Last night I had an urge I haven’t felt in well over a decade. I recently purchased a shiny new PS4, something I have wanted for well over a year, and I was excited to finally have a current-gen console for the first time since owning a PS2 in the days of yore.
I wanted to play a sports video game.
In a somewhat whimsical state, I piled up a good portion of old PS3 titles I no longer wanted, and took the short trek to my local BarterGame to trade them in towards a new sports game. After arriving at the store, I was greeted by a very friendly associate who helped me out very professionally, and I wandered over to the new titles for the PS4, looking particularly at the sports titles. He suggested NBA 2K16, stating that it was a very solid title, but I have never been a particularly big basketball fan, and FIFA was right out. I prefer to actually play golf in person, so PGA was not very interesting as well.
I perused, waffled, thought, waffled again, and picked up the same title for the fourth time, finally deciding that yes, I did indeed want Madden NFL 16. The clerk nodded at me in approval, and I asked some pointed questions about the title, since this would be the first football video game I have played since my senior year in high school, roughly fifteen years ago. He answered as best he could, though he did admit to not having played it all that thoroughly, so I really cannot blame him for what happened once I got home.
I didn’t even seen the disaster coming.
At this point I feel some background is in order. Throughout my high school years, I was a football player. I love the game and all of its fury and complexity. I was recruited to play at the college level, though an injury had me benched before that could become a reality.
I know the game as it should be. It should be fast, furious, loud and reactive. Yet, it should be simple and fun as well.
Madden NFL 16 has… none of that. As I sat down to play it for the first time, I was greeted by a very flashy title screen showing Odell Beckham Jr. making a glorious one-handed catch, arm fully extended and a beautifully rendered and accurate facial representation contorted as he made this amazing grab. The title displayed fully in all of it’s HD glory, even the letters of the title reflecting in a metallic sheen. I was impressed, and excited to dig my teeth into this beautiful title. I hit the X button to bring up the menu…
And a pop-up appeared. “You cannot play with the current rosters until you connect online”
…Alright. Well, fine. So I connected online and a progress bar slowly began to creep across my screen as the game downloaded all of the current roster lineups from across the NFL. The download finished roughly five minutes later, and I hit the X button again to attempt to play the game…
The screen went black, and all of a sudden a very climactic scene fills my television with the Super Bowl 50 logo emblazoned on it…
What the hell is this!?
Announcers talking furiously about this hot matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. Before I know what is going on, I am controlling Ben Roethlisburger from the line of scrimmage, and I have no bloody idea what in the seven hells I am even doing. As I mash buttons trying to figure out just exactly why I am playing all of a sudden, it occurs to me that this is Madden 16’s excuse for a tutorial. I spend the next fifteen or so minutes in utter frustration as I lose the Super Bowl, and effectively flunk the tutorial.As the game plays, I notice several things. Perhaps I am spoiled, after playing excellent titles such as Shadows of Mordor, and Dragon Age: Inquisition, but the beautifully rendered and accurate facial representations of these football players move… horribly. Rinky-dink cutscenes play during this ‘Super Bowl’ showing players in situations using remarkably un-foul language, thus taking away from the believability of the game entirely. After playing for several years, I know from personal experience that when two players get in each others’ faces on a football field, they aren’t saying “Quit holding me, man!” to one another. There are quite a few other expletives in there. But, I realize they are going for the E-rating, so I let that slide. What I could not let slide however, was that these faces moved like the Muppets. When the players spoke, the camera zoomed in on their faces to show the flappy jaws moving in complete disarray from the dialogue happening.
The cutscenes were just… bad. As the scene faded to black with the Arizona Cardinals being the equally unbelievable Super Bowl champions, I see the menu come to the screen. It’s a confusing mishmash of different game modes, and play options. Fumbling my way through it, I choose my team and select ‘franchise’ mode, playing as my beloved Seattle Seahawks. You can laugh if you want, but everyone has a team, and they are mine.
One of the things I remembered the most fondly from the last Madden title I played, which was back in 2000, was the ‘create your own player’ option. This effectively let you create your very own guy to plug into the team, and added a somewhat RPG-style feel to the title. That option is nowhere to be seen, and it was one that I specifically asked the rep at Game Stop about before I decided to grab the title.
Frustrated and disappointed already, I began to actually PLAY the game. I set it for the bottom-level difficulty like the proper noob I am, and marveled at the overwhelming complexity of the controls, and how this game is utterly devoid of fun. I remembered from before, the crisp, simple control mechanics of throwing the ball… and having a guy there to catch it. Now, completely unnecessarily, there are three different ways to catch a football. Three. Not one, not two, but three. If you hit the X button, you make the ‘safe grab’, which catches the ball but makes it more difficult to run after the catch. With triangle, you can make an ‘aggressive’ catch, going up in the air and fighting the coverage for the ball, and finally, if you hit square, you make the ‘run and catch’ grab, effectively taking the ball and bolting with it, provided you actually catch the damn thing. After several attempts and failures at this ridiculous system, I decided to just keep the ball on the ground.
I snap the ball, hand it to Marshawn Lynch, and groan at how incredibly clunky this feels. He runs straight up and down, barely bends at all, and the ‘moves’ you can do feel so cookie-cutter and ridiculous that there is no flow at all to the game. So far, the best part of this game was the stunningly beautiful title screen. Defense was a little bit better, but not by much.
Somehow I managed to win this game, beating the St. Louis Rams by a score of 17-0. I backed out of the game mode to check out the ‘Ultimate Team’ option, and here is where I gave up.
Fantasy football. In a video game. The game itself is a fantasy to begin with, so I guess I don’t see the point of a fantasy football option in a video game. You get decks of cards, with players in them that you can then plug into your ‘Ultimate Team’, and make a juggernaut. Here’s the catch. The cards… You guessed it! Cost money! It is at that point I turned off my console, sat in shame in my living room, and immediately resolved to take this utter garbage back to Game Stop to try to get as much store credit back as I could in an attempt to buy something that would even begin to resemble something fun.
Gone are the days of Tecmo Bowl, and NFL Blitz. The agonizing industry of ‘Fantasy Football’ has ruined professional football in general, and now has invaded my sanctum of video games as well. This is the officially recognized video game representation of football by the NFL. This is the game that they even use to show game predictions on ESPN.
This.This clunky, absurd, fantasy football-esque piece of absolute crap is what passes for a modern-day sports title. I’m flabbergasted. Befuddled. What happened to the simple idea of throwing the football and having a guy catch it? Where is my simple ‘juke’ button that allows me to jump sideways to avoid that tackler? Why did they take a perfectly simple, yet effective system and complicate the ever-loving shit out of it?
I want to find whoever is responsible for creating this utter disaster and slap them about the head and shoulders with a dead fish.
But first, I want my money back.
And a hug.