When it comes to tweaking the Madden series on a yearly basis, fans are always interested to see if EA Tiburon is focusing on new modes or the actual gameplay. In the past few years, it feels as if animation in the game has become a large priority, same can be said about some of the gameplay mechanics. These are some much-appreciated additions, but it means that the secondary modes which keep dedicated Madden fans coming back do not get the same amount of attention. This year, EA has unveiled a new feature for the gameplay, as well as a new Draft Champions mode that feels similar to a fantasy league draft.
First up, the gameplay additions are shaping up fairly well. The biggest one centers around how you catch the ball. There are now three buttons to press in order to catch a pass, triangle is aggressive, X is possession, and square is RAC. The aggressive catch is one that should be used on deeper routes or when your receiver is tightly guarded. They will work best with larger receivers, such as Calvin Johnson, who can easily hop into the air and snag a pass. This will probably end up being the go-to catch style for newer players, due to the risk/reward, but it does result in many dropped passes if the apposing cornerback plays the ball well.
The other catches will be very helpful for more experienced players out there. The RAC catch (stands for Run After Catch) can be used on deep routes that see your receiver break away from the cornerback, or plays where you see a lot of green field ahead before the catch arrives in your arms. The possession catch will make quick slants much easier, as you can get possession and immediately fall down for a gain of four or five yards, which can be all you need in some situations. There was one instance that saw me throwing the ball into the end zone, and since I just wanted to be sure I came down the ball, I performed the possession catch and kept the defender from ripping the ball out. On the opposite side of the ball, the cornerback can choose to either defend the pass or instead go directly for the ball.
The actual result of these new mechanics will be something to examine after you play the game for a few hours. During your first exposure, it is hard to memorize what button to press, which results in hitting aggressive over and over due to it being the default catch in previous games. It will be very intriguing to see if these catches make the offense feel a bit overpowered. It will also be interesting to see if players can master playing the defensive back position and become a lockdown corner.
The biggest other gameplay change is the ability to alter how your quarterback throws his pass. You can now choose between throwing the pass high or low, and you can lead your receivers if you think there is a lot of open space ahead of you. If you have played a Madden game for an extended period of time, you know that fade passes into the end zone are practically useless. More often than not, they result in you overthrowing the receiver or getting the ball intercepted. That has finally changed as you can lob the pass in an effective way, directly to the corner of the end zone. Once the ball is about to arrive, you hit the aggressive catch button and watch as your receiver leaps into the air and battles with the cornerback, just like actual fade plays in the NFL. It may seem simple, but this is a mechanic that will help tremendously in getting the ball exactly where you want.
One of the smaller changes that people will notice on a consistent basis is that running backs now hesitate more before hitting the line of scrimmage. If you want to go full sprint, this is unnoticeable, but if you want to find that perfect hole to burst through, it works flawlessly. Playing as a running back has always been a frustrating situation in Madden, but that seems to be easing up as more focus is put on the bruiser/speedster behind the quarterback.
It was not being shown during the E3 demo, but the entire UI within the franchise mode has been redesigned. The UI in Madden games has always been a mess, and it is incredibly refreshing to know EA has been focusing on reinvigorating that long-ignored feature. Every menu will be redesigned within the franchise mode, and scouting will be beefed up to another level. The scouting combine will become much more important, as you will now garner a lot of scouting information about each player just by reviewing their combine results.
If you watched the Electronic Arts press conference, you noticed a large focus on Madden NFL 16’s Draft Champion mode. As a person that has never been impressed with card-based mini-games within sports games, skepticism was in full force as they pitched this as the new “big feature” of Madden. Thankfully, this feels more like a fantasy league draft as apposed to a spin-off of the Ultimate Team mode. You begin with a randomly generated team that has an overall rating of 70. From there, you go through fifteen rounds, with each generating three random cards of varying positions. According to what position you prioritize, you make your selection and move onto the next round. Your first selection is what coach you would like to have, which directly affects what playbook you use as well as your uniforms. Draft Champion does not seem like a mode to sink hours into, but it will be very fun to just fire up a random game and see what roster you end up. That is, until you put off drafting a quarterback until late in the selection process and have to settle with Alex Smith. That situation is deeply unfortunate.
It’s really tough for a sports game to wow someone that plays them every single year, and EA Tiburon knows that. The new features in Madden NFL 16 will not wow anyone, but they do make attempts at fixing gameplay issues as well as introduce a fun mode that will be a hit for groups of friends. It will not pull the long lost fans back into the series, but Madden NFL 16 seems to please the dedicated fans, while also having offerings for the casual audience. Madden NFL 16 releases on August 25th.