Madden NFL 15 is the latest entry in the Madden series and as someone who’s been playing Madden for over 20 years, I’ve got to say that it’s definitely the best yet. Lots of people will say that reviewers say that every year but when its true its true. Last year’s Madden 25 port for next-gen consoles didn’t fully leverage the power of the new consoles, but in Madden 15 you can clearly see that they have and it makes us excited to see what they can do with the franchise as the developers get more and more comfortable with it.
The first time you boot up Madden NFL 15 you’ll find yourself in the final minutes of a fictional 2015 NFC Championship Game between the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks. Just when it looks like it’s over, the Seahawks commit a costly turnover, giving the Panthers a chance to rally for victory with a short field and under two minutes left to play. You’ll take control of Cam Newton and the Panthers offense and try to withstand Seattle’s ferocious Legion of Boom. I’ll admit at first I didn’t know what was going on, but once I realized, I stepped up and brought the Panthers through. EA’s calling it the “First Interactive Experience” and it’s a nice little intro to the game that can be played while the game is downloading and installing on your PS4 or Xbox One.
The first thing that really blew me away was the improved graphics, the game looks beautiful with the actual gameplay pretty much par with what we’ve seen only in CGI videos up until this point. Player models received major upgrades, with faces, bodies, uniforms, equipment and more all getting some attention. The Madden team has head scanned a majority of most rosters to make the players look as much like themselves as possible. They don’t currently have every single player’s scans yet, but most of the star players are scanned and the upgrade is absolutely noticeable. The game also got upgrades to game presentation, with new camera angles and presentation packages, it really feels like you are watching it on TV. Gone are the canned cut away videos of old that we saw post play, those have now been replaced with completely in-game dynamic celebrations and reactions occurring in real-time. This is one of those small things that only true Madden fans would notice but it’s another small thing that helps keep you in the experience.
You can also cycle through multiple offensive cameras right at the line of scrimmage by simply pressing up or down on the control pad. This is a particularly useful feature to me, since when I’m running I can use the Zoom camera to get maximum view the play to determine if its better to follow my blockers, cut it back or bounce it to the outside. I switch to a wider view when I’m passing though, allowing me to see which players are open immediately after the snap and hit them before the defense has a chance to react.
Generally I’ve liked all the presentation updates but I can’t say I really like a lot of what they’ve done with pregame and halftime shows. While Madden 15 has the franchise’s first “true halftime show”, I can’t say I care for it. It features studio host Larry Ridley who will recount the action so far, complete with highlight clips and commentary on scores, turnovers and other big, momentum-shifting plays. The problem I have with it, is that you can’t skip through it, it’s too long, and his assessments are often not accurate. The halftime show is nice from an authenticity standpoint, but most of us just want to get back to playing the game and could care less, I mean in real life, the only reason to watch the halftime show is to catch up on other games or because you don’t have a better alternative. Seriously, who actually wants to watch the halftime show (aside from the Super Bowl)? As for Larry Ridley’s performance in general, I can’t say I was all that impressed with it either, I’m sure he’s good, but he just wasn’t compelling to me.
On the gameplay front, the game has seen tons of new improvements. Madden NFL 15 features new tackling mechanics, pass rush moves and snap-jumping abilities to disrupt the offense. An interesting addition to this year’s game is a cone which appears in front of defenders whenever a ballcarrier is within range of a tackle (can be turned off). This visual aid helps you understand when you’re in position to make a play, which is supposed to lead to more consistency and fewer missed tackles. Personally, I get the concept but I can’t say it’s really helped me whiff less, though they may be because I’m ultra aggressive on D which is high risk, high reward. What I did like is that you can now hit stick with square, allowing you to deliver big hits with less risk because you don’t have to flick the analog controller. This should also help your controllers last longer if you’re like me.
If your like me and love to rush off the edge with a DE, then you’ll the fact that the power and finesse moves have been moved off the right thumbstick and onto the face buttons (square and X respectively), and you’ll be able to see a prompt over the players’ heads when power or finesse moves are available. If you like it old school, you can turn the prompts off. Another improvement players like me will love on defense is block steering. In past versions of Madden, as a defender when you got engaged with a lineman, there was this suction thing that happened and it was very difficult to get off the block. In Madden 15, you once engaged you can move the linemen left or right in order to get in better position to make a play or simply to clog up a running lane.
