Madden NFL 16 Review: Distinctly lacking domestic violence and deflated footballs


Reviewed On: Playstation 4

Madden 16 is what the NFL wants to believe its league is: Clean, friendly, and inspirational. It’s not.

The average NFL ticket price in 2014 was $254. That’s based on a range of $452 – per ticket – for the Seattle Seahawks and a low of $146 for the Cleveland Browns. Staying at home? You’ll need DirecTV. They have the exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket package. It’s $252 total, spread across six months, not including any base DirecTV service. Don’t forget installation for new customers.

It’s absurd money being fed into an untouched, unregulated corporate entertainment super power. There is so much gloss, pageantry, and stadium spectacle (paid for by tax payers); that’s what Madden NFL 16 sells – for $60. Exclusively. The NFL likes their exclusive video game. They can control how the league is perceived.

A Blind Eye: EA markets realism but ignores reality

Steelers franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger narrates Madden 16’s filmic, predictive Super Bowl 50 opening. Don’t worry – his 2012 settlement in a civil lawsuit for an accused rape is past. He had money. $400 NFL tickets paid for it. Now he can narrate a Super Bowl.

Madden 16 now features commercials for TV broadcast authenticity, so John “Papa Johns” Schattner is featured prominently in those post-quarter advertisements, placing himself in an expensive digital video spot. He won’t pay for employee health care but will pay to appear in Madden (and with Broncos QB Peyton Manning on TV in a lucrative endorsement deal). What perfect partners, the NFL and Papa “the official pizza of the NFL” Johns are.

The league is worth $45 billion, after all. They have an image to maintain.

This yearly iteration again includes the stadium and ticket price feature in franchise mode. That’s where stock photos of smug, smiling businessmen claim $7 for a plain hot dog is too cheap, and a $150 shirt made in China (with $12 in materials) was just right. It’s a mere sense of the NFL’s seemingly impossible profit margins. The league is worth $45 billion, after all. They have a high-class image to maintain. That’s what Madden has been designed to do.

Nothing happens off-field in Madden. Ray Rice doesn’t punch his wife in an elevator. 49ers player Aldon Smith won’t be arrested for a hit and run DUI. The Seattle Seahawks won’t cover up a domestic assault from their draft pick, Frank Clark. Dealing with a PR crisis may stain someone’s image.

There are no on-field antics either. No, no, no. Ndamukong Suh doesn’t stomp on players post-play. Sideline brawls don’t happen. Footballs aren’t deflated illegally – which somehow became a bigger scandal than an epidemic of domestic violence and spousal abuse in 2014. And hey, Madden’s players accurately wear pink during Breast Cancer Awareness month, where a pithy 5% of the sales actually go towards research.

It’s the worst of American celebrity culture. It normalizes acts of violence.

Madden NFL 16 is just the football: New catching/throwing controls, new defensive measures, and refreshed post-play energy. The football itself grows ever deeper as expected even if, funny enough, the stomp button is missing.

Also missing is the grim reality.

EA Sport’s forever tagline, “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game” is a falsehood.

Back in Madden ’93 an ambulance picked up injured players. Now a torn ACL merits a short animation and a sideline report less a superstar appear weak and their jersey sales fall. It’s the worst of American celebrity culture. It normalizes acts of violence.

Hit someone after an all-night bender, and someday, you could be in Madden where your actions are idolized and artificially pacified to preserve the NFL’s image.

This is The League, Madden 16 isn’t

Once prominent studio Midway released the fictional Blitz: The League in 2005. Players injected steroids on the sidelines, sent prostitutes to opposing locker rooms, and earned money for gambling. The game is 10 years old, yet predicted the Wild West-ified NFL of today – albeit through an edgier lens worthy of an HBO mini-series. The NFL is not blatant enough to juice players in front of the camera. Someone may see, so they ignore the problem altogether.

It is of little surprise Madden fails to have a “medicate” option. It does, however, offer a version of fantasy football, Ultimate Team. For only a $100 download, you can earn faster access to the best fantasy players. It’s much like Draft Kings – just as outwardly scammy. Only, Madden 16 won’t inevitably end with CEOs being led out of an office in handcuffs after the FBI raids their office.

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s NFL is run like parents in denial – surely their son didn’t do drugs, punch women, or get a DUI. He’s a good kid, good enough to warrant Madden’s game day introductions full of all-chrome stadium graphics, world-class broadcasting teams, an “official candy bar of the NFL” (because that’s a thing), and the long-standing video game itself. But never consumer choice though.

Exclusive, official; those words are delicious. They make money. That’s what matters. Forget or ignore anyone impacted along the way, especially abuse victims. The fans too, who can no longer afford to see the games, just pay $60 (+$100) for a falsified simulation without the realism.