Game review: ‘Madden 15’ reaches superstar status on next-gen

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The approach of a new NFL season brings excitement. Droves of fans gear up to root for one of 32 teams as they embark on a journey they hope will lead to the Super Bowl and fantasy football drafts draw closer to kickoff. The “Madden” series rides that wave of excitement every year, releasing a new installment once fandom reaches a fever pitch. As the ad campaign suggests, it’s not just football season; it’s Madden Season.

'Madden NFL 15'

Price: $59.99.

Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, Xbox 360, PS3.

Rating: E for Everyone.

“Madden NFL 15,” released Tuesday as the latest edition of the long-running series, is looking for redemption after “Madden 25’s” disappointing showing for next-gen platforms last year. “Madden 25,” given its name due to the series’ 25th anniversary rather than the year, was shoehorned onto the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This is often the case when annual sports games make their debut on a new platform. Now that EA Sports has had nearly a full year with the new consoles, the team has been able to vastly improve the series into a truly next-gen sports experience.

EA Tiburon has taken full advantage of the added power of the Xbox One and PS4 by improving the graphics and presentation of all the action on the gridiron. Player models, faces, uniform fabric and stadiums all have received an upgrade this year, and the added quality shows in each play. From light reflections on the helmets and visors, to the shading on every wrinkle on a uniform, “Madden 15” is clearly the best looking “Madden” game to date.

The new pregame presentation builds anticipation as kickoff approaches, but commentators Phil Simms and Jim Nantz are back in the booth to rein in that excitement. The in-game commentary takes the quantity over quality approach. There’s no shortage of player and team-specific dialogue, but it sounds dull within the enthusiasm established by the rest of the presentation.

Improvements go deeper than the game’s visual upgrades. Controls and gameplay have been tweaked for the better, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Tackling has always been a challenge in modern “Madden” games. All too often, the ball carrier can make a defensive back look silly with a well-timed spin or juke. Defensive players now have a half circle in front of them as they approach the ball carrier. If the ball carrier enters that half circle, the player can choose to make a conservative tackle or a harder, riskier tackle. The new tackling system adds defensive strategy where there used to be a guessing game.

Taking control of linemen is fun for the first time in the “Madden” series. Players can jump the line as soon as the ball is snapped. Once engaged with a blocker, players can try to shed the block to either side when attempting to sack the QB. Blocking has never been enjoyable in Madden, but the new system may have more players choosing to control linemen on defense rather than the typical safety or linebacker.

If “Madden 15’s” team ratings are any indication, the Steelers may be in for a challenging season. Pittsburgh has an overall rating of 78 out of 99. This puts them a point above the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a point below the Miami Dolphins and matching up perfectly with the New York Jets. They rank third in the AFC North with a three-point advantage over Cleveland.

But a skilled “Madden” player can turn the tide and lead the Steelers to the playoffs and beyond. Players can choose to play as an existing or created player, coach or team owner. This remains the best part of the series. It’s like fantasy football with an added element of control. Players create their own league and narrative by honing skills and playing against the computer or friends. These elements paired with the impressive gameplay and presentation make “Madden 15” the best entry in years.

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