It’s Madden Season, so it's time to pone your rivals and show them what you're made of on the gridiron — well, the virtual gridiron, at least. Unlike previous titles, this year’s release of the American football simulator makes some pretty massive changes to the way that the game is played. Madden NFL 15 has taken inspiration from last year's NFL Super Bowl winners, the Seattle Seahawks, and their self proclaimed “Legion of Boom” — in other words, defence wins championships. What was once perceived as passive moments of a hard fought football game, playing defence becomes as exciting as when you're trying to march the ball down the field. As the Seattle Seahawks have proven in the last year, defence does indeed win championships, and it's a welcome change to the Madden franchise.
As the second release of the series on current-gen consoles, it's quickly apparent how much better everything looks. Players are more realistic, the fields are gorgeous, and even the jersey animations are pretty fantastic. Last year’s iteration was plagued with slow menus, obscene loading times, and horrifying presentation that did very little with the new console's power, and for the most part, all those problems feel rectified in this release. Whether it should be praised for actually working is up for debate, but it sure feels like a touchdown in the aesthetics department.
Unfortunately, last year's wonky physics engine is still on the roster. Creating some hilarious moments in 2013 — for all the wrong reasons — you'll face plenty of impossible animations that will leave you dumbfounded here as well. Limbs are flying everywhere, footballs are taking weird trajectories, and bodies just like to flip around when they feel like it; if it sounds like a horror movie, then you're not wrong. There are improvements, though, so that these sorts of moments don't occur quite as often.
The improvements are most noticeable on the defensive side of the ball. No longer will you have mediocre linebackers making every interception possible when the ball is zooming over their heads; making a pass in the middle of the field is much more realistic than it was before due to this fix. Also, defensive backs are no longer glued to your receivers at all times, so if you have a high rated wide out being defended by a rookie corner, feel free to burn the defence all game. These two simple changes work to decrease the rage worthy scenarios when you're playing alone, or when you're facing your rival.
That's the nitty gritty, but usually what separates the average sports simulator from the special one is the presentation; how well does it replicate the feeling of an actual sporting event? This is where Madden 15 goes the whole, er, 100 yards. When playing on offence, the camera is up close behind the quarterback and running back depending on formation. It brings you right into to the action — snap the ball, and the camera is still up close. This does give you a disadvantage because you won't be able to scan the field as easily as when the camera's panned out, but it gives it an action-packed feel, and maybe a taste of what it really feels like to quarterback an NFL team.
Playing defence has had a similar makeover, too. In the past, the camera sat in one spot, even when you were playing on the other side of the ball. Now, the viewpoint is placed behind the defence, panned in as close as it is on offence, and you actually get to face the man that you're trying to take down. What was once played passively becomes much more exciting, and for Madden purists, you can always change the camera angle with a few clicks of the d-pad if the current setting isn't to your liking. However, it's disappointing that all of these camera adjustments are lost in local multiplayer.
Tackling has also got a bit of an overhaul. Instead of just running into someone and hitting them, tackling is mapped out onto the X and square buttons. X is the reliable safe tackle, which in most cases is an appropriate choice. Meanwhile, square acts more like the hit stick. It's a much harder tackle that's intended to knock the ball out of the opponent's hands, but if it's not done properly, you can quickly get burned by a talented player. It's a fairly simple button scheme to understand, yet very effective.
The final major improvement is the play calling. Instead of just getting coaching options, there are now community options and previously successful options. It's really an ingenious system, as it gives you all the information that you need in a certain situation, with analytics to what kind of defence the opponent plays in the situation, how many yards a certain play has yielded, and how effective it's been overall. And it's the same on defence — all the statistics are on show to help you decide which play will put fear into the opposing quarterback. It's a system that's smoothly worked, and actually useful — which is something that can’t be said about previous play calling options.
Overall, this is a great package for the American football enthusiast, except for one aspect that fans have complained about for years, and yet it still hasn't been improved: the commentary. There is absolutely nothing interesting ever said during a match, and when something is said, it's always that one same uninteresting or pointless comment, which is then repeated over and over again in every game that you play, and it brings down the whole mood of an otherwise great experience. To make matters worse, there's also the inclusion of a half time highlight show that basically misses the mark every time. You can go for a 100-yard touchdown run, and all it's likely to acknowledge is that you scored a touchdown, and ignore the rest of the spectacular play.
The best thing that can be said about Madden NFL 15 is that it works properly, and that it's made some notable, positive changes to defence and play calling that really improve the whole experience. It's no secret that in previous years, the changes were subtle and lacking, making it fantastic to see the franchise finally evolve in a meaningful manner, with dramatic camera angles and intense defensive battles bringing the fun back. It’s Madden season once again, and there is now a reason to celebrate.