I've been really dismayed by the focus that EA has placed on its Ultimate Team feature in the past couple years of Madden releases. I've made my distaste known in my reviews of both 16 and 15. With the NCAA football series dead due to the revocation of the license, Madden is all we have. I feel like the best thing for me to do at this point is to just give up, since it seems that EA has no interest in appealing to the small demographic of simulation die-hards to which I belong. Instead, they want to keep their model of annual releases that force people to have to give up their established decks of Ultimate Team cards so that they can spend more money on micro-DLC to buy the credits necessary to rebuild their collection.

But as cynical as my reviews can be, I don't want to give up on football gaming. I love football, and I love gaming, and I want to continue to be able to enjoy the union of the two. And right now, Madden is the only way that I can do that.

So I'm going to take some time to write up a wishlist of the kind of features that I want - no expect - a modern football game to include. Some of them are new features that football games have never attempted. Others are ones that previous games just never got right. And still others might be things that were present in earlier games, worked just fine, but have been inexplicably removed to make room for less worthwhile features.

Table of Contents


One of the most glaring problems with Madden for many years now has been the passivity of offensive receivers. They've been completely unwilling to make any effort to track the ball in the air and go up and get it. Often, underthrown balls would be easily intercepted because receivers would mindlessly run their route and never make an effort to come back towards the ball to catch it. This, combined with defensive backs who always had eyes in the backs of their heads, lead to a lot of interceptions and a very frustrating experience in the passing game. This year's Madden finally makes some effort to address this problem, and I honestly thought that this might finally be the year in which things started to really come together for this series. I wasn't expecting Madden 16 to suddenly be the NFL 2k5 of our generation, but I was at least expecting to see a product that felt more complete, in which all the areas of on-field action seemed - at the very least - to be competent.

Madden NFL 16 - catching
Long-standing problems with passing, catching, and pass defense were points of emphasis this year.

But as the summer went on, and all I ever heard about was some silly new "Draft Champions" mode that sounded like a half-assed fantasy football season, I really started to lose any hope and excitement that I had. Normally, I'd buy Madden used in order to keep my money out of EA's greedy hands. Fortunately for EA, the first two stores that I went to were sold out of Until Dawn, so I decided to go ahead and splurg on Madden so that I'd have something to do that weekend.

The mandatory tutorial featuring a hypothetical Super Bowl 50 rematch between the Steelers and Cardinals is an absolute train wreck. A handful of players recorded unbelievably cheesy dialogue for this sequence that seemed to imply that this year's Madden was going to put some emphasis on the personalities of the players and include some smack talk (the kind of thing that Madden '05's "Storylines" feature was going for). I thought it was weird that I hadn't heard anything about this in any of the promotional material or previews. It seemed uncharacteristic for Madden and contradictory to the NFL's careful regulation of the public image of the league.

The tutorial proceeded to force me through a series of intolerably-scripted plays and highlights of its fictitious Super Bowl in an attempt to clumsily introduce me to its new passing and catching mechanics. This tutorial is ugly to watch, painful to listen to, is terrible at teaching the new mechanics, and is blatantly unrepresentative of the actual game content.

I hadn't even finished the tutorial or made it to the game's main menu yet, and I was already suffering buyer's remorse.

Table of Contents

Madden NFL 16 - drafting Randall Cunningham
Historic players can be drafted.

Ultimate Team fantasy draft

My feelings of buyer's remorse only grew as I looked through the new features and menu options.

There seems to be a bigger and bigger push towards Madden being an elaborately-crafted system of fantasy football. I already thought that Ultimate Team was trending painfully in that direction. As silly as I think that feature is, Madden players seem to love it - so much so that EA has decided to add another fantasy football-inspired game mode: Draft Champions. As always, all EA's efforts seem to be in trying to make Madden as "game-y" as possible instead of making any efforts to emulate the deeper strategy and nuance of real football. Ultimate Team, and now Draft Champions, are the ultimate expression of that.

Draft Champions is a modified 15-round fantasy draft in which you select from one of three available players in each round. You start by selecting a coach, which grants you a specific offensive and defensive play style for you team, and so you want to try to get players that best fit into those schemes - if you're lucky enough to be offered any. In the final round, you also get to chose one of three Hall of Fame historical players, such as Randall Cunningham or Rod Woodson. Once the draft is done, you play a sudden-death "season" of three games. One loss, and you're done.

