Every year, EA Sports rewards its die-hard football fan base with the best gridiron game it can crank out. Last year's release, Madden NFL 15, was no exception, featuring a number of options to make players feel like superstars, whether it was mastering the quarterback contain on defense or setting up the ultimate Blitz scheme on offense.
Well, as expected, EA Sports will return to the field this August with Madden NFL 16, providing a number of additional improvements to make the game feel more realistic than ever. A number of options from previous games will make their return, of course, but the new content is quite noteworthy, especially if you've been pushing yourself to become the next John Elway – or, speaking in current terms, Peyton Manning.
First up, there's Air Supremacy, which can change the game when it comes to passing and catching. Using user and AI mechanics, two players can now battle for the ball more than ever before, which can make all the difference between a successful catch and an interception. EA has devoted 400 new two-player catch animations to this feature alone, so expect it to be very competitive in this year's game.
There's also a new handoff system that will introduce some variety with your quarterback. As with previous games, you can easily fake one and set up a receiver down the field for an easy score. However, there are variations of fake handoffs now, with different types to throw off the defense. There's also tighter timing when it comes to the area between handoff and blocking, so that your defense can work on a more pivotal point when it comes to protecting the quarterback long enough to complete his play.
Players can also "roll to pass" in the quarterback position, enabling them to do a back shoulder roll out so they can fire off a pass much more quickly than in previous games. Obviously, keeping an eye out for defenders that seep through the offensive line is still pivotal, in order to prevent a sack or, worse yet, a fumble. However, with this, players can simply branch out of any drop back by pressing the left trigger button, and make themselves ready for a pass play that could make all the difference.
Quarterback AI has also been overhauled. Even though Tom Brady is still "the man" when he's on the field (suspension and all), that doesn't mean the new quarterbacks get shafted. Players like Cam Newton and Marcus Mariota will hold their own with stats and performance this year, and newcomers will be able to stand a chance as well. Quarterbacks will also react differently depending on given situations, based on their skill set. For instance, Newton may feel primed to make a run for the end zone, if he sees an opportunity.
Then there's the passing itself. Along with traditionally aiming at targets down the field, you can modify your passing style with either a high jump ball (set up from a fade or streak route) or a low throw, in case you've got a player nearby and you want to get the ball up the field quickly. The touch pass is also much more easily executed this time around, in case you need to drop the ball behind linebackers, but in front of safeties.
Catching also plays a vital part, with a new system that enables you to perfect the catch, assuring the ball ends up in the hands of the receiver. It's a matter of holding the B (or O button, depending on the version) and steering the receiver so that they're right under the ball. This works with defense too, however, thus enhancing the "battle" system that was introduced above. These catches include the Run-After-Catch (or the RAC), the Aggressive Catch (in case you need to push off a defensiveman), and the Possession Catch (where you fight to secure the ball, even after it comes down). These will no doubt make big strides in how you play on the field.
Want to see how well you perform on the field? There's also a pass feedback system, one that tells you if players were under pressure, or are underperforming when you need to bench them. This is done through a catch UI, and it keeps you informed of how well a play executes. Of course, the end results are pretty easy to see, but it never hurts to have a little extra detail.
Once the game is over (or you just want to see how you're doing during halftime), there are also Playmaker Broadcasts, which recap a special highlight reel with new player spotlights, dynamic goals and Achievements, along with a new camera system that brings you closer to the action than ever before. We're talking NFL Films quality here.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Madden game if it didn't have all the traditional modes we've come to expect from the series. Connected Franchise will make its return, putting you in complete control of a team and managing it to the best of your ability. Ultimate Team will also mount a comeback, with the ability to create a superstar team through collected cards and other options, then taking them online to challenge others. Online Head To Head Seasons really let you see just how well your squad will do, forcing you to make adjustments in case you're lagging in a certain area. With hundreds of cards to choose from, there's always room for change.
Now it's just a matter of seeing how this all comes together in the final product – but we won't have to wait long. Madden NFL 16 takes the field for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (as well as Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) on August 25th.
In the meantime, study up on your football skills with coverage from last year's Madden NFL 15, including getting the most out of your running game and disguising your defense. There are more videos here, so make sure to study up!