“Madden 15” football video game kicks off

Are you ready for some computerized football? A new "Madden" football video game debuts Tuesday, which could explain more than a few absences at work and school. Quite a few Twitter users were debating Monday whether to fake an illness in order to spend all day gorging on the game. "This day is notorious for breaking records for people calling in sick," declared one user. "Cough *Madden* cough," said another. It's all par for the course for the "Madden" franchise. The annual release of the newest game in the series is a cultural event of sorts for the industry -- and one of the biggest moneymakers for developer Electronic Arts (EA). The game reliably sells about 6 million to 7 million copies a year, and the newest version, "Madden NFL 15," costs $59.99. Many Best Buy (BBY) and GameStop (GME) stores held midnight release date events for gamers to get early copies. But some fans were able to start playing a six-hour preview of the game last week by subscribing to EA Access, an online service that lets people play older games and preview new titles for $5 a month, or $30 a year, CNBC reports. Sales of last year's game, called "Madden 25," dropped as gamers began to transition from Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles to the new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 systems, CNBC reports. Analysts say sales could continue to flag this year as people wait to buy new gaming systems over the holidays. Even with a sales drop, "Madden" is still a huge business for Electronic Arts. Even the book that explains in depth how to play it -- the official "Madden" game guide -- could sell more than 100,000 copies at $13 each, The Boston Globe reports. The new game has been getting mixed reviews so far. "The title never gets worse, but some years, it's only marginally better," writes Ebenezer Samuel in The New York Daily News. "Problems have abounded for years, and they continue to sabotage the game." Adam Najberg at The Wall Street Journal calls the title "the best, most exciting, in-your-face Continue Reading

Xbox Game Pass January 2018 Adds ‘Injustice’ & ‘Ground Zeroes’ For $1

Xbox Game Pass will add 10 new titles to the Xbox Live subscription catalog in January. To kick off 2018, hit games like Injustice: Gods Among Us and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes will be playable for the introductory price of just $1. The latest post from Xbox Wire contains the full list of new additions. NBA Playgrounds: If you loved the arcade-style gameplay of NBA Street or NBA Jam, Playgrounds taps into that nostalgia. Players take to the court in 2v2 action against AI or online opponents. Power-ups bring some unique flavor to the mix even if they can sometimes be overpowered. After a few patches, this has become a solid arcade basketball title. Injustice: Gods Among Us: If you can’t get enough Justice League after watching the new movie, Injustice will definitely feed the beast. The graphics may look a bit dated on this Xbox 360 port, but you’ll still be able to fight through a roster of 24 DC Comics heroes. It’s time to put your dream matchups to the test in combo-to-combo mayhem. Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition: This is the last installment in the popular series, and it’s perfect for hardcore gamers pining for hack-and-slash action. In the ilk of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, DmC mandates fast reflexes and strategy to defeat towering foes. Fusion Frenzy: This game was Microsoft’s answer to Mario Party that released on the original Xbox in 2001. It’s a collection of fun mini-games that are mostly hit or miss, but the good ones will keep you busy for hours. Especially if you just bought an Xbox One X, this aging title shines like a new penny at high resolutions. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes: Since Xbox Game Pass also includes the full version of Metal Gear Solid V, it only makes sense to give gamers access to its prequel content too. When it first released in 2014, Ground Zeroes acted as a tech demo for what was to come. Today, it offers more of the addicting stealth gameplay loop critics and fans have come to Continue Reading

12 holiday video game questions answered, from virtual reality to the reality of the latest consoles

