E3 2014: Madden NFL 15 has found its game

Yesterday (on the first day of E3 2014) I tweeted that I just played Madden NFL 15 and that it is "probably the best Madden I've ever played." This was met with quite a bit of disbelief, and with good reason. In recent years, the Madden franchise hasn't exactly blown away the fans that have supported it throughout the years. It's been lacking in certain areas year after year, and the gameplay has become a shell of its former self.

After playing a half (I know it's just a half, but E3 is busy and I had other appointments), I stick by my statement. The combined changes had me and another E3 attendee shouting expletives and yelling in excitement at some of the changes we were noticing.

Being the Denver Broncos fan that I am, I naturally chose them. Defense has been revamped in this year's game, and so has Denver's D with player acquisitions. Also, QB accuracy has changed in the game, but with Peyton that doesn't matter. My opponent chose the Panthers. That was cute.

The first thing you'll notice in this year's Madden is the presentation. There has been a concerted effort by EA Sports to overhaul the presentation, and they've done one heck of a job. The commentary duo from last year's game returns (Jim Nantz and Phil Simms). I'm not quite sure how much their commentary has changed. It was only a half, and it was quite hard to hear the commentary in a crowded room of gamers. The presentation at the beginning of the game and throughout the experience kind of looks like the NFL games that air on CBS — lots of blues. During the intro, the camera will move around warm-ups, highlighting key players and showing their stats. The visuals during the intro are top-notch. Uniforms look ten times better, stadiums are the best they've ever looked, and players look like themselves (and actually don't move like robots).

Another presentation improvement is showing the down and yards-to-go on the field instead of being displayed near the play clock. It'll be an arrow like the one you see on TV broadcasts with the offensive team's logo and colors featured. While that's nice, what absolutely blew the minds of myself and my opponent was when actual NFL footage was shown in an overlay right before a drive started. Footage from NFL games came up right when Cam Newton was taking the field and we both exclaimed "holy sh*t!" That's something you see in actual NFL football games. This is proof that EA is actually trying to improve the weak spots in their game. You'll notice a new playcalling menu too. I'd try to describe it, but it's insanely late, my words are failing me, and a picture of it would describe the new look better than I ever could.

The last big presentation feature that I noticed is the inclusion of a halftime show. At the half, there will now big highlights and stats from the game so far, and the highlights have new commentary over it. And here's the kicker… it's actually good.

So, presentation, great. But how does the game play? I'm excited to say that this is the best feeling Madden I've played in quite some time, and it might be the best yet. When you combine the new features with the new visuals, it makes a complete package of NFL awesomeness.

On the defensive side of the ball, the AI of the secondary was sharp and capitalized on Cam Newton's rushed throws when he was under pressure. It took me a bit of time to get used to the defensive line power move and finesse move being assigned to face buttons, but I actaully like it better. When the ball is snapped, you'll have a short window to get a jump on the snap by pressing the right trigger, and the game will display if you were slightly late or perfect.

While you're engaged with blockers, you might see a face button symbol pop up; if you press the correct corresponding face button (X or A on a Xbox One controller), you'll get past the blockers. It's a cool mini-game and you get some neat animations from the struggle in the trenches. I was a little concerned, however, that I wasn't able to get by a blocker without doing that, and I hope that won't be the case every time.

Tackling has a completely new system as well. You'll now see a green cone around your defensive player that shows you the range of his tackling, and you'll have to aim it and choose the type of tackle you want to do. Want a basic wrap-up tackle? Press A. Dive tackle? X. Get the ball carrier in the sweet spot of your cone, and you can go all out with a big hit. It's nice to finally see a player's tackling range than effing up on a play because you had to do guesswork.

Don't think that all of the changes are on the defensive side of the ball; they're not. Quarterback accuracy matters more than ever. In Madden 25, a QB would either throw a ball right on the numbers or overthrow them drastically. That's not the case anymore. Elite QBs have better accuracy than the Geno Smiths of the world, and there will be passes that are slightly off or that receivers have to reach for. This opens up potential plays for the secondary, and it will show the difference in the different types of receivers. Welker made some nice grabs in my game, reaching for a couple that weren't the usual perfection from Peyton, while Emmanuel Sanders didn't exactly build the trust.

The speed of the game felt just right, and I didn't feel like runningbacks were stuck in mud. Defensive tackles couldn't keep up with the fastest receivers and there were some big plays made. Speed differentiation was right where it should be. Thank goodness.

There's still two months to go, but damn am I the most hyped I've been in a long time for a Madden game. There's so much more we don't know yet, but the focus to shore up the weaker areas of the game instead of focusing on a gimmick are really paying dividends. Stay tuned for our interview with Rex Dickson, creative director for gameplay on numerous topics including Connected Franchise.

For more from E3, follow us on Twitter @GameZoneOnline for pictures, impressions and live updates from meetings. You can also follow me on Twitter @Lance_GZ. If you have any questions, let us know and we'll try to get you an answer. As always, visit GameZone.com for more news and previews from E3.