I've been playing Madden 17 this week, and against all the odds, I have been having a good time. You can thank a single new game mode for that.
Madden, like every other sports game series on the planet, is obsessed with selling you on its bullet point features. It has to be, really; shipping a similar game every year with only tweaks to existing stuff, a new feature or two and some new rosters often leaves bullet points as your only selling point!
As I've argued recently, this sucks. Not necessarily for players, as tweaks to an already-successful formula and new rosters are enough for many fans to pay their money and be happy! But in terms of really assessing a sports game against its predecessors and competitors it bogs you down, makes you focus on unimportant shit while ignoring or forgetting larger problems.
So excuse me for a moment while I contradict myself, since a single feature in this year's Madden has actually completely changed the way I approach and enjoy the game.
It's called Play the Moment (full details here), and it works like this: instead of asking you to play an entire game of NFL, or half of it (offence or defence), or even just the bits involving a single player (if you're playing QB, for example), it simulates all the boring parts of the game for you, and only drops you in to control the parts that matter.
A video game version of TV's NFL RedZone, basically, and it's just as good.
RedZone is how I like to watch American football. Despite being Australian I follow the NFL (I even played football for a few years), but I usually can't be bothered watching entire games week in, week out. There's too much downtime, too many shitty plays and way too many advertisements. Give me the good bits, and when there aren't any, give me the good bits from all the other games.
I guess this is also the way I wanted to play Madden, because Play the Moment is a revelation. All the boring parts of Madden are now just...gone. Play the Moment simulates the bulk of a game — all those three-and-outs, and long spells on D — and only interrupts its calculations to put you in control stuff like a crucial third-down stop, or a 4th quarter drive, or any time your team has the ball inside the opponent's 20 (so yeah, it is literally copying RedZone).
Purists will bemoan this kind of play, but fuck 'em. Grinding out 1.83m runs to close out the half might be the realistic thing to do, but when simulating a franchise over years of play — which will involve dozens if not hundreds of games — it gets real old real fast.
Helping Play the Moment along is the way Madden 17 has gone overboard this year on its presentation, with a ton of broadcast-style cutscenes and commentary hooks that tie in nicely with the sense of theatre you experience when a game is able to condense its story into a short, sharp narrative, then hand over the controls to you at the points that really matter.
Games no longer feel like drawn-out sporting contests. They're presented with the drama of an NFL Films presentation (and the fancy camera work to go along with it).
I don't want to make it sound like this has somehow turned Madden into my favourite sports game. I have long-running complaints with the series, like the way passing sucks and that player collision feels like there are 22 helium balloons on the field, and they very much remain in effect.
But by reframing the way I can play the game, Play the Moment has got me playing Madden regularly again, something the series hasn't managed for a very long time.
Here's a video rundown of the mode by Sports Gamers Online: