Madden NFL 15 Review – Xbox One

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August is upon us and we all know what that means…it’s MADDEN TIME!    This year we resume the normal numbering scheme with Madden NFL 15 as opposed to the cryptic 25 moniker from last year’s anniversary game.   While I didn’t review Madden 25 last year I did play it and I did NOT like it, but that was no surprise as I have never really liked any of these yearly sports games that release in a year where consoles are transitioning to a new generation.   Now that the Xbox One has been around for nearly a year, EA Sports has finally figured out the hardware and has been able to turn their attention to gameplay.

I am pleased to say that Madden NFL 15 is one of the best installments in the aging franchise in quite some time.  Not only does it offer balanced offensive and defensive gameplay, it refines many of the new features that seemed to have been hastily tossed into last year’s “next-gen” game, but many areas of improvement remain, especially in the Connected Franchise and GM portions of the game that involve offseason gameplay.  Still, this might just be the best Madden yet.

One of the biggest surprises comes just moments after installation is complete and you start up the game.  Rather than dropping you into a menu you are dropped into an actual football game – Panthers vs. the Seahawks in a late-game scenario from last season where you get to recreate or perhaps rewrite those events.  I love these “what if” game modes, and this is a great way to relive exciting and memorable sports moments and perhaps put your own spin on history.

EA’s Ignite engine delivers some stunning player models, animations, and an incredibly detailed physics engine, which means players act and react properly to the events unfolding on the screen.  The difference between the new Ignite and last-gen’s Infinity engine are easily apparently, even if you are just observing the game.

EA is determined to connect every facet of the game from careers to franchise allowing you to play as owner, coach, or take control over your own personal player.  I have to say I do miss the simpler days of picking up a football videogame, choosing your favorite team, and playing a regular season with your team in hopes of going to the Super Bowl.   While it is possible to do that in Madden 15 it is not entirely obvious and requires a lot of behind-the-scenes juggling of options and settings.  Hint:  Start in the Coach mode.

New for this year’s game is Player Confidence and Game Prep where you spend lots of time between the actual games coaching and drilling your players to build up their XP and confidence levels, which all work their magic when it’s time to play.  The Game Prep drills are infinitely more fun than the practice format from previous Madden titles, with tiered levels of completion that can unlock Ultimate Team packs.  I actually spent several hours working through all the training drills before ever even playing my first game, and the results of all that training really paid off.  I felt I had better mastery over the new controls and gameplay enhancements and was just playing better football.

Ultimate Team is back for those who want to integrate some fantasy football into their Madden.  This year we get some refinement and streamlining like the removal of the reserve deck and some increased difficulty when it comes to earning money in the Owner’s mode.  I particularly enjoyed the player choices from past and present and their organization into style packs.  For those new to Ultimate Team or fantasy football there are some useful in-game tips and help screens.  While perhaps not as fleshed out as FIFA Ultimate Team, Madden is starting to catch up.

Whether you are playing just your own personal player or the entire team in coach mode, you will certainly enjoy the new refined control scheme that allows for all the standard offensive moves as well as modified enhanced versions of those moves if you can nail the timing.  The defense has some new tricks up their sleeve as well.  If you can squeeze RT at the moment the ball is snapped your rusher will get an advantage on their blocker potentially allowing you to squeak by for the sack.  When it comes time to make the tackle you can opt for the controversial hit stick or go for the fast or hard tackle, possibly forcing a fumble or even an injury.

Picking the right play is just as important as executing it and this year we see a much needed improvement in play recommendations.  Instead of having the computer randomly pick a play in the name of John Madden we now get to consult the community and see what other players have picked in similar situations and just how effective those results were.  This feature was part of last year’s Xbox SmartGlass integration and was pretty interesting, but it has been refined and is highly useful in Madden 15.

CoachGlass on iPad Gallery

CoachGlass is a fantastic second-screen experience compatible with most smartphones and tablets that really immerses you in the coaching experience by putting a virtual clipboard in your hands and presenting you with all of the slick play-calling and info-on-demand required to lead your team to victory.  There is a wealth of info available and the streamlined interface and helpful use of colors keeps everything organized and accessible.  The system will intuitively adapt to offensive and defensive strategies, filtering the appropriate plays, and giving Madden coaches pretty much the same info real NFL coaches have during real games.  Those who use CoachGlass are certain to have the competitive edge on opponents who don’t, and this second-screen experience is available in Play Now, Online Head to Head, Ultimate Team, and Connected Franchise modes.

Madden 15 looks remarkable; perhaps not as awesome as the countless screenshots would have you believe because those are all mostly cutaway non-gameplay moments after the whistle.  Rest assured that when you are actually playing the game you are still playing from that distant top-down camera view with controller icons floating over players’ heads.  I did enjoy the new offensive feature that allows you to zoom in or go for the wide shot.    Both angles have their purpose depending on if you are running or passing.  There is even a side view and a defensive player lock view that will lock you and the player with the ball into the same frame – almost like a pilot lock in a flight combat game.  Of course you have all the other camera views including broadcast simulation that, when combined with all the pre, post, and halftime game reports, does an amazing job of recreating a televised football experience good enough to fool most anyone walking through the room.

Local multiplayer is back for up to four players and you have your two-player online versus modes which adds greatly to the longevity of the game outside of the already lengthy connected modes.  Madden NFL 15 is a surprising breath of fresh air in what had already become a complacent series of yearly cash grabs.  EA Sports has proven, or at least given us hope for a new generation of football.  With the ability to play as owner, coach, or career player, there has never been a wider approach to videogame football; truly something for every lover of the sport whether you want to be on the field or sitting behind a desk.

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