Together with FIFA, the Madden NFL franchise is one of EA Sports' most popular series. It may not seem that way in Europe as we mostly care about soccer-ball over here, but in the US the coin is flipped the other way. Due to its popularity EA has spent formidable resources on the series, and they have taken the time to consider feedback from fans. The results have been games of increasing quality each year, and this season is no exception.
As is the case with the series, Madden NFL 17 starts with a scene from a historic match. This year it's the Rams marking their return to Los Angeles after 21 years in St. Louis. The lack of guidance in this section, where you are meant to win the game for the home side, makes the initial minutes scary for anyone who hasn't played these sort of games before. It's also very odd, as the rest of the game explains everything quite well. So well in fact, that both newcomers and veterans can enjoy and learn something from the tutorials. The training mode for field goals and punts is a little misleading however. In it you make blocks fairly easily, as has been EA's intention, but in actual matches it's just as difficult as before.
This year's Madden focuses on all three of the major pillars of American football. Whereas Madden NFL 15 tackled defence, and Madden NFL 16 focused on offence, Madden NFL 17 gives equal attention to both. At the same time "Special Teams" are also getting some updates, completing the triangle. What it boils down to is the attributes of different players making more of an impact out on the field. A huge, muscular player can't do small movements with finesse, and smaller, quicker players struggle with tackles.
On the defensive side, plays down on the ground have received the most work. If you plan to run with the ball you will need a much better plan than before. The defence has learned new, realistic ways in which to stop you, and because of this it's essential to keep your eyes peeled on the opposition's defensive formation before having the centre deliver the ball to the quarterback.
The Madden games are advanced. For many they are so advanced that the mere thought of trying them out is too much. This might be an additional reason for the game selling so poorly in Europe. That being said, every year EA does their best to make the sport more accessible for people who aren't necessarily NFL experts. The same can be said this year, and they have come along way, but there's still potential for improvement.
We've never understood the pay grade system in NFL. It has many of the same principles as in NHL but there are also big differences. This has led us to look away from Franchise Mode in the previous games, but in Madden NFL 17 we can leave most of the decisions to the AI if we want to. That way we can focus on the actual matches, and if needs be which players to give extra training to each week.
Franchise Mode has indeed been updated since last year, and it's definitely a change for the better. Most of us aren't keen on spending 40 minutes preparing for a single match, which makes the 16 match season last forever. Most would rather play several seasons back to back, and with the option to outsource decisions to the AI this is easier to achieve. Additionally the mode lets you play only the most important parts of a given match if you want to, like plays inside the red zone (last 20 yards). That way you can skip the less interesting stuff and move through the season faster.
EA Sports are now famed for their Ultimate Team modes. Madden of course has its own version of it, but there are few changes over last year's edition. That being said, you should never fix something that's not broken, and once again MUT offers hours upon hours of quality entertainment in search of the perfect team balance.
As far as the sound goes, changes are far more apparent. Most noticeably commentators Phil Simms and Jim Nantz have been replaced by Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis. They do a far better job than their predecessors, with the new duo making comments more suited to what's going on down on the field. They also consider what type of match you are playing, and are more enthusiastic during a Super Bowl than a pre-season friendly.
While the audio is different the graphics are more or less the same. There are some smaller improvements in the way players move, but all in all the visuals have not been a point of focus this time around. Luckily last year's game looked fantastic, so the lack of improved graphics is not something spoiling the experience. On the contrary this is still a gorgeous game, just not a whole lot prettier than Madden NFL 16.
In fact, there are very few things spoiling the experience. There might not be massive changes in Madden NFL 17 over last year's game, but that's mainly because there was little need for drastic alterations. Madden NFL 17 is a terrific game for anyone who likes American football, but for all of us in Europe there's one thing to remember; you shouldn't expect to see many other players online in our part of the world, and latency makes it near impossible to play across the Atlantic. You'll therefore be stuck with the offline portions of the game, but luckily those are meaty enough to keep you busy for a long, long time.
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