There are three types of people when it comes to American Football: the people that love it, the people that don't care about it, and the people who think that it's 'namby-pamby rugby'. Only the people in the first camp would usually play this year's edition of the Madden series, even more so now because of the increasing tactical options and liberally-used lingo. Yet Madden NFL 16 feels as fun and accessible as the series has been in years, and a great gateway for anyone looking to jump into America's most watched sport.
What's most striking about this title is the sheer amount of tutorials. Sure, you've got the basic gameplay tutorials that teach you how to play, and you could stop there and have plenty of fun, but if you want to go deeper and learn the tactics of the game, it's all here. You can learn every position's name and what it does, you can learn to recognize whether your opponents are blitzing or covering - you can even learn what type of blitz or cover they're using. We've rarely seen a game with tutorials so comprehensive; put in the dedication, and you might just become a tactical mastermind.
Also hidden in the tutorial menu is The Gauntlet, a hugely challenging, yet fun mode in which you're given six lives and 40 levels that increase in difficulty, ranging from normal training drills to boss fights involving giant players and hurricanes. It's not easy, either - less than 200 people were actually able to finish last year's iteration.
The headline addition to Madden 16, however, is Draft Champions, which tasks you with drafting 15 players from a selection, as well as a coach, and then organising your band of mismatched heroes into a functioning team capable of winning enough games to get to the Super Bowl. It's very well presented and offers plenty of replayability thanks to the fact that your team will be different every time.
Of course, the quintessential Madden mode is Madden Ultimate Team, which is essentially a less popular (and therefore untarnished) version of its FIFA counterpart. The premise is simple: earn money by playing matches and completing challenges, spend that money on packs full of new players (or hit the auction house and buy them individually), and organise your team so that they can win more matches. It's a grinding loop, basically.
It doesn't feel like grinding, though, thanks to the sheer amount of content in Ultimate Team. Where the FIFA version relies mostly on the your ability to compete in online matches, Madden has over one thousand single player challenges, ranging from turning over a score in an allotted time frame to playing a match against a team of all-time greats. Multiplayer is there for the social aspect, but with single player not needing a connection, it's a lot more reliable.
But Madden's version of Ultimate Team really excels in the way that you buy, collect, and organise players. For one, the American football sim's auction house isn't plagued with coin sellers that crash the market - every transaction is over in seconds. Organising your team is a lot easier, too - simply select the 'best team' option and decide whether you want a squad that has the best statistics, or which best suits your play style.
Still, if you want to hand pick your players, the item binder is easier to navigate now, thanks to options that filter players by quality, positional coverage, and how recently you obtained them. You can also sort items into sets like a Panini sticker book of sorts, which is a nice touch, and completing a set is quite satisfying.
Last of all is Madden's most comprehensive time sink, Franchise mode, which allows you to take control of either a player, coach, or owner. While working your way up from reserve to starter as a player - completing seasonal and weekly goals along the way - can be quite fun, we found that playing as an owner is the most enjoyable option; not only do you train, level up, sign, and manage your players, but you can also micro-manage every aspect of your team. For instance, in our tyrannical reign at the Miami Dolphins, we fully upgraded the toilets, charged $5 for a Pepsi, and moved the team to London.
Gameplay in both coach and owner mode has changed a lot, too; every player has a weekly goal - the quarterback might want to complete 70 per cent of his throws, or a defensive end might want to get a sack. Not only that, but they also have seasonal goals, as well as career milestones. These objective get harder and harder as you complete them, and every goal grants the player or coach an experience boost and some confidence.
But what's changed in terms of the in-match gameplay? Quarterbacks and receivers have gotten the biggest overhauls, with the former now having five different catches to choose from, and leading with your body is more important than ever - running backwards and throwing a lob is ideal for a Hail Mary-style play.
The most helpful addition is that receivers now have three ways to catch the ball. Press X and you'll engage in a possession catch - a low-risk move that won't get you tons of yards but is best used to get first downs. Push square (ahem), and the player will run-after catch - a manoeuvre that ensures the receiver is ready to gain more yards after the catch. Lastly, triangle leads to an aggressive catch that runs the risk of injury, yet raises the odds of the player catching it.
Defence also gets some new mechanics. When defending against a pass, if you're not sure that your player can get a hand to the ball, you can now play the receiver and try to tackle or knock the ball out of the attacker's hands before he touches the ground.
Elsewhere, the graphics, while not mind-blowing, are nice to look at, with players' helmets being as shiny as ever and the grass looking refined and vibrant. This is furthered by the excellent presentation in Madden 16 - wirecams and on-the-field cameras have been added to show more in-depth and good looking replays, while 3D stats tables appear on the field at end of every quarter.
Performance is never an issue when you're playing a game, either, as every match runs smoothly. The biggest problem, then, is the loading times. Expect to wait at least 20 seconds or more when switching to a different menu, and even then, things still stutter if you're moving to browse a different section.
Madden NFL 16 is a fine addition to the series that started way back in 1989. Draft Champions adds a lot of replayability to a game already jam-packed with content, the new in-match mechanics give you a greater sense of control than ever before, and Madden Ultimate Team is steadily growing bigger and better. Sure, loading times are long, but the presentation and the way that the crowd reacts to every move is well worth it. All in all, it seems as though Madden as a series won't be deflating any time soon.