I played and reviewed last year’s Madden NFL 25 on PS3 when it released. That game later came to PS4 and Xbox One, but as I didn’t get a PS4 until May, I didn’t experience last year’s Madden game on the current gen systems. So the first thing I noticed when getting into a game on Madden NFL 15 was just how much better it looks versus last year’s game on PS3. It simply looks amazing, and the team at Tiburon has gone a great job of adding in a ton of detail.
They’ve scanned the majority of team rosters, so at the very least star players are going to look like their real life counterparts (to a degree of course). Cam Newton looks like Cam Newton. Sadly they couldn’t get everyone scanned in, so some players will look jarringly different (AJ McCarron looks absolutely nothing like AJ). That’s not a complaint, because it would be quite a task to get every single NFL player scanned and accurately depicted in the game, and it probably doesn’t make sense to do so (especially for those who, like AJ sadly, aren’t going to make a real roster this year).
You really get a sense of how good the players look and how improved things are from a presentation standpoint when you first boot the game up. The first thing you’ll do in the game, and you can do this while you’re downloading or installing the game, is something called “First Interactive Experience.”
This puts you in the final couple of minutes of a fictional 2015 NFC Championship game between the Carolina Panther’s, who you’ll be controlling, and the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are up 26-21 and you have about 40 yards to go to score a touchdown and win the game. If you really enjoy this experience, you can go back and replay it as many times as you want. It’s a cool way to start the game, but it isn’t so awesome that you’re going to want to replay it. It’s just going to wish the rest of the football games you play had stuff similar to it.
After that experience, and a video package, players get dumped into the Skill’s Trainer. If you’re a Madden veteran, yeah you can skip it. I would advise against it though, because the Skill’s Trainer is actually pretty good this year. If you aren’t real knowledgeable about football, or have had trouble understanding and/or reading concepts like Cover 2 and spotting when the defense is in man, zone, or blitz, then you’re definitely going to want to play through the Skill’s Trainer. They actually teach football this time around. If you haven’t been able to do it previously, then the trainer will have you able to read the defense this time around (at least largely, plays can be disguised after all).
One really cool and fun addition to the Skill’s Trainer this year is The Gauntlet mode. This mode gives you five “lives” to see how far you can progress. There are 40 challenges here, and every fifth challenge is a “Boss” level. Fail the objective and you lose a life. Lose all five lives and you’ll have to begin again from the first level, and with the exception of the bosses, the challenges are randomized. The mode keeps track of your high score (i.e. how many levels you complete) and there is a trophy/achievement for beating the level 25 boss. Unfortunately, I have yet to get past the level 15 boss… which task you with running the length of the field for a touchdown with no blockers and having to avoid four defenders. I got close once, but then got caught from behind with probably 10 or 15 yards to go. Needless to say, it’s frustrated me, but it’s a good challenge.
As always with sports games, the bulk of my time playing comes in the career mode. In Madden NFL 15 it’s still called Connected Franchise. Here you can choose to either create or assume the role of an individual player (you’ll just control this player), a coach (you’ll get to control the entire game, call plays, do all the things a coach would do), or an owner. I play as an owner, which allows you to do everything: trades, free agents, hire/fire staff, set concession and merchandise prices, and my favorite relocate a tam somewhere else. Sorry Buffalo, but in my franchise I took control of the Bills and moved them out to London and renamed them the Black Knights in my third season as coach.
As I also tend to do, I set out to make the team an Alabama/SEC team: AJ McCarron, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Barrett Jones, Cyrus Kouandjio, Julio Jones, Brad Smelly, Terrance Cody, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner, Evan Mathis, Nico Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, Jeoffery Pagan, Adrian Hubbard… almost everyone but CJ Mosley (I can’t get him, team who has him won’t give him up) and Eddie Lacey (he wouldn’t accept my offer). Most of those guys played together at Alabama and won at least one national championship together. In my Madden NFL 15 franchise, they have a Super Bowl championship together as well.
I did come across some issues in connected franchise that took me out of the game a little bit. After I traded for Julio Jones during my third season, he became my go to receiver. Yet every single week, the announcers would talk about him making an impact this week while being a non-factor the previous week. A box would come up that would then show his receptions and yards for the current game, as well as the previous game. Regardless of whatever he did the previous week, it’d always show as zero receptions and zero yards. Other stuff like that happened frequently, like the example image below. To set the stage, I blew the Jets out 66-7. How does the Connected Franchise’s news page and Twitter feed discuss that blowout? By pretending it was a tight, close game.
Problems also arose with the audio far more than I would have liked. Several times the announcers would go on talking about how my return man muffed a punt, when in reality he caught it clean and was running down the field with it. But to the announcers, he dropped it, recovered it, and that was worth talking about for a minute and a half. What game are they watching? It didn’t happen, yet this same dialogue happened numerous times on punt returns. There were also instances where a team would fumble the ball, and the next time they got the ball the announcers would remark how they’re looking to do better than the previous possession where they turned the ball over on downs.
The inconsistencies between what’s going on in the game and what the announcers are calling can be highly annoying. More often than not, they’re calling things correctly, but things getting called that didn’t take place happens a couple of times a game. It seems like nitpicking, but it shouldn’t happen with anywhere near the frequency that it does. And for goodness sakes, quit telling me “sometimes you have to throw the ball down the field” when I throw a three yard pass on first down. Outside of the inconsistencies, the commentary is fairly good. However, like always, you’re going to hear the same things being said multiple times a game.
Presentation wise, I do like the new camera angles, the replays are pretty good, players now react dynamically to plays instead of with of with poorly canned videos, and the new halftime show is good. I don’t know why anyone would want to watch the halftime show that often, but if you do it’s actually good this year. The pre-show and halftime show is called by Larry Ridley, and his commentary is actually good. The game does a good job of showing the important plays and touchdowns, and Ridley calls out who did it and how many yards it was for. I tend to skip it most of the time, simply because I like to get through the games as quickly as I can (I play on seven minute quarters, so that takes a while).
There have been quite a few gameplay changes and improvements made this year. As you can see from the image above, a change has been made to the kicking game. In my opinion, it is now easier than it has ever been. You can just about tell exactly where the ball is going to go, and I like that. The more important changes happened on the defensive side of the ball, because as we all know, defense wins championships. I’m a defensive guy. While I like the NFL games, when it comes to actually watching football I prefer college (I preferred the NCAA games as well, shame we don’t have those anymore because of stupid lawsuits). As stated earlier, I’m an SEC guy and my two teams are Alabama and Florida; both are typically known for their smothering defenses. As a defensive minded guy, I dig the changes made to the gameplay that make playing defense more fun.
You can now jump the snap to get an advantage over an offensive lineman. When you can engaged, you can push them around to try and close a lane, or use a finesse move to disengage and get around them to try and get a sack, disrupt a pass, or tackle someone. Getting sacks against the AI is pretty easy; you’ll probably end up with at least three or four sacks a game provided you know what you’re doing. There’s now a cone when near a guy running with the ball that lets you know when you’re in range to make a play and whether or not an aggressive tackle attempt is likely to work. It’s not really needed, and you can turn it off, but it’s nonetheless nice to have. In addition to being able to do a power tackle with the hitstick, you can also hit square (or X on Xbox) to perform the aggressive tackle. You can square up to get in position to make a tackle effectively, swat the ball, or try to strip the ball while making a tackle (and you may actually have some success with that this year).
New camera angles and player lock also give a better view from the defensive side. Corners perform better in zone coverage, and all around pass defense is improved in my experience. There’s still a bit of BS with defenders who aren’t even looking at the QB immediately breaking from where they were to tun towards the ball as soon as you throw it. It’s one thing for elite corners to break before you begin the throwing animation (they can better read the quarterback and break once the shoulders are locked), but it’s annoying when guys in man coverage have eyes in the back of their head. That’s always been a problem, and always will be I reckon. All in all though, defense is quite a bit improved and offense is still just as fun as ever.
I do have one major problem with this game, and it’s the same problem I have with all EA football games since the previous generation. It’s even worse this year. I’m talking about a lack of penalties. I played a bunch of games. I saw a flag get thrown for a kickoff that went out of bounds, two for false start, one for offsides, one for clipping, one for throwing the ball after stepping across the line of scrimmage (which was nice to see), and one for a delay of game. That’s it. In all the games I played, on default sliders, that’s all the flags that I saw.
