. Regardless, the navigation here is a drastic change from a decade-old template. It's easy to read because the visuals are extremely large and in your face, but a more toned-down approach would have made the system feel less busy.
Offensive tempo is another big part of modern football, and the most welcome improvement to play-calling comes in the form of new settings that let you tweak the pace of your games. Madden NFL 15 features two Tempo toggles--‘No Huddle’ and ‘Chew Clock’ (in addition to the default of ‘Normal’). ‘No Huddle’ makes your offense get to the line quickly and forces the defense to do the same, while ‘Chew Clock’ automatically brings the play clock down to 10 seconds as you break the huddle. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to both settings. If you go no huddle and speed up the pace, you can wear down defenses and catch them off guard. However, you can’t change your personnel while doing so, and are limited in the variety of plays you can call. On the other hand, chewing the clock eliminates those awkward late-game “just standing around to kill time” moments everyone hates. The downside is the defense gets time to rest and there are precious few seconds to make any adjustments. These nifty additions are easy to turn on and off as the situation changes, and add a good deal of strategy to every drive.
Of course, analytics and play-calling improvements aren’t worth much if the core gameplay doesn't hold its own. Fortunately, Madden builds on its new-gen debut. The offensive and defensive line play continues to improve, as your ability to find running lanes and hit them feels true-to-life. Momentum and physics prevent your ability to slash and cut into holes as quickly as you may like, but they resemble how real players move and react. Running up the middle seems a bit easier this season, and it’s definitely tougher to net those big yards on outside tosses and stretch runs.
Passing remains a challenge, however. Interceptions are still too prevalent, especially in some one-on-one situations where receivers don't fight for the ball and corners have too much of an advantage. This can be counterbalanced, of course; it just takes practice and impeccable timing to consistently complete throws. There are times when you’ll swear you made the pass at the right moment to an open receiver only to be foiled by a linebacker or defensive back. Simply put, Madden gives no quarter to sloppy passes--you will be punished for mistakes.
When you take a step back from the field, it’s easy to spot some nice improvements to the overall presentation as well. Madden 15 looks and sounds better in every way, from the opening montages to the television-style stat graphics to the cutaways of coaches and individual players. Stadiums have been upgraded too, incorporating much better jumbotrons that finally replace the outdated ones Madden has been saddled with for years. The player models are noticeably improved, and many stars are immediately recognizable in the way that they run or throw. Stadium crowds are more alive, and the lack of in-game cutscenes in favor of showing the action “live” is a breath of fresh air.
The heart of Madden remains its Connected Franchise Mode, where you and your friends can be a player, coach, or owner. While little has changed at the high level from the past couple of seasons, there are dozens of nuanced modifications that longtime fans will notice--for better or worse. The most drastic is the elimination of Practice in favor of a Game Plan, a feature that allows you to target various metrics such as Confidence to improve player attributes and increase XP. Its implementation is a bit clunky--the menus don’t make it readily apparent how influential your decisions are, and you’re never quite sure if you’ve completed your tasks for the week--and the overall results are difficult to measure. On the plus side, things happening around the league (such as your team’s upcoming schedule) are referenced on-screen more often during games, adding desperately needed context to your experience. Overall, Connected Franchise Mode remains a deep mode for players online and off; every major sports game should have similar experiences.
Naturally, the revenue-generating Ultimate Team mode--a combination of fantasy football and card collecting that lets you take a custom-built team online against other players--gets more attention every year. This season, it’s evident EA wants to bring in as many players as possible. Menus have been dramatically simplified, and there are less “walls” around the various aspects of the mode. Newcomers to the mode are given better tools to navigate, while veterans will appreciate the consolidation of actions.
Madden NFL 15 does a lot of things right. The overall presentation makes a nice leap from last year’s new-gen debut, and while longtime players may have some challenges with new play-calling options, the analytical data at your fingertips is a welcome addition. Connected Franchise Mode offers deep experiences for every kind of player, and the core gameplay continues to improve. Despite its challenging passing game and sometimes-clunky menus, Madden NFL 15 will make fans happy this football season.
A new coat of paint, a ton of actionable analytic data, solid improvement in the trenches, and the extension of two popular modes makes Madden NFL 15 a winner.
This game was reviewed on PS4.
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