I complained about the rushed pacing of games in Madden 15, but the "games" in Draft Champions are only half that time! Three minutes in a quarter is not enough time to play football at all. The game even taunts you by forcing you to have to chose a coach and team style in the first round, and you'd have to be masochistic to chose anything other than "long pass" or "medium pass". Chosing "ground and pound" was barely viable with six minute quarter; it's virtually pointless with three minute quarters. A twelve minute game isn't long enough to establish any kind of "pounding" running game. All you have to do is listen to the commentary to hear how screwed up such a fast game is. Every game, the commentators talk about how it's been a "defensive battle" going into the two-minute warning or halftime - because one team had the ball for the entire half! It's nonsense!

Madden NFL 16 - Draft Champions Rod Woodson
Draft Champions might be more worthwhile if you got to keep some of the players you drafted and add them to MUT.

I'll grant this to the game: the second two Draft Champion games are very tense. The short time time frame and insta-death nature of the mode means you have to play virtually perfectly. Of course, that's to be expected when you start the game in a four-minute drill.

And what do you get for your effort? What reward is worth this idiotic waste of time? You get some PSN trohies / XBox Live achievements, and some packs of Ultimate Team cards (most of which are just redeemable for points to buy other cards). You don't even get to keep the cards that you drafted in Champions mode - just random packs. Eventually, after you beat Draft Champions enough times, you get some elite MUT cards. Oooh... [hand waving] Why is Draft Champions even its own mode on the main menu? Why isn't it just an option in the MUT menu? It's basically just a fantasy draft and preseason for MUT, but you don't even get to keep the players! So what's the point?!

The question that I'm left with is: has Madden jumped the shark? Is this the point where I have to just give up on the idea that EA will ever want to pull Madden back to its simulation football roots? Has it so completely diverged from what I expect from an NFL-licensed football game that I just can't take it seriously anymore as an NFL-licensed football game? I'm tempted to just not even bother with the rest of this review if this is the kind of trash that EA is going to waste their time with. If EA thinks that this is the way of the future for football gaming, then I want no part of it.

But, for old times sake, I guess I can go over the actual football parts of the game, give it at least one more stab at being taken seriously, so click here to read the rest of the review...


Years ago, back when I was much more into playing Madden NFL games than I am now (read: back when I was too young and naive to realize how much they sucked), I had proposed on the EA Forums that they should add the ability to create female player and / or coach models. I'd post a link to the forum topic(s), but I don't remember my login info to look them up. It's something that I'd still like to see as an option in future games, and with the recent news that the NFL may be hiring its first full-time female official, I thought now might be the time to bring up the topic again.

Sarah Thomas to become full-time NFL official
Sarah Thomas has reportedly been hired as the NFL's first female full-time official.

Sports games like Madden should have options to create female characters and (especially) coaches. Women play these games, and women do have an interest in football and other sports. But when they play Madden, they can't create themselves as a player or as a coach because the game doesn't allow them to. And when creating an avatar of yourself to play these games is one of the main selling points of features like Franchise, Superstar, and so on, then it seems unfair to prevent a large chunk of your audience from being able to play that feature as intended.

Madden 13 - J Grade on the sideline
I get to create myself as a coach, but women can't.

After all, EA has a Game Face feature that allows you to scan your own face into various games. I was able to use this feature to create myself as a coach for my past Madden franchises. But my girlfriend or sister can't use this feature because there aren't any character models for female coaches (or players) in most major sports games. Unless she wants her head on a man's body...

As far as I know, the NFL doesn't have any rules actually prohibiting women from playing or coaching in the league. So the fact that games like Madden don't even allow female characters to be created is actually not even representative of the actual rules. And from a more socially-progressive standpoint, having such a feature could help to make the game more accessible to female players, and possibly even encourage women to pursue playing or coaching the sport and breaking that respective glass ceiling. After all, seeing a digital version of herself competing with the male players might inspire young girls to pursue careers in football outside of sideline correspondents, cheerleaders, athletic trainers, analysts, or the other "off-field" jobs that they are currently restricted to.

