Madden NFL 16 is the Best Football Game to Date

Madden NFL 16
Madden NFL 16. EA Sports

After years of basically treading water, even after the jump to the PS4, the team at EA Sports have finally taken their landmark franchise to the next level, revealing what a next-gen sports game should be. Madden NFL 16 is the best sports football game I’ve ever played, and one of the best sports games, period, challenging the best iterations of NBA 2K and MLB The Show for that title. It is a nearly perfect football game, from its truly broadcast-level presentation to fluid gameplay to customizable depth that’s mind-blowing.

New bells and whistles, including a mode that mimics the dream-world glee of fantasy football called Draft Champions, feel like they actually enhance the overall experience of this year’s Madden instead of just desperately trying to add something new. It’s not really football season until Madden comes out, and this one is the best to date.

Same Old Team, Brand New Look

Unlike recent next-gen Madden games, the visual upgrade here is noticeable immediately. Even the menu screens look more fluid and well-designed than anything we saw on the PS3. In many ways, this is the first PS4 Madden game, a title that feels designed for the next-generation instead of just ported to it. The facial animations still sometimes fall deep into the uncanny valley (in which people look more like zombies than humans) but the physics on the field are remarkably genuine, and the crowd/stadium design is unmatched. Add to that the menu screens and highlights that look exactly like you’re watching the NFL on CBS or FOX, and it becomes difficult for people in other room’s to discern whether or not you’re playing Madden or actually watching the real thing.

Let's Get on the Field!

As with every sports game, I jumped in with a “Play Now,” just to see how the game felt free of any special modes or customization. Immediately, you notice the fluidity of gameplay. There are no stutter-stops in which players seem to go from 2 MPH to 50 MPH either to make a ridiculous catch or block one.

There are few leaping catches in which the WR appears to have magnets on his hands. However, one does immediately notice that Madden has caught up with the real NFL in that the real game belongs to the QB in the ‘10s. The game this time is heavily weighted toward the QB-WR dynamic. There are even new mechanics in that department, including buttons that allow you to make an “Aggressive Catch”—leaping up to grab the ball but leaving yourself open to getting slammed in the process—and a button called “RAC”—Run After Catch, which is pretty self-explanatory. Everything in Madden NFL 16, much like in the real NFL nowadays, is predicated on the pass-catch dynamic, from the fact that Odell Beckham Jr. is on the cover to the fact that your QB gets all the attention pre-game (showing his stats as you take the field).

A Nearly-Perfect Presentation

Playing through a full season with my Detroit Lions (11-5, lost to GB for the third time in one season in the NFC Championship Game), I found almost no gameplay errors. In past iterations of Madden, you’d get a glitch or a weird catch or physically impossible run that determined a game. There’s a bizarre lack of fumbles (none all season), but penalties are more common/realistic and the physics are the best I’ve ever seen in a football game.

Playing through a season starts up a new dynamic as well in that you have in-game and season goals that earn you Confidence Points. In other words, the more you throw to Golden Tate, the more confident he gets, which makes him more likely to catch the ball next game.

Draft Champions 

From season mode, I moved on to the excellent and addictive “Draft Champions” mode, in which you create a unique, dream team of players, mostly current with one all-time legend. For 14 rounds, you pick from three current players. In the 15th and final round, you pick a legend. So, for example, I had a team in which John Elway was throwing to Calvin Johnson, with Lamar Miller at Running Back.

You can the take this team online or run a gauntlet against the CPU to win prizes for your Ultimate Team. It’s crazy fun.

Verdict

That’s the element that has returned to Madden this year—fun. From the energetic presentation to the highlight reel catches to the in-game goals to the new mode—everything about Madden NFL 16 is enjoyable. None of it feels like a chore as in some other sports game, and none of it comes with the frustrating inconsistencies that have killed more than half the games in the history of the genre. It’s one of the best. VERDICT: BUY IT.