EA Sports are a bunch of liars. We know this. It’s part of the legacy. You could call it tradition. Nintendo doesn’t get online multiplayer, Microsoft makes hilarious cross-entertainment blunders, and EA Sports lies. They know they lie, and they do it anyway. How many times have you been sitting through the E3 press conferences only to be confronted by some paid silver-tongue, promising that this year’s Madden will fix all the wrongs and woes of previous Maddens, and all shall crumble under our great new path towards football nirvana? Then we get a trailer that is stridently proclaimed to be taken completely out of the in-game engine (probably not,) and they exit stage right to thunderous applause. Now Madden 15 is in your hands and guess what! The tackles still feel kinda awkward, the players still look like degenerates, and the gussied-up side attractions are still only skin deep. It was all a lie. I’m so used to the deception that another mediocre Madden actually feels cozy.
To be fair, of the sparse new features included in this year’s model, one of them works pretty well. Essentially it’s a strafe function. When you’re playing something like a linebacker, you can click in the left trigger allowing your movement to exist along a 2D plane, all while facing the line of scrimmage. This comes in handy if you’re stalking a quarterback or doing your best to stay in front of your hole. In Maddens past, your player would have to bolt towards the sideline in full stride to keep up with a play. It still worked, but it looked really goofy. For a franchise that’s gone through an embarrassing number of new features, this one legitimately works, and you’ll probably be seeing it in future installments.
Everything else is as depressing as ever. In 2014, an era where the divisions between art, interactivity and entertainment are becoming more blurred than ever before, it shouldn’t be this easy to see Madden’s threads. My first game, my first game, I heard one of the in-studio chuckleheads repeat the same line about moving the chains three fucking times. This was immediately after Madden 15 made me watch a video about how the commentary has been revamped with a brisk, in-action feel. Oh really? Then why is it that after the booth reviewed my touchdown catch, the commentators started talking about it in the context of a first down grab? Are you lying to me EA Sports? Don’t worry, I already know the answer.
There’s the CCG-esque Ultimate Team mode, which is great if you like spending an extra $20 on a game in order to keep your pride from being brutalized by 15-year olds online. There’s the franchise mode, which is still robust, as well as the solid online functionality. But that’s all ancient stuff, certainly nothing revolutionary other than the roster update. The graphics look marginally better than the last-gen oafishness, and it’s hard thinking EA will ever truly feel motivated to take out all the stops on their engine. Is it still a football game? Yes. Is it still fun? Yes, that bare-minimum D- kind of competency that will certainly guarantee another hundred-billion copies sold.
Look, I wouldn’t even be mad if 2K Sports weren’t offering up TRANSCENDENT BASKETBALL EXPERIENCES EVERY GODDAMN YEAR. For 2k14 they added a fully fleshed out story mode! Like with real character arcs and morality! And they’re competing against a nonexistent NBA Live franchise! The commentary in that game is performed beautifully by Clark Kellogg, Steve Kerr and Kevin Harlan. It weaves in and out of the gorgeous sound design with pinpoint, Turing Test-passing accuracy. Meanwhile in Madden I’m listening to a couple dudes do everything they can to talk about my running back without mentioning him by name.
My point is this: How convinced are we that the people at EA Sports even like football? They’ve been comfortable shoving out this sort of blithering averageness for years now. They like money, sure, but where’s the passion? Where’s the accountability? The teams that craft the NHL, NBA and MLB franchises all clearly bleed for those sports. Can we say anything close to that for the people behind Madden? Shouldn’t that make you angry? Let Madden 15 be the moment where we finally realize that we deserve something more.
Luke Winkie is a writer living in Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter at @luke_winkie.