Madden NFL 17 Review: A small step forward

It’s been 12 years since EA Sports felt NFL competition in the video game market, and it’s been about the same amount of time – 11 years to be exact – since EA Sports put out a Madden NFL game that truly fresh.

With Madden NFL 17, the developers at EA Tiburon are hoping to give fans a feeling of fresh while also keeping the things that have kept the title near the top of the sports gaming landscape for so long. Major changes to gameplay as well as additions to a popular game mode should be viewed as enough to make fans happy, but does it actual translate to a well-polished final product?

After focusing on defense and receiving in Madden NFL 16, EA Sports is focusing on the ground game with Madden NFL 17. The use of button-pushing mini games adds a feeling to the run game that hasn’t been around in quite some time. Spin moves, hurdles and jukes have been fully reanimated, looking and feeling more realistic than ever before.

Running backs feel different based on their abilities, stopping players like LeSean McCoy from breaking tackles and carrying defenders the same way that Adrian Peterson can. It’s also imperative to follow your holes in the run game if you want a chance of gaining yards. No longer can you simply bounce any back to the outside for a gain.

It brings back the fun to a portion of the offense that seemed dead with the rise of the passing game both in the virtual and real world.

With Madden 17, team play styles feel authentic. This makes every team feel unique when you take the field. If you have a poor interior line, your offense will suffer. Should your linebackers not be the best unit, you’ll be able to tell. That being said, who knows if that will be the case after weeks and months down the line. But for now, it’s a nice new feeling to the game.

Gap assignments have been added to the defensive side of the ball, helping make sure that AI players are where they should be while also allowing players to try and stop key offensive players.

Unfortunately, the passing game feels about the same. There are still far too many instances of “magnet catches” that shouldn’t really be a thing in a game with today’s development technology. It also doesn’t make sense as to how defenders can pick off passes without ever looking for the ball or why a defensive lineman is seemingly just as fast – or faster – than running backs and wide receivers after recovering a fumble.

Another drawback is the lack of impact the much-hyped special teams improvements seem to have. It’s expected that blocked kicks and punts won’t happen every game, but in 20+ games played, a kick has been blocked just once in a contest between Jacksonville and Detroit. Special teams just continues to feel like a pointless portion of the on-field action despite belief it would be different.

The lack of a standalone single-player Career Mode still disappoints. The option to be a player may exist, but there continues to be no point of doing so. It just still felt like a waste of time when every other mode and option provides more entertainment than this clear throw in.

Both Draft Champions and Madden Ultimate Team return feeling nearly identical to Madden NFL 16. Ultimate Team has a new chemistry feature, but remains mostly the same while Draft Champions is exactly the same as last year. Then again, if it isn’t broke, why bother fixing it? I still find myself spending more time in Draft Champions than any other mode aside from Franchise.

Speaking of Franchise, this is the mode that saw the most changes in Madden 17.

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There is the new Play the Moments super-sim feature in game that allows players to just control the biggest moments of a particular game. It helps makes games and, in turn, seasons go by faster than ever. I used it a couple of times, but, for the most part, I still enjoy playing full games on the field. That being said, it’s a great new feature that a lot of fans will love.

When it comes to weekly tasks, the option to upgrade players shows up right away rather than having to search for it. Practice also matters in a big way now as it really helps you improve your depth players and stars quicker than ever. Want to turn a sixth-round receiver into a number one threat? Getting him reps on the practice field is the best way to do it. There is also the addition of a 10-man practice squad that works the same way as the real version. Teams can sign players away from other practice squads, but that player must be placed on the 53-man roster.

The scouting system remains pretty much the same which is by no means a complaint. However, the NFL Draft has been upgraded in a way that makes players feel great or terrible about their picks quicker than ever. A player’s overall is shown immediately after being drafted rather than waiting until the entire event is over. The biggest draft feature, however, doesn’t even involve the player directly. Now you’ll see AI teams actually draft based on need rather than taking the top-rated QB on the board just because he’s there at number two. AI teams even make more realistic draft-day trades now, too!

Added to the game is full player editing ranging from position to equipment.

The biggest complaint about Franchise Mode continues to be how free agency is handled both during and out of season. Players can still automatically sign anyone in the free agent pool to a one-year deal with no questions asked during the season, even top-level players that somehow remain unsigned when the next season starts. During the offseason, it still doesn’t really feel like factors like scheme and location matter too much when you can back the Brinks truck up to a player. In the end, it just feels like money trumps every other factor.

Despite massive hype over the new commentary team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis that included claims of more conversation-like commentary, the duo quickly become as dull as the previous pairing of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Lines became repetitive just a few games in even though Davis does throw in player-specific lines from time to time. Gaudin does call out player names during plays, but there is no sense of excitement in calls when there should be. And Davis’ lines come off too bland to keep you from turning it off after a game or two.  Everything still feels too robotic despite promises to the contrary.

Other aspects of the game’s presentation continue to improve. The new score bug is a nice change from the CBS knockoff, the addition of pylon replay views is a nice touch and the overall pre-game and post-game cinematics make the game feel even closer to a real-life TV broadcast.  Also added is a score ticker that shows real-time scores from within your Franchise Mode that shows scores and stats from around the league.

VERDICT:

Madden 17 does a lot of things right thanks to franchise mode improvements and the changes to the running game, but there is still just a bit too much keeping it from being the great game it was over a decade ago. The duller than drying paint commentary, receiving and defending bugs, and lack of improvement to the single player portion of franchise keep Madden quite a bit away from the endzone.

Score: 6.5/10

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