The biggest defensive gripe that I think that any hardcore Madden player always has is with coverage AI. While the coverage AI is much improved, there are still some plays that make you go how did he catch that. In particular, wheel routes by running backs seem to particularly difficult to stop this year, but we’ll have to keep an eye on that once the game is released. One thing that does help out in Madden 15 though is pass variety, which makes a QB’s actual pass accuracy really matter. While making the game more realistic, this is also designed to stop folks who exploited the old passing system which allowed them to utilize highly mobile, though not as good QB’s to put what EA described as “unrealistic pressure on the defense”. They are correct, I mean who remembers getting torched by Josh Johnson or even EJ Manuel. Bottom line its improved but I honestly think it will be a few years on this gen before it gets where most people would want it.
On the playcalling side, there have been a lot of improvements, with more way to get to the play you want but perhaps the biggest addition to playcalling this year, perhaps in the last 10 years is the art of “concepts. This should really help players who aren’t huge football fans in real life be a whole lot better. In previous years, a lot of players knew what they wanted to do, they simply didn’t know what plays would allow them to do them. Using the concepts tab, you can get a list of plays broken down by concepts, so if you want to run a Levels or Flood concept, you can immediately get plays that do that for you. This works on offense and defense and really gives everyone a lot more control over making sure they find plays that do exactly what they were hoping to do. An interesting addition to the play call screen this year is the fact that you’ll now see what play your opponent ran but they’ll also see yours so it’s an interesting bit of cat and mouse there but I’m sure some players won’t like it. Personally, its alright with me since I’ve used it to assimilate a few of the better plays into my arsenal.
I’m going to say something I never thought I’d say, but you should definitely fully complete the Skills Trainer. Not only is it a great way to pick up Ultimate Team stuff, it’s actually just really valuable in understanding overall football concepts. The Skills Trainer this year is detailed and thorough enough that there is no reason that anyone that wants to understand core offensive and defensive football concepts shouldn’t be able to. I’m a huge football fan, even played it back in high school, but even I still learned something. If you are constantly getting pressured by a certain coverage, jump into the skills trainer and learn what concepts are most effective at beating it.
Another nice addition to the game is The Gauntlet, a collection of 40 increasingly difficult challenges testing all facets of your game. The challenges are always in a different order so you can’t get comfortable there and it’s definitely a nice little changeup to all the other gameplay types. It’s narrated by Cam Newton and I can definitely see friends challenging each other to beat their high score. And did I mention the boss stages? You’ve got five lives, can you beat the gauntlet?
And now for the good stuff, let’s talk Madden Ultimate Team and Connected Franchise. Madden Ultimate Team or MUT as it is often referred to by players is back and better than ever. MUT continues to be the franchise’s fastest-growing mode. The majority of the improvements to MUT have to do with streamlining the mode, cutting down on the number of screens and generally allowing you to do things faster. Gone are all the different areas that players could be stored and introduce The Binder, one place to easily sort all your players by position, team, style and more, and after selecting an item all actions can be driven from one screen. You can easily compare a player to another at the same position (about time), promote them to the starting lineup or send to the bench, add them to applicable Sets (the new name for Collections), auction, trade or quicksell. It’s easier than ever to complete Sets this year as when you got to a set, it will highlight which cards you already own so you can quickly add them and for the ones you don’t, you can quickly jump to the auction house and find them to buy to complete your set. To top that off, several sets are repeatable. This streamlining of card management is perhaps the single most needed and valuable addition to the mode.
Connected Franchise mode looks a lot like last year, just with tons of improvements which I’m alright with. In Madden 15, they’ve introduced something called “confidence”, which every player posses and can range from 1-99, though everyone starts with 50 as the default to start the season. As the season progresses, players gain or lose confidence based on factors such as on-field performance, trades, teammates being signed or released, etc. As players gain confidence, some of their key ratings will increase, leading them to play especially well; as they lose confidence, these same ratings can take a hit, which will result in generally poorer performance. This is an interesting feature that adds another layer of depth to the mode, trying to mimic those players that break out every year and perform above and beyond what folks would expect. When combined with the new Game Prep feature, I think this should really make things interesting. Game Prep can be used to help Confidence or gain more XP, so for a young guy you might focus on getting him more XP but with a veteran who’s stats are maxed, you’d want to focus on making sure his confidence was as high as possible.
All in all, Madden NFL 15 is an excellent debut onto next generation systems with a full year of dedicated development, unlike Madden 25. The game does a lot to streamline gameplay and continue to iterate improvements its been making over the last few years. If this is any indication of what we have to look forward to over the next few years, I’m excited to see what they can do with all the power of this generation’s consoles. As such, we give Madden NFL 15 8.5 out of 10.
PS4 review copy provided by EA. Madden NFL 15 is available August 26, 2014 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.