Popularity-wise, American Football has had its ups and downs in the UK, but is currently riding high, thanks in part to an increasing number of NFL games that take place on these shores. If you’re already a fan of the sport, you’ll surely be well aware of EA Sports’ Madden NFL, which is every bit as all-conquering a franchise in the US as FIFA is this side of the Atlantic. But if your gridiron interest is more recent, you’ll be glad to hear that this year’s version of the game works much harder than its recent predecessors to hold your hand and lead you through the more byzantine aspects of American Football.
It works harder to hold your hand through the byzantine aspects of American Football.
Like FIFA, Madden is updated every year, but this year’s version has plenty of new stuff even for the hardcore devotees. Its artificial intelligence has been uprated so that when you play against the computer, it acts in a noticeably more real-life manner, especially when you’re marshalling a defensive line. Basic mechanics have also been tinkered with, most notably when it comes to running with the ball: you can now launch special moves when controlling or defending against the ball-carrier, prolonging runs or ending them as early as possible, according to the situation, and you generally feel you have finer control over running backs and individual defenders. The whole special teams side of the game has been revamped – making outrageous plays a much more available option – and there’s a new goal-kicking system which cribs satisfyingly from PGA Tour Golf.
Sure, it’s complicated – as it should be since the sport itself is very arcane. But you don’t have to micro-manage everything if you don’t want to, and this time around, your defence reacts much better to opposition attempts to pull off unexpected plays, again thanks to a revamping of the AI.
The heart of Madden NFL 17 is Franchise Mode: there, you can choose to play as a coach, player or owner, over what amounts to a 10-season career. Playing as a coach brings the full experience, in which you control your team during every on-field moment. Rookies might want to investigate controlling a player, which simulates the bits of the games when you’re not on the pitch but – thanks in part to a great weekly training sessions system – quickly sucks you into all the subtleties of playing in that position and educates you about how opponents will counter your efforts. Or, as an owner, you can take the Football Manager sim-style approach, concentrating on wheeling, dealing and kicking your coach’s butt if he falls short.
In other words, Franchise Mode is about as flexible as you could imagine, and in Madden NFL 17, it has become even more so thanks to an option called Play The Moments. It’s particularly handy for the time-poor – single games can take as long as 45 minutes to complete if you crank up the settings – as it simulates games in the background, then invites you to take the controls only at key moments. Thus you can move swiftly through seasons, and you can always trigger Play The Moments for a particular session, then revert to your normal mode of play. And it really does drop you into the game’s key moments, in a near-uncanny manner, cranking up the pressure and often leaving you feeling like a hero.
It looks fantastic, and is presented in a near-identical manner to real-life TV coverage of the NFL.
Beyond Franchise Mode, you can get stuck into Madden Ultimate Team (which operates pretty much identically to FIFA Ultimate Team), as well as Draft Champions: a much quicker means of getting to be competitive online as it lets you go through the NFL’s draft process to assemble a team.
In general terms, it's beyond slick. It looks fantastic, and is presented in a near-identical manner to real-life TV coverage of the NFL, with a cornucopia of replays and all the razzmatazz and bombast that American TV does so well. You can, of course, cycle past those cut-scenes, but it’s always nice to look back at your most satisfying plays.
Overall, Madden NFL 17 is beyond reproach: it builds impressively on the last two Madden NFL games, which initiated a major revamp after the franchise had begun to feel a bit tired, and might just deserve to be acclaimed as the most realistic sports game there has ever been (somehow, it feels even truer to life than FIFA). Whether you’re mad for American Football or your interest in the sport has only just been piqued, you should find it really satisfying – you will learn way more about the sport by playing franchise mode as a player than you would by watching hundreds of real-life games.