This year's installment of the extremely popular football franchise is more polished, deep, and feature-rich than previous games in the series. Some of the new features have been polarizing, but overall, the best NFL sim series around is even better with Madden NFL 17. There's a laundry list of new features, beginning with updated offensive plays (special moves and path prompts to elude a defender) along with simplified defensive play-calling and formations. The game walks you through the improvements, which you can get the hang of pretty quickly. Thanks to fan feedback, the Franchise mode has been revamped with a Play the Moments feature, where you can quickly jump to a specific play -- such as dramatic third downs, game-winning drives, or defensive stands -- and something called Big Decisions that lets you choose various challenges and situations for added customization and strategy. Other additions include full player editing, a practice squad, and an in-game ticker.
Popular modes are back and include Draft Champions, where you draft your fantasy team of NFL stars and legends, and Madden Ultimate Team, which lets you build your ultimate dream squad with your favorite NFL players from the past and present. Playing other teams helps you earn coins to redeem for goodies in the online store or trade and auction off items. While the game looks marginally better than last year, with slick graphics and smooth animation, there are new "broadcast camera" features that add more drama, including more close-ups on your key player's faces. You'll hear new commentary from Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis, adding play-by-play, depth and analysis. The dialogue can overshadow the gameplay because they talk a lot (and with some repetition). But sound effects are new, too, including hits and crowd cheers. While it can be daunting to add new features year over year, Madden NFL 17 seems to strike a good balance between delivering what the fans want while improving the overall experience with fixes and new content. You may not appreciate it all unless you skip a year or so, but this football game is a blast -- especially when played with friends.