Madden NFL 16 is making changes across the board, from tweaks to the running game and new ways to catch the ball, to additions to your connected franchise such as a new scouting system. At E3 I got my hands on the game to check out the action on the field. I could tell many instances where the new additions added to the experience, and a few situations I hope are further refined before release.
It’s Anyone’s Ball
In the past I’ve criticized Madden’s receivers for being too passive when the ball is in the air. They would simply wait for the catch, sometimes allowing defensive backs to make a play on the ball for an interception. This year’s receivers are more dynamic because they have different catches they can attempt at your command – possession, aggressive, and run-after-the-catch (RAC).
Each of these has a face button associated to it, and if you play with the new optional tutorial HUD on, you actually see the recommended catch and its face button on the screen at the right time. Possession prioritizes making the catch above all else, like when a receiver catches the ball and instantly shields it with his body and dives to the ground. This can be useful when you catch the ball at the sticks and just want to secure the first down instead of risking a few extra yards and fumbling or getting blown up. Aggressive, on the other hand, tells the receiver to go up and get the ball at its highest point, useful for jump balls. Finally, RAC tells the receiver to immediately turn up field to try and gain extra yards.
In my experience, the new catches were a mixed bag. I saw some realistic moments where we tried a RAC on a quick slant and our receiver dropped the easy catch – perhaps his eye was already looking up field before securing the ball. Other times, I tried to tell our receiver to perform an aggressive catch on a curl route, but it didn’t seem any different than last y ear. If you don’t select a particular catch, the computer makes one for you. While I like that players have the option to use a specific catch or not, I worry that the computer won’t be situationally aware enough to make the smart decision. I’ve seen players trying to make the wrong kinds of catches for the circumstance already.
These new catches prompt different reactions from defensive players, such as new animations for contested balls, and defenders can cue their own reactions to a pass by choosing to either play the ball or the receiver. These aren’t new to this year, but EA promises that when used in conjunction with receiver’s new actions, the interaction between the pair should produce all kinds of outcomes.
I haven’t had much joy recently with Madden’s running game because I feel it can be hard to navigate the running back manually without sticking to my blockers accidentally, but I don’t trust the A.I. to take control behind the line and hit the correct h ole. Based on what I’ve played of the game, I’m slightly optimistic I’ll have better luck with running this year.
While not feeling drastically different, there were instances where I worked my way through the line without running up the backs of my blockers. You can “get skinny” by holding down the right bumper to squeeze the back in the hole, and you can make a cut step juke behind the line of scrimmage for those times when a defender gets behind the line of scrimmage and has you dead to rights. It will be interesting to see how powerful this mechanic is, and
which running backs can use it.
While nobody likes to get tackled when they’re on offense, I was impressed with the new tackling system. Tacklers can influence the ball carrier’s body so his motion is appropriately altered. One instance I saw was just like in real life, when a defender hit the ball carrier in the shoulder as he was already being dragged down, knocking the carrier sideways slightly and preventing him from falling forward for an extra yard.
I’m glad developer EA Tiburon is trying to address both sides of the ball in the same year. With a little more tuning, hopefully the team can downplay conspicuous catches and make the passing game a dynamic part of the action instead of simply a matter of reading whether your receiver is open or not. Like a team expected to make the playoffs, a few tweaks to the gameplan could take Madden NFL 16 even further.