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Madden 17 hands on

Lets get straight into it. Madden 17 is good. In fact, it’s the best Madden I’ve played in some time.

First things first, gameplay. There is a renewed focus on the ball carrier this year, and that’s a good thing. Let’s talk about the most notable changes.

On Rookie and Pro (by default), the game now flashes up with the button for a recommended skill move, for example it may flash up with the right analogue stick and ‘Juke right’. It then gives you feedback on your timing saying ‘early’ or ‘late’. It’s a pretty cool feature that helps you perfect the timing of skill moves and better understand their strengths. 

But if you’re a more experienced player, fear not. They've added more depth to the special move system, too. You can now use the shoulder buttons as modifiers to get exactly the kind of move you want. For example, RT/R2 is the speed modifier, which has low levels of risk, but can only fake out one player. LT/L2 is the precision modifier, which is more powerful and can fake out multiple opponents, but has a higher risk of fumbles etc. You can also use both triggers or neither for further variants.  

There really is an option to suit players of any experience. You can even set it to auto and let the CPU do the skill moves for you.

What’s more, special moves are now more or less effective depending on which player you’re controlling. For example, a light, agile player with a high special move stat may be great at Jukes or spins, but someone large or powerful like Adrian Peterson will have a more effective stiff arm. Again, it’s another small change that makes the experience feel more authentic.

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Another nice addition is the tackle battle. Let’s say you screw up and a defender grabs hold of you. If the two players are similar in strength and ability, and you’re locked in a standing tackle, a tackle battle will ensue. A button will flash up above the two players – the first man to hit it wins. So if you’re the ball carrier, you can break the tackle and grab some more yards. If you’re the defender, you wrestle the carrier to the ground.

One last thing on ball carrying, there’s a new feature called run path assist. It’s pretty simple, it’s just a big arrow that shows you where you’re currently pointing the analogue stick. It may not sound much, but it’s very useful when trying to run through tight gaps because you can make sure you’re actually aiming towards daylight and not doing that annoying thing where you get stuck behind your lineman.

Let’s move to defence for a moment. To be honest, I’ve always found playing D pretty dull, and I often feel like I’m doing more harm than good. But there have been a few tweaks this year that have me much more invested.

Defensive AI has been improved in a number ways. Take zone coverage for example. Players no longer just stand still doing nothing when their zone is empty. They now watch runners to see who is likely to enter their zone.

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Defenders now also manage specific gap assignments. They look at gaps that a ball carrier may run through and plug them. It’s satisfying when you successfully block your player’s assigned gap and see the ball carrier herded into another defender.

Defenders also have a new weapon to counter the aggressive catch – the defensive swat. It looks pretty sweet, and just makes sense.

That’s O and D dealt with, let’s get special. Big news here – I blocked a field goal! For 17, there are more options for fakes and trick plays, but it’s also properly possible to block kicks this time. It’s pretty rare and your timing has to be bang on. I’ve only blocked one, but it made a difference to the game and it felt incredible.

The moral of the story is gameplay has changed for the better. There are a multitude of other changes too, such as updated ball physics, but there’s too much to get into here.

Madden 17 kick block ()

 

Commentary has changed completely. Phil Sims and Jim Nantz are out. Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis are in. It’s an unusual choice, but I suspect that comes down to the incredible amount of access Madden have to the duo. They reckon there will be up to 20 hours of new commentary each week! To my ears, the commentary is more fluid and conversational and fits the improved game presentation.

Franchise mode is the other area to get excited about. The biggest addition is ‘Play the Moments’. This is a partial sim mode of sorts that drastically reduces game time, but brings you in at key moments in the game. This could be for important 3rd downs, Red Zone opportunities or a whole variety of situations. It’s a bit like NFL Red Zone. You can change sim speed and also jump in to take control at any point. It’s a nice feature that means you can rattle through a season in a weekend and focus on the long-term goals of your franchise – if that's your thing.

There’s also a new ‘Big decisions’ screen, that lets you get to important bits of business more quickly. This may be deciding on whether to reintroduce an injured player, or renegotiating a contract with a player who’s about to become a free agent.

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Practice feels more important now too. You can practice specific plays to counter your opponent’s style and you’ll get a performance boost when you use these plays in the game. For example, if you’ve practiced a dagger concept then use it in game, your receivers may have a slight boost to their catch ability for that play.

The community has also had some of its wishes heard. There’s now an in-game score ticker, meaning you can see how your rivals are doing midgame. You also have a practice squad, to which you can sign rookies and free agents. Crucially, though, other teams can come in and nab those players. Oh and there are now formation subs in franchise mode.

Summary

There's a lot to like here. Improved gameplay makes Madden 17 a joy, and the Franchise updates are a huge boost. This is the best Madden game for years.

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