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'Madden 17' not perfect, but there's plenty to like

“Madden 17” delivers updates to all three phases of football: Offense, defense and special teams.

EA SPORTS

By MATTHEW KATO | Game Informer Magazine | Published: September 7, 2016

In “Madden 17,” a specific line stands out from the excellent new commentary team of Charles Davis and Brandon Gaudin. Davis, the ex-player providing the color commentary, talks about how coaches are always looking for that “perfect game.” The perfect game doesn’t exist in the NFL or in any given rendition of Madden. Even so, “Madden 17” has a lot to enjoy. As they do every year, developers EA Tiburon concentrate on a set of new features, fixes, and points of emphasis to varying degrees of success. Not all the bases are covered, but this is still a team win that Madden gamers can appreciate on some level.

If last year’s gameplay was all about the air attack, this year is about what happens on the ground. Instead of just picking your hole and turboing through it, the revamped blocking schemes give players more to consider. Even though the holes are a little bigger, I wouldn’t say running is easier. In fact, an in-your-face danger surrounds the defensive players as they crash in to disrupt the play or hold off an offensive linemen with one arm and come sliding down the line to gobble you up in the backfield with the other. The interplay between the offensive and defensive lines at the line of scrimmage is dynamic, exemplifying football’s human chess match.

As fluid as some of the line play is (I saw an offensive linemen shuffle down the line of scrimmage, make a block, and then slide off and make a second block further down the line), you still see awkward steps by isolated players. Lead blockers occasionally prioritize the wrong target, players slide into catches or blocks (something I thought was solved last year), and others take baffling steps in the wrong direction.

Despite this emphasis on the ground, the air game has not been ignored. The new defensive zones make you double check a receiver is truly open before you throw the ball. It’s a necessary addition that doesn’t throw off the balance. Even when you’re on defense, knowing which zones to call takes getting used to, although the new run/pass counters playcalling option — where you call defensive plays to address specific areas on the field — are a nice option when someone keeps beating you over the middle, for instance.

The latter is a nod to accessibility (itself a dirty word to the hardcore players out there) that I am happy to reap the benefits of. Similarly, the expanded sim options, like the Play the Moment feature that highlights only the key moments in a game for you to play, shows that it’s possible to enjoy some of “Madden’s” new features that I wasn’t explicitly asking for.

This sentiment applies to the Connected Franchise mode as a whole. I have a running list of things I’d like to see in the mode that aren’t in “Madden 17” (better free agency, coordinators, more salary options, etc.), but I can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Being able to take the risk of rushing players back from injury and the way injuries can affect your management of the new practice squad are satisfying, as are players regressing because of injury and highlighting which players develop faster than others. These features, as well as formation subs (in franchise mode) and the streamlined weekly game-planning, are relatively small potatoes compared to the overhaul in scouting, ownership, and other GM functions that Connected Franchise mode needs, but they are useful.

“Madden 17’s” various online modes like Ultimate Team stay largely the same, but at least features that were added post-launch to “Madden 16,” such as ranked salary cap matches and playing against friends in Draft Champions, remain. One Ultimate Team addition worth mentioning is Chemistry styles, which expands and makes prominent the boost styles from last year.

Gamers often use the term “.5” as a derisive tag for a title merely being a half step toward the series’ next evolution. While I agree “Madden 17” isn’t a leap forward, the fact that it rides “Madden 16’s” coattails while creating its own (thanks to the commentary system and some of the trench play) doesn’t make it a bad title. If you asked me which I’d rather have — a new franchise mode or the improved line play that’s now in the game, it’s hard to ignore what I’ve actually experienced versus a hypothetical. The game is better because of it, and there’s no going back.

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Online: easports.com/madden-17

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