It's the most wonderful time of the year . . . unless you're the one who has to sift through this year's massive library of games to find that perfect gift. Welcome to the 2016 holiday season, which promises to be a special one for video game fans of all ages and styles. The PlayStation 4/Xbox One era of games is currently in full swing (and now have the power of 4K and HDR visuals), virtual reality has hit the mainstream, and quality titles dotted this year's gaming calendar. It should all leave gamers salivating come gift-opening time, but until then, those buying gifts for their special someones won't have things as easy. So here are a few tips to help you make the perfect gift purchases this holiday season: 1) Is PlayStation VR ready for prime time? Sure, all those wires can be clunky, but PSVR is here to stay - and it's worth every penny. When Sony dropped PSVR on the market a month ago, it released the most affordable version of high-level virtual reality gaming you can find, and it did so with plenty of careful, cautious thought. At $399, PSVR is exactly half the price of the PC-powered HTC Vive ($799), but it already boasts a potent library of games, many of which are also affordable. No, that's not cheap, but note too that the library of PSVR games manages to be budget-friendly: Batman Arkham VR and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood VR, two terrific titles exclusive to PlayStation, are $19.99. In 2016, virtual reality doesn't get much better than this. 2) Are the console refreshes worth the upgrade? It depends. Both Sony and Microsoft released their first console refreshes this year, dropping the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One S, respectively. Neither is a universal must-own, although both have are worth considering in the right situation. If you've been waiting to join the Xbox One/PS4 era, now is the time to do it, because both the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One S are potent machines. The Continue Reading

Madden 16, with Odell Beckham Jr. on cover, takes Giant step forward for football franchise: Video game review

So that's what it's like to throw a successful fade route, to delicately lob the ball into end zone, to have your receiver leap and outduel an aggressive defensive back for the catch. And it's about time. Another year, another edition of EA Sports' ever-popular Madden football video game. But with Madden 16, the company finally manages to elevate video game football to another level, truly changing the way you play the game. And this year, with an electric pass-catcher on the cover (you may have heard of him: Odell Beckham Jr.), it's because of a vastly improved set of pass-catching mechanics. The game still has plenty of imperfections and room for improvement, the many defensive limitations underscored by the excellence of the offense, but it's still a more complete football experience this time around. The pass game adjustments are the key: You now have a wealth of ways to modify both how players throw and catch the ball. Lead passing with the left stick returns, and it's joined by a more defined lob pass, triggered by holding the left bumper as you throw. There's a low throw, too, handled by the left trigger. These quarterbacking tweaks are joined by a deeper receiving game. There's the aggressive catch, triggered by the Y button, which has the receiver attacking the ball. A run-after-catch grab (X button) sets the receiver up to turn upfield. A possession catch (A button) is the surest way to make a grab, the best way to get your man to tap his toes along the sidelines. The tools create new options in Madden offense, and, depending on your playstyle, they could change the way you play the game for the first time in years. It's finally possible (although still challenging) to drop a ball over a zone-coverage linebacker on an in route. The biggest change may be the frequency and accuracy of fades and vertical routes. It's so fulfilling to lob the ball up on a fade and use the aggressive catch mechanic to haul it down that you have to be Continue Reading

NCAA Football 14 is brilliant on the field, but fumbles with new menu design

LOVED IT: On-field action at its best, excellent tutorial, solid visuals and topnotch presentation HATED IT: Changes to Dynasty mode hurt, cluttered menus GRAB IT IF: You’ve gotta have a college football video game The coverboy of NCAA Football 14 is former Michigan star Denard Robinson, a dual-threat quarterback. Last year, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, a dual-threat, shared the cover with Barry Sanders. Two years before? Florida’s Tim Tebow, another dual-threat weapon. Some things never change, and they don’t need to change, and that’s something EA Sports’ NCAA Football video game series could stand to learn. In NCAA Football 14, the company tries to change things up, reinventing to breathe life into the Madden series’ little brother. The result is a success, but some highlight reel touchdown. This is a fought-hard-for-it first down. The newest NCAA Football game is at its best on the field, middling at best off of it, and that’s largely because of the flavor of the game’s changes. On the field, developer EA Tiburon doesn’t mess to much with a solid product, keeping the core strong. The subtle changes on the field, however, are brilliant. The ever-popular option offense has received a minor overhaul, with tweaked controls that pitching to the fullback and keeping the ball easier. There’s a vast library of option plays to choose from, too, and almost all feel more natural and fluid. Blocking is also improved; pulling linemen, once slow to get across the line, now sprint into position, doing their best to aid complicated plays instead of hinder them. All of this is taught to you in one of the best tutorials yet in a sports video game. The Nike Skills Trainer (naturally, there’s some moneymaking product placement here, right?) effectively walks you through the entire game, teaching both controls new and old and even basic football theory. You’ll learn which key Continue Reading

