The exclusive deal between Electronic Arts and the NFL can be a double-edged sword. The lack of a viable competitor to the Madden franchise can sometimes yield a mediocre annual release, but the exclusivity can create amazing experiences when the full force of the NFL is put behind one game. Unfortunately, despite a wealth of new ideas and some that even push the franchise forward, a series of bugs made Madden 16 a disappointment.
Fantasy Meets Football
One of its most notable new ideas is Draft Champions, an inventive take on the popular phenomenon of a fantasy football draft. There is definitely an element of randomness to what players pop up each round, and players may end up passing up on a perfect fit because there are too many good options in any given round. With only 15 rounds to draft, it is impossible to make upgrades at every position.
In my experience with Draft Champions, I found it best to draft to fit a play style. You better draft some offensive linemen if you plan on running the ball, but at the same time you have to balance your offensive and defensive picks. The draft is aided by the inclusion of Legends, like Christian Okoye, Herman Moore, and Rod Woodson. The new mode can be unforgiving: lose one game and you are out, albeit with some Ultimate Team cards as your reward. I wish there was a way to save the teams you have drafted to play with them later, but its novelty makes it a welcome addition to the Madden family.
Changing the Playbook
Other modes have received some tweaks. Connected Franchise Mode has added some in-game drive goals that dynamically update every time you take the field. This is just another way for players to increase their XP as well as give them an in-game confidence boost. Other changes, like additional management tools, a refined scouting system, and a "To Do" tab, are definitely improvements over prior years. Ultimate Team received quite a few changes of its own. It's not my favorite mode, since I find the XP-to-currency exchange grindy, but as a popular mode I can recognize that it's made some smart improvements.
The core gameplay has undergone revisions of its own. The Quarterback has more passing options with the addition of a touch-pass, and additional control over passes. Wide receivers can select how to catch, giving an extra layer of strategy on the offensive side. Defensive players now have the option to play the ball or the receiver, and minor changes for rushing the QB.
Field of Bugs
Despite all this, I found myself enjoying Madden 16 much less than Madden 15. Sometimes it takes a few years to shake out the bugs when EA makes meaningful changes to gameplay in their games, and this year's entry is a perfect example of that. The new receiver/defender gameplay features lead to more dropped passes, tipped balls, and interceptions than previous years, the improved collision detection has some bugs when it comes to players tripping over their own teammates, and the improved graphics seem to actually slow down the game at times.
For example, during the exhibition Cardinals vs Steelers Super Bowl game that serves as the first game, it would repeatedly turn choppy. I credit EA for trying to push the PlayStation 4 to the limits, but I had to wonder how it let such obvious problems go out the door.
I pressed on, but that certainly wasn't the end of the errors. I've lost save files after it hung on franchise connected games. I saw a win falsely recorded as a loss in Draft Champions. I witnessed player models outright disappearing on the field and during touchdown celebrations. In one hilarious moment, Phil Simms bantered about my team dominating the third quarter, only seconds after the quarter had started.
In a world where Madden is our only NFL game, I can only measure its success and polish against past iterations. Though Madden NFL 16 has some great ideas in the form of new modes or changes to existing systems, it feels less cohesive and finished than the franchise deserves.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 disc provided by the publisher. Madden NFL 16 is now available for $59.99. The game is rated E.