Madden Through The Years

I think I’ve played at least 20 releases from the Madden franchise.

There’s a faint memory of making the jump from Tecmo Super Bowl in my early years. My older cousin had a Genesis and showed me Madden ’95. Naturally, my eyes couldn’t believe what they saw!

A playbook with more than 6 plays. Commentary that was actually relevant to the gameplay. The ability to see individual player stats. It was obvious that this Madden guy was on to something.

My next memorable Madden timeline moment happened with the release of Madden 64. It was a really big deal back then for 3D polygons to represent humans instead of two-dimensional rectangles. Madden 64 also made use of this little device:

Photo Credit: Amazon

The initial decade of my Madden experience was filled with innovative features and noticeable improvements to gameplay. Below are some of my favorites:

  • Truck stick (although this was very OP for certain backs)
  • Cone of vision (hated/turned off by those who couldn’t master it)
  • Player badges
  • Ability to upgrade specific stats for players vs auto-progression based on their position
  • Types of catches (aggressive, run after catch, etc.)

It was awesome watching the game developers add tons of features that made the simulation feel more like the real thing. The problem is that people start to get used to this pattern of accelerated improvement from year to year. In reality, there has seemingly been fewer improvements to the game in the last two generations console than there were in the previous three generations.

It’s now to the point where you could have two consecutive releases playing side by side and many people would have difficulty telling which was which.

My only expectation these days is that EA updates the roster from year to year and adds one “new technology” to the game engine that changes how users interact with one component of the game. This is the standard that the publisher can set when they’ve built a monopoly on top of their exclusive NFL contract.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still played through dozens of seasons in franchise mode since the turn of the century (and I play on 10-12 minute quarter because I feed off inflating my stats and making the Eagles as much of a juggernaut as possible). I’ve spent tens of hours in training camp honing my skills. There were at least 20 multiplayer games with friends (and online virtual enemies) that would qualify as an instant classic.

But it’s been a while since I’ve felt ‘wow, this is a huge step up from last year’s game’.

One of the biggest issues I have with the game is the lack of out-of-the-box difficulty settings that aren’t ridiculously easy or borderline impossible. When you set the game to All-Madden mode, you expect to be challenged. What you don’t expect is for the middle linebacker on the opposing team to jump up for an interception before your quarterback has even completed his throwing motion.

So What’s New This Year?

As usual, EA released their overview of new features with hyped up descriptions and visuals. There are already tons of review out there of the features (I like this one from SBNation) but the thing that excites me the most is the change to the running game.

In the last several iterations of the game, I found it most effective to wait a few seconds after hiking the ball before hitting the turbo button to make my runningback accelerate towards the gap. I ran countless drills to understand the timing of each type of run play to get the timing down. It was also helpful to view tutorials such as the one below.

Even with all this training, there was always an element of randomness that could result in my backer stumbling over one of my 300-lb linemen and getting caught up at the line of scrimmage. While this does happen in the NFL, the frequency of occurrence was too high for my level of play. I never found the sweet spot of adjusting run block sliders that could net me a realistic run average (ie. 3-5 yards per rush). I’d either average 2 yards per run with a mediocre back or 7 yards per run with an elite back, breaking big plays with regularity.

The introduction of the hit-the-hole mechanic suggests that EA has heard the outcries of its fans and is taking action to correct the run game. This feature gives players the ability to shoot their RB through a specific gap using the joysticks. By working on your proficiency here, you should be able to develop a very strong run game to open things up for big plays downfield.

Time will tell if this aspect of the game really sticks with long-time Madden players but I’m optimistic about this addition to the game.

My Prediction

One of three things will happen:

  1. EA will make a step change in their gameplay (hopefully tied to CPU artificial intelligence) in the next couple of years and the company will stay relevant in the football simulator genre
  2. 2K will have a modest comeback to the football world which forces the Madden developers to get more creative
  3. 2K will learn from Madden’s last twenty years, listen to the fans and build something that dominates immediately

My bet is on #2 happening, but I’d be happy with any outcome that doesn’t result in continued mediocrity.

I suppose it’s also possible that a third contender enters the market and tries to compete, but I think the brands of EA and 2K are too strong for a new entrant to have a chance. Backbreaker tried years ago, talking a big game about their physics engine, but they were met with lukewarm reviews.

Regardless of how this plays out, I’m still gonna take my Eagles to several consecutive superbowls and collect all the Vince Lombardi trophies…

Are you still supporting the Madden franchise? What do you want to see them change/add in future releases? Leave a comment below!

If you want to be notified about new posts, subscribe below!

[mc4wp_form id=”158″]

Ready to start your journey?

It's dangerous to go alone! Join us!