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Madden NFL 15 retains a fondness for showreel moments that make it a pleasure to play

All of my favorite parts of Madden NFL 15 are still around, too, including Connected Franchises and Ultimate Team. Actually, I’m more of a fan of the NFL 15 Offline Franchise and wish it wasn’t always trying to keep me online and engaging with friends in a fantasy football-like setting. Sometimes it’s nice to just build out a team in NFL 15 and play on my own schedule.
 
Madden NFL 15 Ultimate Team has been slightly revamped to streamline the team-building systems a bit, getting rid of your reserve deck and focusing on your main team. That should be your main priority anyway, so the change in NFL 15 works great. Unfortunately the card-pack micro-transactions in NFL 15 are still here, and still feel a bit gross, as if to capitalize on my impatient nature interacting with the player progression system.
 
Madden NFL 15 Ultimate Team is where I spent most of my time, but its structure is difficult to swallow. You create your fantasy team by opening booster packs bought with either in-game money or real cash. Solo challenges earn you NFL 15 coins and unlock full games with the possibility of greater monetary rewards, and the streamlined interface in NFL 15 makes it easier than ever to slot in your best players to build a better team. However, the pacing of progression is too slow if you’re unwilling to whip out your wallet. Challenges just don’t earn a sufficient number of coins, so you’re left playing game after game with a team barely fit to take the field. Just throwing down a couple of bucks to expedite the process is tempting, turning what could be Madden's best mode into a micro-transaction scheme.

 
Of course, analytics and play-calling improvements aren’t worth much if the core Madden NFL 15 doesn't hold its own. Fortunately, Madden NFL 15 builds on its new-gen debut. The offensive and defensive line play continues to improve, as your ability to find running lanes and hit them feels true-to-life. Momentum and physics prevent your ability to slash and cut into holes as quickly as you may like, but they resemble how real players move and react. Running up the middle seems a bit easier this season, and it’s definitely tougher to net those big yards on outside tosses and stretch runs. Still, despite the scorers being underworked, Madden NFL 15 retains a fondness for showreel moments that make it a pleasure to play. And this year the AI on both sides seems smarter. Opposition are cunning with plays and have smart clock management, while your own receivers and blockers do their best to adapt to the state of play around them.
 
But then the action is very good. Madden NFL 15 still has its foibles that mean its perhaps not as accomplished as some of its sporting peers, but NFL 15 feels like a significant step forward. Not only in terms of mechanics, but in terms of improving players knowledge and skill at NFL 15 through finesse and feedback. While there is still some work to be done, it is a game that wants you to come in, have fun and perhaps go away with a greater appreciation of the sport its attempting to simulate. In all of this, Madden NFL 15 is a success. Additionally, suggestions on which play to run make more sense for each given situation and, perhaps most importantly, manually trailing through the various formations to pick a specific play is less of a chore thanks to a more intuitive menu design. It's taken a very long while, but all the information you'd reasonably expect to be clearly shown in an American football game is finally being delivered in a way that works.
 
Despite of all these steps forward in Madden NFL 15, it's impossible to shake the feeling that this is the game we should have been playing last year. Many of the ideas on offer are promising rather than fully realized, making Madden NFL 15 more a blueprint for the future than the finished article. That's exactly what the first next-gen outing should have been; this second edition should then have built on and deepened the new ideas.