Lingerie Football League all-star game
Perhaps my difficulty taking the Lingerie Football League seriously is an example of prejudice on my part,
but it is a thing, women do play it, and they supposedly take it very seriously.

I've heard people say that there just aren't any women who are interested in playing football. While it definitely seems to be true that there haven't been any women who have been ambitious enough to seriously try, I don't think it's necessarily true or fair to say that there isn't interest. Women do play football! There are, in fact, entire professional football leagues for women. I'm not sure how serious the Lingerie Football League is (I'm sorry, "Legends of Football League"). I don't know much about the league, so my assumption that it's mostly just sexual exploitation may be an example of the very prejudice that I'm hoping to confront. But the LFL is a thing that actually exists, and women do play in it. And from what I've heard, they take it very seriously...

Madden NFL '15 - title

Regular readers of my blog who happen to be football fans may have noticed that I never reviewed last year's EA Sports football games. I had played and reviewed the games every year for the previous three years, but not last year. The truth is: I didn't play last year's games. There were a few reasons for this.

For one, I was kind of burnt out on football games, and was neck deep in RPGs like Skyrim and Dark Souls, as well as Brave New World and some modding. So my plate was rather full. I was somewhat curious about the next-gen football games being released on the PS4 and XBox One, but I had neither system, so couldn't play them. And I wasn't really sure that the PS3 version would be worth playing, since EA's focus was probably (and hopefully) on improving the next-gen games. I didn't want to waste my time on an inferior version of the game that may have been "incomplete" compared to its next-gen counterpart. So I skipped last year's football games entirely.

I still don't own a PS4 or XBox One, and don't have any immediate plans to buy either. But a friend granted me the use of his PS4 so that I could try the P.T. demo. I figured while I have the PS4, might as well try the new Madden, so I picked up a used copy on eBay fairly cheap.

Since I was borrowing a friend's PS4, my time with the game was limited. As such, this review can't be as in-depth as some of my previous football game reviews have been.

EA is continuing to make small, iterative changes to the game's mechanics, as well as recycling mechanics and features from earlier iterations of the game. This year's focus was on defensive control and line of scrimmage play, both of which are areas that were in desperate need of an overhaul. Unfortunately, EA's changes were mostly superficial.

Madden '15 - defensive controls
"New" defensive controls are just prompts for commands that already existed. At least they work better now...

The game advertises new defensive controls for breaking blocks and tackling. The only thing that is really "new" is the ability to steer blockers in order to fill gaps or maintain containment. This helps to give defensive linemen a greater sense of presence, as they aren't run out of the play by blockers quite so easily, and gap control is actually possible.

The other new defensive controls are really just fluff features...


This review was originally published 09/14/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

Madden NFL 11

Madden NFL 11 cover

More than just a roster-update, but Gameflow is worthless and not worth the full price if you already own Madden 10.

It’s that time of year again. It’s time for the annual release of EA’s powerhouse licensed NFL game, Madden. This year’s release promises to completely redefine the way people play football games by bringing the playbooks of hundreds of plays down to one pre-selected play based on a Gameplan. It’s the way NFL coaches really do it, and once you stop and think about it, the idea really is brilliant. But a good game needs more than just good ideas. The ideas need to work. And Gameplanning just simply doesn’t.

I’ve always played the Madden games for the strategy and coaching elements. So when I first heard that the game would now be picking my plays for me, I was skeptical and afraid. But after hearing the arguments, and thinking about it a little bit, the change actually did make sense and even had me excited.

The Madden developers were claiming that gamers would be able to Gameplan for their upcoming opponent by setting up which plays to run in any given situation -- exactly how real NFL coaches do it. The system also had the potential to make full-length, 15-minute-quarter games more playable and practical, since the combination of the Accelerated Clock and GameFlow means that all the time spent between plays is now simulated. A default-length game of 7-minute quarters takes half an hour. And a full-length 15-minute-quarter game can be completed in less than an hour. An in-game save would have also helped make full-length games more practical for those of us who still may not have a full hour to devote for one continuous game. But too bad, we didn’t get that.


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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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