The pass, the catch, the touchdown. It’s Madden season, and with another iteration of the long-running, vastly popular series come an assortment of new features to augment the return of one of the biggest sports on the planet. This year heralds one of the most impressive Madden packages yet.

The most game-changing modifications are to do with what happens while the ball’s in the air – passing, receiving, and defending. Passing has seen a significant change this year: while previous iterations of Madden had players press a button to instigate a standard, run-of-the-mill lob to a receiver, Madden 16 introduces an array of new passing options, from lob passes to low passes to and bullet passes.

Madden NFL 16 review

While this new system is great for experienced players, it can be extremely cumbersome for those new to the game. When it’s time to call a passing play to get down the field and gain some yards, you have to focus on the receivers who are open, on the pocket so you aren’t sacked, and on defenders that are tracking the receivers so they don’t have an easy interception opportunity.

Mix that in with pass controls that are mapped to button presses and the shoulder buttons for pinpoint low and high passes, and it all can be a bit much. But for those that take the time to understand the new system and put it to good use in-game, there’s much to enjoy.

Receiving has also seen a change, as players will now have the opportunity to use different receiver styles to gain yardage or make a primetime catch. The latter is initiated by the use of the “aggressive catch”, which has the target player make a big jump to catch the ball. This is best used when you’ve played a high pass, as it cuts out the possibility of a defender intercepting or blocking the pass, although the caveat to this is that it can leave receivers more vulnerable to injury.

Madden NFL 16 review

Similarly, the ‘run after catch’ can be used when there’s an opportunity to take the ball in stride and continue a run, while the ‘conservative catch’ is your best bet when there’s a good amount of defensive pressure on the receiver, as the possibility of a fumble is very low. The best option is usually shown above a receiver’s head as a pass draws near, which is quite helpful for those still adjusting to the game.

Defending hasn’t seen much of a change this year, although the new passing and receiving mechanics open up a lot of new possibilities for defenders to make more interceptions and block passes thrown out to the receivers. I noticed that there were a lot more interceptions and fumbles this time around, and that made for both a frustrating and an exciting experience, especially during the closer games.

While new players will find the learning curve of this year’s Madden slightly more difficult than that of previous iterations, the Skills Trainer certainly helps when it comes to learning the basics, the new mechanics, and the complex plays. There’s something embedded within this mode for everyone, and the in-game drills and tutorials really alleviate the frustration that would come by just jumping into a game without any experience.

The drafting sequence is always exciting and unique, and you have to pick your team precisely to really have any chance at winning it all

Draft Champions makes its Madden debut this year, and brings with it an experience that takes everything that’s good about EA’s Ultimate Team mode from its other sports titles and presents it all in a streamlined, time-friendly mode. At the beginning you’re given three randomised options to choose from, which range from picking a coach (who will bring their personal playbook and team style with them) to then picking your team.

It’s important to match the players you pick with the coach’s team style to completely maximise a team’s efficiency in-game, and to also pay attention to which positions you still need to cover. There are then 15 rounds of drafting, and it’s vital that you cover as many positions as possible to create a balanced squad.

Madden NFL 16 review
Madden’s presentation has always been top notch, and this year’s iteration is no different

Following that, it’s time to hit the field, and that’s where the mode gets really interesting. If you’ve chosen to play solo you have to win a prescribed number of games in a row, a single loss bringing your game to a close.

It’s a perfect mode for those that want a solid Madden experience and are short on time. The drafting sequence is always exciting and unique, and you have to pick your team precisely to really have any chance at winning it all.

Connected Franchise mode makes its return without many improvements this year, although one notable addition is that of in-game drive goals, which pop up every now and again and challenge you to keep the offense’s attack down to only a 20-yard gain, complete three receptions during an offensive drive, and so forth. Completing these goals gives players confidence and rewards them with a bit of XP that can be used after completing the match.

Madden NFL 16 review

Ultimate Team doesn’t bring many improvements this year either, although the inclusion of Solo Challenges make for a better and more fleshed out experience when compared to previous iterations. These drop your team into some of the NFL’s biggest moments, such as holding out a major offensive attack to get the win in a Superbowl. Completing these challenges will award you coins to use on packs or in the auction house to improve your team.

Madden’s presentation has always been top notch, and this year’s iteration is no different. The game looks superb, and the addition of the on-field graphical overlays that play out in-game and post-game give a great amount of realism to what you’re watching unfold. For those new to the Madden series, the commentary and the aforementioned overlays help alleviate the necessity of having a good knowledge of the NFL, allowing you to just focus on enjoying the game.

Madden NFL 16 review

The selection of multiplayer modes in Madden 16 play out well, too, and I didn’t really encounter any problems by the way of glitches or lag at all. The step up from playing against the computer is fairly major, though, so it’s probably not something new players will want to jump into until they’ve completely grasped the game’s mechanics and controls.

Madden 16 is an incredible experience for those both new to the game and for those that pick it up every time August comes around. The new improvements craft a more definitive and personalised NFL experience, making for more primetime highlight reel plays and touchdowns.

This year’s focus on passing, receiving, and defending crafts a more simulation-focused Madden, but that’s for the better. As is the case with all of the top-tier sports games, it’ll be interesting to see what EA work on for next year’s iteration, but one thing’s for certain: Madden 16 is the best way to experience Madden and the NFL yet.