JOE plays Madden 17 - a first look at the latest features
Summer is almost over and we're almost back to our regularly scheduled sporting programme.
The Premier League is back, the Champions League proper is almost upon us and the new NFL season is just around the corner.
But who cares about all that "real" sport? If you're reading this, then chances are that none of those games involve you at all.
Becoming a Premier League champion or a Superbowl winner is beyond the realms of possibilities for most of us...until we pick up a controller and take control of our favourite team on FIFA or Madden.
We've already told you about our first look at the game-changer that is FIFA 17, but we recently got a sneak preview of Madden 17 to go along with it. Here's what we found.
Some old problems still persist
Madden 17 has made some strides forward, but on a very basic a lot of the same issues are coming up year-on-year. There is still very little reward for actually sitting tight in the pocket and trusting your linemen as a quarterback as you will often find yourself bootlegging to buy time for yourself and your receivers.
Developers told us that they had improved the battle at the line of scrimmage, but it was hard to see much improvement. Players are now supposedly anchored by their gap assignment (in basic terms, zonal marking) instead of just track players (a sort of man coverage for linemen). Both sides of the ball are apparently working under this new system, but it's unlikely anyone beyond the hardcore fans will notice.
On the defensive side of the ball, there is still very little incentive to control any defender that isn't on the line of scrimmage at the start of the play besides the fact that being a rushing lineman remains a frustrating endeavour. While it was certainly too easy to rush the passer circa Madden 08, it has now become a massive pain and a bit of a crapshoot for the casual gamer.
Defending the pass as a defensive back or a covering linebacker is risky business with very little reward, and we still found ourselves either accidentally removing someone from coverage entirely or just swatting away an easy catch when attempting to be pro-active and claim as user pick.
Even more specialised special moves
We're hoping that Madden 17 is a slow-burner, as a lot of its new features seem geared towards long-term players. One area where this is very clear is in the added specialisation of the special moves (hurdle, spin, stiff arm etc).
Now the speed at which you're running will determine the strength/intensity of the move, as the slower you're travelling the more your player will commit to a side-step, but they will also open themselves up more to the risk of a fumble or an injury. The game will even prompt players on Pro level for when they should use some of these moves, while Rookie players will see some of these happening automatically.
If you time a special move perfectly, you'll be able to leave multiple players for dead, and the type of player you're using will apparently have more affect than ever on which moves you should be using.
Increased run assist can only take you so far
One thing Madden 17 has done in order to help with its overly-difficult run game is to add a new assist. It's a pretty straight forward function, whereby a runner will have an arrow appear on the ground in front of them, showing exactly where your current trajectory will take you over the next five yards or so.
This is to allow you to exploit gaps at the line of scrimmage better and avoid the frustrating mess of running into your own linemen instead of the gap they have created. It's a great idea and a handy way to train yourself up, but it feels like it would have made more sense to just fix the run game.
Like being a defensive linemen, there's not a whole lot of incentive to run the ball in Madden anymore since even three down linemen with no linebacker help can sometimes be enough to stuff up the run - especially now that the improved defensive AI includes a force defender who will try to make sure that your runner doesn't break to the outside.
Improved franchise mode
Franchise mode has gotten a much-needed upgrade for Madden 17. Instead of just being a series of game virtual week after virtual week, you can now be more involved in the non-matchday sides of running a franchise. This means more control over the business aspect as well as utilising training to prepare for opponents.
If your next opponent relies heavily on certain types of plays, you can train against those during the week and receive in-game boosts when those plays appear. As well as this, you'll be allowed to recruit players to your practice squad just like in real life.
And if you want to burst through a season quickly, but still want to play a bit, then you can use the 'Play the Moment' feature which is basically Madden's answer to Red Zone. Instead of playing a full game, you will be shown text of what's going on until either team gets inside the opposition 20 yard-line, when you'll be thrown into the game and asked to play. You can swap out of this at any time, and it allows you to fly through a season in one sitting if you so wish.
More control on defensive special teams
One of the biggest complaints over the years about Madden has been the ineffectiveness of defensive special teams, and to its credit Madden 17 does a great job of addressing this.
When defending a field goal in previous games, you might as well just choose a regular defensive play in case of a fake because you know you won't be blocking the kick. But that has changed.
Now if you can get off the line at the right time, you legitimately stand a chance of getting in the way of the kicker and blocking them. And with yet another new kicking function, you might find yourself charging down a few when playing your mates for the first time.
No more commentary looping
If you've spent more than a few hours playing Madden before, you'll know that there is a very finite amount of commentary in the game. But Madden 17 has increased that massively (as well as parting ways with the often infuriating Phil Sims) as EA have brought in Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis.
The pair have recorded hundreds of hours of commentary, compared to the usual 40 hours or so, and will be updating that bank of chatter by roughly 20 hours a week during the season.
While it might not seem like the biggest upgrade, it will certain help those of us who have lost our minds from hearing Phil Sims and Jim Nantz have the same conversations over and over again for the past few years.