Last year, I said Madden NFL 16 featured some of the series’ best gameplay but lacked refinement. This year’s entry, Madden NFL 17, manages to both bring the necessary refinement and even further improve on the gameplay, bringing a year-over-year jump in quality that I didn’t think the series was capable of. Madden NFL 17 is, dare I say it, one of the best Madden titles yet.
On the outside, Madden NFL 17 is exactly what one would expect from the annual series. It offers the same gameplay modes as its predecessor: online and offline head-to-head gameplay, franchise mode, Madden Ultimate Team, and Draft Champions. What isn’t immediately apparent just by looking at those offerings is the level of behind-the-scenes improvement shown in most aspects of the game.
First and foremost, the core gameplay itself has been overhauled in several important ways. On offense alone, the game feels totally different. Running the ball actually feels worthwhile because runs don’t constantly get stopped at the line of scrimmage. Running backs play smartly and can maneuver with much more mental and physical agility than in the previous entry. They’re sometimes tough to take down, and their evasive maneuvers are rather effective yet balanced. The average rush will generally net three or four yards, but it’s certainly possible to outsmart the defense for a huge gain.
Passing, on the other hand, isn’t quite as effective as it used to be. To be honest, it became easy to manipulate defenses in last year’s Madden. This year, athletes must not only be good route runners, but they also have to work hard to keep a hold on the ball. Dropped passes happen a bit more often than they used to, but random instances of defenders popping the ball loose after a hit seem to happen less often, which makes the game feel more like football tends to play out in real life.All these changes are great because rushing needed to become more effective and passing needed to be toned down a bit. Now, gameplay feels balanced: both rushing and passing are effective in most situations, and winning is all about playing to the strengths of the teams, not the flaws in the system.
On the defensive side, zone coverage has been reworked. A handful of new zone types have been added to the existing ones, which gives players even more precise options for where they’d like their players to go on the field during zone coverage. As a result, playing defense feels far less helpless than it used to, since the player feels more like he or she is in control of the defense’s actions.
Player physics are much improved as well. The players on the field move with the smooth fluidity of actual humans. The actions just look so silky and realistic that playing Madden NFL 17 sometimes feels like participating in a real NFL game, not a video game.
The only regression in the quality of gameplay mechanics comes in the form of the kicking meter. Madden sports a new meter, and it’s deceptively tough to use. Even after dozens of games, I still shank some easy field goals and miss the mark on most punts. The new meter requires the player to click the main action button to begin the process, wait until the meter reaches full power and click the button again, then wait for the meter to swing down into the sweet spot for accuracy, which requires another click. In theory, it’s similar to the old school Madden NFL 06 meter. But in actuality, it’s just too difficult to use.For example, if theaccuracy isn’t almost perfectly in the sweet spot, the ball can go so far off-center that the player can miss a simple PAT. Gauging the timing between the button presses is head-scratchingly difficult. Aiming is far too imprecise to be useful on punts. Pinning the ball within the 10-yard line is mainly guesswork now, as the ball’s projected travel arc has been updated as well, making it almost impossible to tell where the ball is headed at any given time. As a result, punts that should easily be pinned near the goal line can end up bouncing out of bounds at about the 35-yard line or worse.
But all in all, the game’s mechanics take plenty of steps forward, even if the new kicking meter takes a step back.
Another huge upgrade comes in the form of commentary. Last year’s commentators have been scrapped, and the new ones are equipped with more lines, better, flowing dialogue, natural, friendly banter, and more timely information. They’ll occasionally comment on developments such as injuries that are happening in the league in a given week. Commentary updates occur every week or so, meaning the dialogue isn’t static: the dialogue changes a bit week over week, which keeps it from getting stale. For the first time in memory, it keeps the player engaged because it is relevant and not nearly as repetitive as in years past.
On the topic of the game’s audio, the soundtrack in the newest Madden is solid as well. In keeping with last year’s entry, it pulls upbeat songs from a variety of genres, all of which manage to mesh together pretty well. It may not be the best video game soundtrack of all time, but it’s definitely enjoyable to listen to at the very least.The game modes available in Madden NFL 17 are more or less the same as they were in last year’s entry. Franchise mode, Draft Champions and Madden Ultimate Team are basically the same products as last year but with slight tweaks. For example, the way weekly training and XP allocation work in Franchise mode is slightly different now, but not enough to be revolutionary. The core experience is still solid as ever.
The game also is quite stable as far as bugs or glitches are concerned. Last year’s entry had a litany of issues that would cause the game to freeze or crash frequently, but there’s only one annoying bug in Madden NFL 17 I’ve found so far. Sometimes, if a defensive lineman has a clear opening in the offensive line that would give him a path to the quarterback, he’ll stop dead in his tracks and not cross the plane of the offensive line, as if stopped by an invisible wall. This is highly annoying, to be sure, since this can cause what should have been an easy sack to turn into a long completion downfield.
But all in all, Madden NFL 17 is incredible. The core gameplay has been refined and tweaked on both offense and defense so that it feels more balanced than ever. Upgraded commentary brings the game to life, and new player animations make the action silky smooth. Yes, the game modes in Madden NFL 17 are basically the same as the previous entry, but the upgrades in the gameplay itself more than make up for the stagnation in modes. Madden NFL 17 is more fair and fun to play than any Madden in recent memory, which makes it a standout title not only for the series, but for gaming in 2016 as a whole.