Video Game Review: Madden 25

LOVED IT: Precision modifier feels great, high level of overall gameplay, high production values HATED IT: Preorders limit Connected Franchise fun, messy menus, still hasn’t evolved with real football GRAB IT IF: You aren’t waiting for the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. If you’re a next-gen early adopter and you can be patient, though, you might as well save a few bucks and wait and see what the future has in store. They changed the naming style, and they changed the loading menus, and they even changed their annual national cover vote to reflect their quarter-century milestone. But they still haven’t truly changed the game. And for Madden 25, that means an average video game in a special anniversary year. Don’t get me wrong. The 25th edition of EA Sports’ long-running Madden NFL football series is still the best football video game in town (partly because it’s the only football game in town), and EA makes several little refinements to push the game forward. By Madden standards, this is the best game yet in the series and a solid step forward from Madden 13 and the debut of the Infinity Engine. At its best, it can be a fabulous experience, with beautiful animations, a satisfying run game, and fun multiplayer. By sports game standards, however, this is a game that lags behind the pack and is increasingly unreflective of the professional game it represents. At its worst, it’s hamstrung by iffy commentary and glitch post-play animations. Its Connected Career Player Mode completely misses the point of stepping into the RPG shoes of one player, and its menus and interfaces are so sluggish that I was done trading after 10 minutes even though I’m the kind of Franchise gamer who always turns a squad upside-down. It’s a game that’s increasingly unreflective of true NFL football, too often concerned with selling things to gamers instead of making the game fun. Case in point: Connected Careers’ new Owner Mode. Continue Reading

20th-anniversary ‘Madden NFL’ video game is better than ever

When Electronic Arts announced the retired Brett Favre as its 20th anniversary cover boy, it looked like the notorious "Madden" curse - which had mangled the careers of Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb and Shaun Alexander - was finally broken. But when Favre decided to play again and was traded from the Packers to the New York Jets, it looked like the Curse simply reversed onto EA itself. By the time the dust had settled, "Madden" (EA Sports, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, $39.99; Nintendo DS, $29.99), the mega-selling football video-game franchise's latest installment was too far into production to switch Favre's wardrobe. You'll be able to download rosters that feature Favre as Jets quarterback, and Gang Green diehards will be able to download a fresh "Madden" cover that puts the superstar in a New York uniform. But all this chaos has distracted EA Sports from promoting "Madden 09" the way it would like: as the 20th anniversary edition of the longest-running franchise in sports video games. EA has always delivered new features in each installment, but this year it's going long, stuffing nearly a dozen fresh game modes and gimmicks into the package. (I reviewed the Xbox 360 version; your mileage on other consoles may vary.) One of the problems in a series with so much history is that it can be somewhat daunting to a newcomer. Many of the new features in "Madden 09" are geared toward helping the novice. For example, play selection can be as simple or as deep as you want it. At the easiest level, the computer will select your plays for you. Later on, you can arrange your playbook by play type (power run, quick pass) rather than by sometimes confusing formations like Z slant wide corner or double Z LB spy. You start off with the Madden Test, which gauges your skill in passing, running, pass defense and run defense, then adjusts the game's difficulty to your strengths and weaknesses. Each Continue Reading

