We didn’t appreciate Madden NFL 16 enough. It received some of the highest praise of any Madden game, and definitely the most in the past six or seven years, but I think sports fans really undervalued the drastic improvement from 15 to 16. It brought about Draft Champions, one of the best new modes in a decade, on top of solid in-game improvements such as different variations on catching the ball. The biggest proof of 16’s inventiveness comes in the form of Madden NFL 17, an installment that is perfectly acceptable, but makes no noticeable leaps in any direction.
Since 2013, the announcer’s booth in Madden has consisted of Jim Nantz and former quarterback Phil Simms. Their introduction was decent, but their performance had taken a huge downturn in recent years with conversations feeling disjointed and lifeless. In one of the smartest moves EA made in regard to Madden NFL 17, they have completely reworked the announcing team and brought in Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis. They are slightly smaller names, with Gaudin being a Big Ten Network commentator and Davis working as the lead analyst on Fox College Football while also being a former All-SEC Defensive Back for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Due to this, EA was able to bring them both in and record a large amount of back and forth dialogue, something that has been much needed for years. The result is the best commentary a Madden game has had since Madden himself was in the booth. Gaudin and Davis toss out small anecdotes about different players, even some of the smaller names. It provides a layer of knowledge to the game that hasn’t been there before. There are still some hiccups as lines will repeat, but there is no doubt that EA has found the right duo in Gaudin and Davis.
If there’s one feature that received the most attention, it’s the franchise mode. If you have read any of my previous Madden reviews — or any community feedback — you know that updates to the franchise mode have been long overdue. These new additions, while noticeable, feel insignificant at times. As you begin your career as an owner, coach, or player, you are assigned the task of setting season expectations. If you’re a coach, this means selecting a win total. So if you’re a team with low expectations and you pick a low number, your job should be safe no matter what happens. But if you pick a larger number and hit it, you earn more experience for your team, but also risk disappointing the owner and getting fired.
It’s a smart addition, and one that makes sense. Setting expectations is a key element to any football team’s success. But while it’s an appropriate inclusion, it doesn’t always produce the desired effect. For example, I was playing as the Titans, a team currently in the middle of a rebuild and not expected to achieve much in the 2016 season. I set my expectation to six wins, but somehow managed 10 and squeaked into the AFC Championship game. This should guarantee me years in the Titans’ organization, but after getting seven wins the next season, I was fired on the spot. There’s a certain level of miscommunication with the importance of setting your goal that really harms the otherwise intelligent feature. It needs some work, but it’s one instance where the franchise mode is on the right track.
As for improvements that are not on the right track, the training system in Madden’s franchise mode has always felt off. Every year the folks at EA try to tamper with the training in hopes of making it more accessible, but it never works. This year, the training is centered on performing specific plays that your upcoming opponent is weak against. If the defense doesn’t play the run inside very well, you can expect a heavy dose of that tactic. As it has for years, your actual training consists of running the same play over and over against your own defense. Once your goals are met, you allot your points to whichever players you prefer. The issue is the actual training is way too slow, and running basic plays against your own defense is far from an exciting experience. It’s lifeless and is best left simulated. It’s admirable that EA has paid so much attention to training, but it’s time to throw in the towel and realize that practice is never fun.
As mentioned earlier, you can also go through a dynasty as a player. This is another mode that players have been begging to be revamped over the past few years, and folks will continue to be disappointed. The only difference is, similar to wins as a coach, you choose your predicted stat total (for example, if you’re a running back you can select how many rush yards you will acquire) and if you surpass it, your player earns more XP. Apart from that, nothing has changed. You still choose where you get drafted, you still call all the plays, you still hike the ball even if you’re not the QB, and the list goes on. It’s disheartening to see so little attention paid to what could be the most personal mode in the game. Other sports franchises like FIFA and MLB The Show have made their living off of great be-a-player modes, all while Madden’s continuously struggles to capture any sort of attention.
On the football field, finding a major change within Madden 17 is tough to achieve. With Madden NFL 16 making such large leaps, no huge differences were expected in 17. Possibly the most useful is the altering of special teams, where you now have an actual chance at blocking punts or kicks. On top of that, there’s a much-improved kicking meter that doesn’t guarantee every kick to go straight through the uprights. As the biggest gameplay shift, it shows the lack of evolution from Madden NFL 16 to 17. But in all honesty, no evolution was needed this go around. The current mechanics installed in Madden are on-point and very fun to partake in. While it will need innovation eventually, simply going one on one with another team still brings about a great deal of enjoyment.
The follow-up years after a great Madden game are always interesting. Either they add a bunch of unwanted additions or they do absolutely nothing. This year, it feels as if EA has split the middle. Not to say they did something revolutionary; they simply added a few changes while also falling flat on their face a few times. The new commentary team is solid and a promising advance, but the consistent focus on improving practice is just unnecessary. Madden NFL 16 was one of the best football games to come out in the past decade, and Madden NFL 17 rides directly on its coattails, for better or worse.