The passing one and offsides was on me, the others against the AI. The delay of game was a glitch where the AI team lined up, and the QB was standing up right off center and never made an effort to do anything. Not one holding call. Not one facemask. Not one pass interference. So much for a simulation, unless we’re suppose to pretend that penalties don’t happen often in games. The sad thing is you can see a hold, and it doesn’t get called. You can see a pass interference, and it won’t get called. You can see a facemask, and it won’t get called. Hell, the victim of the facemask will even jump up and start grabbing at his facemask, as players do in real life trying to get the call, and yet nothing. I’m not saying there are none of these penalties in the game. You may see one. But in exhibition games and plenty of games in Connected Franchise, I didn’t see any of those. That’s unacceptable.
Unrelated to penalties, but I did have another glitch that happened that I’ll be posting a video of later. The AI team had the ball and handed it off, the running back ran a little ways, and then fell over like he got tackled. Except no one touched him, not even close. He just falls over, and puts the ball on the ground. It should be a fumble right, because he didn’t get tackled and no defender touched him when he was down. Nope not a fumble, it was treated as a tackle. That only happened once, so don’t think players are just randomly falling over.
As you can see from the above image, there were zero people playing online or searching for a game. That was always the case throughout the week that I’ve had the game prior to the review. I know other people had it on PS4 early because there were some names on the leaderboards, there were guys posting auctions and trades for the Ultimate Team stuff, but I never found anyone to play online with. So online quality has zero bearing on this review. Honestly, I’m not a fan of online in sports games anyway, unless it’s with friends, so I can’t say I care much about it.
Likewise, I don’t care much for the Ultimate Team mode either. It works and it doesn’t seem to be anything drastically different with it, so if you liked it last year you’ll probably like it this year. I’m not going to compete in the head-to-head seasons and I’m not going to spend any money to purchase packs of virtual cards, so it’s just too much of a grind for me to get interested in. They’ve added objectives and binder, and tried to make it a bit easier to get into, but I really have no interest in building a team with cards and spending money to open packs or any of that stuff. It works, that’s good enough for me. Packs of cards seem to be priced too high in my opinion, but hey, more power to EA if folks are willing to fork over money for virtual cards to build a fantasy team with. It doesn’t affect my playing, so whatever.
Madden NFL 15 is a great looking game. It also plays really well. Ultimately, those are the two things that matter most, with the gameplay of course being the biggest thing. It really does look fantastic with improved visuals across the board. It’s nice to see a field that looks great, and not those ugly messes us PS3 owners got in the NCAA and Madden games over the years. This game does so much right; I really want to give it four and a half stars. But I can’t. I can look past the issues with commentary and the little things that may happen in the news feed or in-game Twitter. But I can’t look past the rarity of penalties. Not this year.
No one likes penalties (unless they help your team of course), but they’re a part of the game. Players grab facemasks, or hold, or cause interference with a pass (both offensively and defensively)… that should be reflected in the game. And it shouldn’t be some mythical occurrence that you may see if you play a hundred games or so, and I shouldn’t have to crank sliders up to see if that causes it happen. It’s frustrating when it’s third down with eight yards to go, and your receiver doesn’t catch the ball because a defender is all over his arms and nothing gets called. Fix it. As is, penalties almost never happen, and the big ones I’ve still yet to see.
This one gets four stars. It should be four and a half, but it’s a long ways from the full five. One day, maybe Tiburon will fix issues that have been around for years (penalty issue is worse this year). If you’re a fan of Madden with a current gen system who didn’t get Madden 25, you should definitely pick up this year’s version. If you’re coming from a PS3 or 360 version, you’re definitely in for a treat in regards to the graphical quality. If you own Madden 25 on PS4 or Xbox One, you can probably skip this year and be just as happy. As is, it’s a great football game with some issues (some bigger than others), but it should be better. It could be better.
Madden NFL ’15 gets a four out of five: GREAT.
* A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.