Do you know your outside linebackers from your running backs? If that question has left you scratching your head it would be fair to assume that you probably don’t follow American Football or even understand the rules. In fact, it might be strange that you are reading a Madden NFL 15 review but you are the exact type of person that needs to read this review. Die-hard American Football fans will likely buy Madden in the same way football fans by and large buy FIFA, but it is the fringe gamer who might like to try a Madden game who should make Madden NFL 15 a serious consideration for their next sport game.
To non-American Football viewers it can be an intimidating and seemingly obtuse sport to watch giving the relative simplicity of UK sport tastes, and no, Total Wipeout does not constitute a sport. The good news is that Madden NFL 15 comes with robust, accessible and relatively easy to understand tutorials that will explain key jargon of the game with interactive challenges to get you up and running. Tutorials aren't anything new in sports games but there is a real feeling that every effort has been made to accommodate all levels of player and knowledge. In your early hours with the game you will likely spend time going through a large number of tutorials - most are expansions on a theme, until you feel comfortable to jump into a match proper. When you do start to play, with the basics as your only weapon, there is a weird mix of feeling prepared but with the knowledge that you have so much left to learn.
The game will give you as much information as you want, but it is up to you to invest the time. Do you want to know the defensive properties of a Cover 3 lineup and how best to offensively exploit it? Then it is there for you, the sheer level of detail of football concepts and advice on how to play them is staggering. But this knowledge is nothing without actual understanding, and that comes with on-the-field play. Before long you will start to spot where the weak points in the defensive armour are and you will begin to develop a truly tactical way of playing.
Madden NFL 15 is powered at its core by one thing - statistics. Every possible action, every failed play, every sacking, every incomplete pass or fumble is recorded and fed back into the system. These figures take shape when you are calling a play, whether you are playing offensively or defensively. When selecting your play you will be given figures on how successful this particular play could be based on previous success rates of both your team having used this play previously and the overall success of when this play has been used against this opponent. If you are third and long for example you will be suggested a play like Four Verticals aiming to get you further up the field, but should your runners not be at the pace needed to beat the defensive line then you can scroll through plays and choose alternative plays that you think may be more appropriate.
It all sounds very technical and stats-heavy and, to a degree, it is. But one of the brilliant things about Madden NFL 15 is that it makes the game as deep as you want it to be. Should you be unfamiliar with American Football you could happily ignore the playbook and just use the ‘Coaches Suggestion’ which will give you a play that on average, in this situation, against this opponent, has worked well. Within an hour you will be comfortable with the way a game plays out, you will have your toes well dipped and then it is up to you to expand and explore alternative plays and learning in a very intuitive and organic way, what plays suit which situations. It is when you feel comfortable that the game can really open up, you’ll start to examine the stats of your runner to make sure he outmatches his opponent and if he doesn’t you set up man-matches to work your play into your favour. This is all handled elegantly and without fuss, clicks of the sticks or a button press will bring up sub-menus that are so straightforward to use that you’ll feel like a pro in no time.
Once you have your tactically nous improved the next key to success is passing, pure and simple. As your team lines up, a quick hold of R2 will bring up coloured lines running from each player and maps out their projected path, whether they are running a fake, a slant or a charge long downfield. Each key player in the play will be labelled with a joypad icon, to indicate the button press needed to pass to that player. At the snap you will be handed the ball and you will need to keep a track of all the players moving forward and trying to pick the best pass. This all happens in a split second but it can feel like time slows down due to the pressure. Did that player’s run distract the corner-back into opening space for your wide receiver? Will I be able to wait that half a second longer in case a better option opens up? I see space ahead, should I just run it myself?
All these questions, and the eventual answer, will fly through your head at an amazing pace, and every throw becomes a considered affair. As the players running forward become available the button icon above their head will appear, typically when a play starts to move they will have a faded version of the button. When you see that icon appear you need to act fast as there is always a defensive player closing you down. A hold of the throw button will deliver a laser-precision bullet pass, this will get to your intended receiver faster but it will be thrown at a low level meaning that defensive players can put a hand up to block the ball and make the play incomplete. If you tap the throw button you will throw a high pass that can bypass players but if misjudged it can lead to an easy interception. Unfortunately interceptions seem to happen more regularly than would actually occur and when you have a run of your receiver not jostling for the ball it can frustrate but by and large if you choose the right pass at the right time you should avoid interceptions. Everything is an option and every action must be considered, there is a real joy to outwitting an opponent with a fake and then delivering a devastating pass that cuts the opponent in two.
Madden NFL 15 also delivers a solid defensive game, and while not as exciting as the offensive play it gives you a real freedom to properly influence play. As you line up you can lock yourself to a single player of your choice, a simple hold of ‘O’ and moving the left stick will cycle you through the players. When the snap occurs you can then make your way through the pack to try and stop either an intended receiver or the quarterback. The great addition here is the ability to disengage with an opponent, if a blocker is stopping you on your way you can engage with them and a button icon will appear that, if presses in time, will see you shrug the opponent off as you make your way to introduce the quarterback to the grass. It may not be as exciting as the offensive game but they have defence as interesting as is probably possible and sacking a quarterback to turn over possession can be as glorious as making a 40 yard rush.
All of this is delivered to the highest quality broadcasting standards, as you would expect from an EA sports game. From the bombastic animations that build up the game to the exceptional half-time reports, the game truly captures the feel of what you would see on television. Graphically the game is solid, some coach animations have a marionette quality about them but when they have gone to the lengths of rendering the coaches it is hard to complain with any real conviction. The action is fueled by the Ignite engine and if you've played an EA sports game in the last while you’ll know what to expect - truly bone-crushing physics with the odd bug that is utterly hilarious. There is a real sense of the crunch when the two lineups crash into each other and when you make a hard tackle on a runner, you will oft than not finding yourself either winding or cheering.
With the obvious level of detail that has been thrown into Madden NFL 15 they have also not fallen short in the game mode department. There are the traditional exhibition matches, online and offline, that will throw you straight in and let you battle away to your hearts content. There is also Madden Ultimate Team, which will not be unfamiliar to those who play FUT, that will allow you to build your team either through spending in game currency (achieved through challenges) or you can go the way of booster-packs for real revenue. The ability to improve your team seems slow, but is undoubtedly quickened by throwing your wallet at the television. There is also the Connected Franchise mode that will let you play as a player, coach or even an owner of a franchise. Ever wanted to set how much a hot-dog costs at a sporting event? Then today is your lucky day. It is a very interesting mode, with the player either managing decisions game to game or sitting further back, planning for the long haul.
Whatever your interest in the world of American Football it is here, you can either take a bite from every dish or simply keep ordering your favourite food. And the good news is that it is all tasty, not perfect, but pretty irresistible. If you have ever felt that you might like to like American Football but have been put off by the seeming inaccessibility of the sport then this is the game for you. If you love the sport then this is your true next-new-current-gen version of the game, the under-delivering Madden NFL 25 notwithstanding. So pull on your helmet, get out your playbook, line-up and prepare to have hours of unapologetic bone-crunching fun.