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Review: Stellar defense gets ‘Madden NFL 15’ a tough win

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Madden NFL 15
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Madden NFL 15 (Credit: EA Sports)

Are you ready for some football? EA Sports certainly hopes so, because they’re ready to give you some football, just as they always do at the end of August. It’s Madden season, as it was last year, and the year before that, and so on.

Releasing a new version of a sports game every single year isn’t easy – or necessary, really – but the folks behind Madden go for it anyway. Occasionally we see a game-changing mode or feature, but typically new Maddens are more about millions of little jukes than big, bawdy Hail Marys.

So it should come as little surprise that Madden NFL 15 (releasing August 26 for the Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, and PS3) is, in most of the important ways, a lot like last year’s Madden NFL 25 (named for the 25th anniversary of the franchise, numerical consistency be damned). But alongside the usual upgrades are a few standout enhancements that make this the most accessible Madden game in ages.

It’s fitting that Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is on the game’s cover, because Madden NFL 15 is all about defense. Tackling is much more intuitive, for instance, thanks to a little visual cone that pops up when you take control of a defensive player. It makes it significantly easier to time tackles, leading to fewer cases of diving randomly in the wrong direction.

Defense has been improved at the line of scrimmage as well. Pressing a trigger right at the snap gives your player a boost; tap the correct button and you’ll glide past blockers with a clear path to the QB. While vets might find it all a little overbearing, the empowering of defensive lineman gives what’s traditionally been a stagnant part of the gameplay a much-needed burst of energy.

Things are less thrilling on the offensive side of the ball, which plays largely as it did in Madden 25. But improvements to the pre-snap game come in handy, especially a nifty little wheel pointing out mismatches. Is your All-Pro wide receiver lined up against a rookie? You’ll see that at a glance and can try to take advantage after the hike.

Both sides of the ball benefit from a deeper playcalling system. In addition to general Madden suggestions, a new crowdsourced ‘Community’ page crunches online player data and spits out a selection of popular plays. The game backs up its top suggestions with cool details like “success percentage” based on the down and yardage. It’s a slick combination of stat-tracking analytics and ease of use, and while vets can also dig down into each team’s playbook to find favorite plays, the new system is a boon to newbies.

Madden NFL 15 seems especially conscious of that demographic this year. A revamped Skills trainer not only walks players through the game’s mechanics, but even explains some of football’s more opaque strategies. Not really sure what a Corner 1 defense looks like? Or how to quickly decide whether to keep it or pitch it during an option? Madden NFL 15 is keen to teach players the finer points of football in the hopes that it will keep them coming back.

And it looks good doing it. The developers brought in an NFL Films guru to add flair to the presentation, and it’s helped make Madden NFL 15 the most cinematic Madden yet. But despite generally stellar presentation on the Xbox One and PS4 (reviewed), you’ll still spy an awkward relic from Madden’s big switch to physics-based graphics two years ago, as players go strangely limp and limbs randomly contort in painful directions during tackles. It’s not as common as it was, but the occasionally cringeworthy glitch mars what’s otherwise a great-looking game.

It’s a shame, then, that the commentary remains so weak. Performed by the chatty team of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz, it’s jam-packed with dull insights (“You have to be happy when you get a win, Jim!”). In-game commentary has come a long way – the spectacular NBA 2K series has proven that keeping things human and lively can have a big impact on the overall experience. Madden is lagging here. Maybe bring back Big John himself? I’d rather watch his Tinactin commercials than listen to these two blandly banter.

We could also use some new modes. There’s nothing wrong with the game’s vaunted Connected Franchise, which lets you take on the role of a player, coach or owner and guide a team to multiple Super Bowls, but it could use a little spice. A gentler learning curve helps ease players in the popular Madden Ultimate Team mode, an odd, compelling blend of football and card-collecting. It’s fun and addictive, but again, you’ve been here before.

Not that being here before has ever stopped fans of Madden from scooping up the ltest version. The best-selling sports franchise of all time earned that honor by listening to its players, and while Madden NFL 15 once again plays it relatively safe, its newfound love of defense, terrific playcalling, and overall accessibility puts fresh paint on the field. We are now ready for some football.

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What’s hot: Defense is finally fun; Crowdsourced playcalling; Smart training modes; Looks good…

What’s not: …except when it doesn’t; Weak commentary; Largely a tune up

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