Now that EA Sports has (somewhat) moved past the growing pains of the Xbox One and PS4 many are wondering whether the next iterations of their popular titles will deliver on expectations. Luckily, Madden NFL 15 has arrived to prove that, yes, EA Sports is getting a better grasp on these new systems, while at the same time improving their base formulas. But there is still room for improvement. The game represents a nice foot forward for the franchise, which is especially meaningful given its stagnant nature as of late, but it’s not necessarily the must-play fans hope for.
While in past years Madden has used new modes and social features as selling points, this year’s game is all about on-the-field play. Almost every element that players see on screen, moment-to-moment, has been tweaked in some fashion, mostly for the better. Defense has finally received the attention it was sorely in need of, and the presentation is much cleaner than Madden 25‘s sloppy showing. But where the game most shines is in its finer details — the way blitzers can jump off the line with just the press of a button, how QBs can read wide receiver matchups based on speed and intelligence, or how tackling accommodates risk and reward. It isn’t until you go hands-on with Madden NFL 15 that these changes become apparent, but trust us when we say this is the best-playing Madden in years.
Defensively, the developers have made it easier to do everything from rush the passer to tackle open field runners, without sacrificing the believability. Now pass rushers can try to shake lineman using either finesse or power moves, but if they fail, they’re practically stuck in the tackle or guard’s grip. With the new conservative and aggressive tackling system, players can decide how much risk they want to involve in bringing down a runner, rather than letting the game make the decision for them. As a result, defense as a whole becomes a more competent component of the Madden puzzle, not the lull between offensive downs.
Right along with defense, the presentation in Madden NFL 15 is greatly improved, with higher fidelity visuals and a stronger live game feel. The commentary by Jim Nantz and Phil Sims is still a little stiff, but the camera moves, angle selection, and graphical work is exceptional. The presentation and commentary are also more dynamic this year, taking into account on-field stats, team relationships, and player history to craft something that feels unique each and every time you play.
The presentation has its inherent limitations and quirks, but without question this is how a football game should look and sound. The only real drawback is that the game sometimes forces un-skippable video segments on the player to seemingly hide load times. Granted, it’s better than the awkward freeze frames of Madden 25, but still a momentum-killer.
Offense has been tweaked slightly for Madden NFL 15 but not in as significant a fashion as defense. Play calling, for example, still features coach suggestions and manual play selection, but it also includes a new community feature. Players can still see what a coach would suggest for a play (and now why that play is being selected), but they can also see what the community regularly chooses in any given situation. The menu even shows the success rate of a play, giving players a better idea as to how they stack up against other players. This new approach to play calling goes a long way towards reinforcing strategies not just by repetition but also explanation.
Once you get out on the field, the game still has all the audible options players could possibly want, as well as a new feature that evaluates each WR/DB matchup. That way, players can see which wide receiver might be faster than the defensive back, or which player might have a hard time getting open or fighting for a 50/50 ball. Like the play calling, it’s a welcome feature and one that helps reinforce that Madden is as much a teaching tool as it is a piece of entertainment.
With all that being said, there are still plenty of unwanted quirks to Madden NFL 15‘s gameplay that could easily sour the experience for some. More specifically, the game struggles to play fair, where the virtual dice rolls of the game fall in both the player and the computer’s favor. Sometimes it feels like the AI not only can guess the play ahead of time but also that they know when exactly to jump a route for an interception.
The same is true of AI tackling, which can be inconsistently sloppy. Sometimes a running back bounces off a defensive end and sometimes that tackler sucks him right in, and other times your lineman decides he’d rather not make that block. In the grand scheme of things the experience is mostly even, but there are times when it does feel like these new defensive systems are working against the player.
Luckily, online interactions eliminate any of those “dice rolls” and keep things, for the most part, fair. Players have offline and online options for every Madden mode, from Ultimate Team all the way to Connected Career, and those modes go as deep as players want. There isn’t anything terribly new in Connected Career or Ultimate Team, but it’s to EA Sports’ credit that they already found a formula that works.
And ultimately that’s what Madden NFL 15 has pushed the franchise closer to: a formula that feels refined but more realistic. There is no radical reinvention, but smart changes like risk/reward tackling, better play calling options, and improved presentation prove that EA Sports wasn’t ready to rest on their laurels for the second year in a row. They know what’s to be gained in this new generation, and they want to entice as many new gamers as possible while also keeping longtime fans happy.
There are still those frustrating quirks that come with practically any sports game, but for Madden NFL 15 those moments come across as realistic in the grand scheme of things. And even if the game does feel too unfair, there’s always the option of dropping the difficulty.
Madden NFL 15 is the best the series has looked and played in years, and is very close to coalescing into something truly impressive. One or two more years under these new consoles and more changes like those featured this year, and Madden just might reclaim its old glory.
Madden NFL 15 releases August 26, 2014 for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided the PS4 version for this review.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina