Sports games: the bane of most people's E3 conferences. They're the games that people that call themselves "Serious Moe" play. It's easy to write Madden and other sports games off as "just a roster update" – and, at times, this can be true – but the long-lived American football series has been steadily evolving over the past couple of years, and Madden NFL 17 is no different.
To newcomers, the sport is complicated and hard to understand, with so many rules and so much terminology that it can get overwhelming and downright frustrating to play. Madden NFL 17 breaks this duck, however, as it's more accessible than any Madden game before it. The deeply intricate Skill Trainer teaches players however much or as little as they want to know – whether you just want to play a simple game or you want to know the advantages and disadvantages of the Cover 6 formation compared to the Cover 3.
Players playing on lower difficulties also get a number of new accessibility features that can really help make the experience more enjoyable for newcomers. Skill moves are now automatically performed by athletes depending on their situation, so you can just focus on where you want to run, while a handy run path assist shows you which direction you're heading in. The new Concept Counter feature also allows newbies to identify which play the offence is making and counter it with more effective defensive plays. All of these assists can be turned on and off at will, so pros can stick to playing hardcore if they want to.
The core Madden formula does remain unchanged as expected, but there have still been plenty of small tweaks that make the game more fun, chief among them being the new kick meter. Instead of the awkward stick-flicking in previous instalments, kicking is now performed by clicking X three times – one to start the meter, two to set the power, and three to set the accuracy – which is a lot simpler. There are plenty of options for fake punting and fake field goals, and blocking both of these moves (if you're on defence) is actually a realistic possibility now, making games more exciting.
Skill moves now vary based on a players' skill ratings – for example, the Redskin's DeSean Jackson is excellent at juking – so there's more of an incentive to look at players' stats and use their power move. Defense also gets some new features, too: defensive zone coverage has been improved, and the ability to swat the ball has now been added. Couple all of this with the new physics engine that makes the ball react more realistically to tipped passes and fumbles, and it makes for some exciting moments in matches – comebacks feel more like a realistic possibility, and games are more open.
As always, the presentation in Madden is top-notch, and this is most noticeable in Franchise mode. The new commentary team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis seem to have recorded commentary for every possibility, and as the season goes on, they'll cite stats in context from the season. At the bottom of the screen, you can now see how other games are progressing, and you'll be alerted to touchdowns and upsets going on so you can gauge how well you'll do in the league.
Franchise mode also has arguably the best new feature in Madden NFL 17: Play the Moments. Instead of having to play matches in their entirety (which can take over an hour), you only have to play the most important moments, like third downs, touchdown opportunities, field goals, and important offensive drives (as well as the ability to play either just as the offence or defence in a match). While you're not playing, a handy chart and jumbotron shows what's happening, and if you feel like taking full control again, then you can simply rescind control of the team. It's an awesome time-saving feature, and makes Franchise mode less of a slog.
After each game, you get XP to spend on upgrading your players, but arguably the more important moments happen before it. Before each game, you can practice suggested offensive and defensive plays that are strong against the team that you're about to face, earning XP for certain players as well as educating you on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.
Also in Franchise mode, you have more control off the field as you do on it. You can now renegotiate players' contracts, as well as view the strengths and weaknesses in your team and suggested trades that'll bolster your squad. You now also have access to a 10 man practice squad, which you can develop without them taking a slot on roster – though it does mean that other teams can steal them at will.
Lastly, Ultimate Team has got some small changes, with a new Chemistry system added in that gives attribute boosts to players who have matching Chemistry types. Solo Challenges also now have requirements and conditions you have to meet, and the challenge will end as soon as you've fulfilled them, rather than having to play the entire match. Once again, it's a really neat feature that saves time and keeps the game exciting.
Once again, Madden NFL 17 has maintained the classic Madden gameplay while also evolving it and making games feel more open and exciting. The new kick meter and ability to block kicks and punts makes comebacks and upsets feel possible, while the presentation is as excellent as ever thanks to the new commentary team. Franchise mode is the standout star here, though, with new trading features and the Play the Moments mode ensuring that the game doesn't chew the clock.