That's the biggest and most cliche complaint when it comes to yearly sports games, right? "The new Madden is just a roster update below a $60 package."
While that complaint is extremely hyperbolic, there are some years where it feels more true than others. Heck, look at NHL 15 last year. That sports game from EA felt like a roster update that pulled the best elements from the franchise out in an odd off year.
This year's Madden? It's much more than a roster update. I'm addicted to the game again, and that's something I personally haven't been able to say for a few years.
For me, and for this review, there are basically three key areas that I want to highlight that make this year's Madden such a good entry. First, core mechanics to the action on the field have been expanded to make it more fun. Next, the collection of modes makes me upset that other sports games aren't doing the same things. Finally, it's absolutely the best looking Madden we've had yet.
There's a lot more to unpack with this year's edition. I certainly won't hit on everything, but I want to express up front that I'm very happy with what I've been playing for the last couple of weeks.
Madden NFL 16 is really good.
A game of catch.
The biggest change to the actual football mechanics in this year's Madden is, without a doubt, the throwing and receiving game. Before I highlight that, I want to reinforce the fact that just about all of Madden's on field play feels good.
The highlight of Madden NFL 15 for me was the running and blocking game. 16 continues that, and those areas feel solid with, and this is weird to say, defense actually being kind of fun to play as well. What's needed work for years is the role of receiver. That's been tweaked here.
We'll start with the QB, though. Quarterbacks have been able to lob throws and execute bullet passes for years. Now, QBs can throw passes low to the ground so that receivers on short, inside routes can grab them without fear of an interception. Touch passes can be executed too by double-tapping the targeted receiver's icon. Great QBs can use this method to float balls into exactly the right position on the field in order to catch receivers running super tight routes in coverage.
If you practice enough with the QB position, you'll actually be able to pick out which passing method works best in a given situation and exploit it. Have a fast receiver running an out route? Maybe throw them an outside bullet as they turn for extra yards. Have a massive defensive mismatch on your hands with one of your fastest and tallest wideouts? Hot route him to streak and lob the ball up where only he can reach it.
As for catching? This is the good stuff this year. Once the ball is in the air, you can switch to the receiver and hold a button in order to dictate what he'll do next. So, I played on the PlayStation 4. I'd hit circle after the throw to switch to the receiver. I have three options at this point as the ball is in the air.
If I'm covered or trying to grab the ball at a high position outside of coverage, I'll hold Triangle for an aggressive catch. This puts me in a stretching position so, as with real life, I could take a huge hit hear and get injured.
If I'm running an inside route with room for extra yards after the completion, I can hold Square. This will activate the run after catch… catch… and my receiver will immediately transition to running. An aggressive corner, however, has a higher chance of grabbing the ball as it nears me.
Finally, there's the safest bet. The possession catch. If I'm looking to nab the ball in tight coverage or right up against the sidelines, I'll hold X and just hope I reel it in. That'll plant my feet and get my on the ball safely.
Look, that's a lot of new playing to do in a game that used to be little more than icon press, catch, sprint. This new throwing and receiving mechanics take the offensive game to another level, and they're a welcome addition.
I can't get enough of these modes!
I'm also in love with some of the modes in Madden NFL 16.
The first of which is Draft Champions. Yes, you have Ultimate Team, GM and Career stuff, and yes, it's still connected. Draft Champions, though, is probably the second most addictive mode this year and one that I want to see spread to other EA Sports titles.
You start the mode and move through a 16 round draft. Your head coach selection dictates your play style, and then the next 15 rounds are spent filling your roster with players that meet and excel in that style.
You then take that team and play three games in order to win the mode. Lose one game and you're done, win all three and you're victorious. It's a new team every time, and no matter how far you get while playing, you'll earn rewards for your Ultimate Team. Honestly, I'd play it regardless of that bonus.
My complaints about Draft Champions? I have two. First, you can only play as your favorite team. You selected the Bengals the first time you fired up the game as your squad? That's the only squad you can play as in Draft Champions, unless you change your favorite team under your profile settings. Why not let me change that every time?
My other complaint is that I'd like to add a player or two to my roster after each win. Win the first game? Great, here are two more great players for your team. Not a necessary requirement, but it's something that I think would mix up the solid formula even further.
The other mode that I'm pumped to see return? The Gauntlet Challenge. I couldn't get enough of this! You have 40 drills to play through with only six lives. The drills vary from standard runs and tackle routines to insane boss modes and ladder challenges that have you, a tiny running back, going against a defensive core made of literal giants.
The Gauntlet is awesome. Just like Draft Champions, I want it in every other EA Sports game.
Those load times, though.
The thing I can't stand with Madden NFL 16? The load times. It's pretty rough. Even booting the game and getting to the main menu takes a lot of time. From there, the actual acting of getting into submenus and, this is the worst, starting games takes forever.
This is a good looking game, there's no doubt about that. It's just that when I sit down to play a quick game of football, the last thing I want to do is wait for loading screens for five or 10 minutes just to get going.
On the field you'll find the usual level of visual glitching. Players randomly combine with one another after the whistle, pile ups look super weird as players struggle to get off of one another and the camera takes odd, literally in-the-field angles from time to time. It never happened during actual play for me, so that's more of a presentation complaint.
As addicted as I am to both Draft Champions and The Gauntlet, it's telling that I debate firing the game up because of all the loading I know I'll have to sit through. That's a problem.
The new game of throw and catch alongside modes like Draft Champions makes Madden NFL 16 a great entry in the football franchise.
I'm a fan. Madden NFL 16 is the best game this series has seen in a few years, and it's absolutely the current definitive Madden title for the newest generation of home gaming consoles.
EA Sports is absolutely guilty of recycling modes and content. Quite frankly, the games sell far too well for them to take an off year and completely reboot the experience. Even further, diehard fans would be upset to see an off year in a series like this one.
Madden NFL 16, though, feels the most different a Madden game has felt in a long time. The new modes, the tweaked on-field action and the look really hit the game home for me, and I'll be playing it all season this year until my team misses the playoffs and I hate football again.
Disclaimer: We received a copy of Madden NFL 16 from EA for the PlayStation 4. It came in a day or two after launch. We've played the game over all modes daily since then.
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