Video games for the whole family

When the shopping, eating and family bonding is done, there's nothing like some good video action. Here's a selection of this year's best offerings, with a little something for everyone. FOR  THE TERMINALLY BORED: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune PLAYSTATION 3; Rated: Teen; $59.99 at Amazon.com A tropical vacation littered with shootouts, giant explosions and heroic leaps, Uncharted is eager to please. If your idea of fun is living through a big-budget Hollywood action movie, then please it will. Leading man Nathan Drake moves in ways that make normal game characters look robotic, and his charming banter with journalist/romantic interest Elena delivers just enough character development to break up the gunfights and getaways. FOR THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER: Super Mario Galaxy NINTENDO WII; Rated: Everyone; $49.99 at Target.com Mario is a modern-day Mickey Mouse, a character that connects with three decades of gamers. His latest adventure, Super Mario Galaxy, sends the selfless plumber on an interstellar planet hop, exploring hundreds of challenge-filled, candy-colored worlds. Galaxy recaptures the sheer joy of play, whether you're a kid or want to feel like one. FOR THE SAFETY-CONSCIOUS DAREDEVIL: Skate XBOX 360/PLAYSTATION 3; Rated: Teen; $59.99 at Bestbuy.com Better than any game before it, Skate captures the grace and attitude of skateboarding. Setting players loose in an open metropolis full of heavenly skate spots (concrete office plazas, industrial zones and suburban playgrounds) and a huge slate of trick possibilities. FOR THE ASPIRING MUSICIAN: Rock Band: Special Edition XBOX 360/PLAYSTATION 3; Rated: Teen; $169 at Ebgames.com More than just a video game, Rock Band is a new way to experience music. Played with an assortment of instrument controllers - a drum set, guitar and microphone are included - the game allows up to four people to play along with original masters from the likes of the Who and Nirvana. Continue Reading

Are you ready for some virtual football?

"Madden NFL 08"PLATFORM: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360STYLE: One- to four-player sports (two-player via PlayStation Network or Xbox Live)PUBLISHER: EA Sports DEVELOPER: EA TiburonRELEASE: Aug. 14ESRB: EBOTTOM LINE: 8 out of 10 No NFL team appears overnight with a playoff-caliber team. It takes good drafting, coaching and wise free agency acquisitions. It takes time. "Madden" fans can be assured that the last two years of the franchise weren't all for naught. This year's game sees the franchise finally reaching an acceptable level on and off the field. There is undoubtedly work left to be done before the series can match the glories of the past, but this is a noticeably better game the moment you pick up the controller. A small benchmark I have for a football game is what happens when I play defense - specifically cornerback. Being out on that island where reaction times and smooth transitions between movement animations make all the difference gives me a good feel for player movement. I can thankfully say that this game is quick and precise enough that I'll no longer just be playing the defensive line. The game feels faster than last year, and the action has no problem leaping off the screen at you. Receivers make spectacular grabs, defenders are feared for the ferocious hits they lay out and offensive tackles desperately shove defensive ends as they get beat around the corner. But for every play that feels like the "Madden" we remember and love, there are times when the animations take precedence over user control, players morph through each other and the AI exposes itself. Defensive backs are aggressive, but can rely on ESP, and conversely there are times receivers are unaware of the ball. The QB directional passing is also inconsistent. Fans have lamented the drop in features in past "Madden" versions, but "08" pulls things back up to speed with extensive scouting/draft options and pre-game training for improving players. Overall, there are more draft tools Continue Reading

System Update: 10 observations about video games in 2015 before the Electronics Entertainment Expo

The always-seismic Electronics Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles is just a few short weeks away, and until then, all is quiet (well, relatively) in the land of video games. And that makes it the perfect time for me to reflect on the ever-growing video game landscape as a whole. So here are 10 things I think about the gaming industry at this very moment. 1) I think some people are destined to miss the greatness of Nintendo's Splatoon over the next few months. It's an absolutely terrific shooter, built on a new paradigm that's about so much more than bodycount, and it forces you to rethink how you approach a team, err, deathmatch. But I wonder how many gamers are simply conditioned to blindly worship at the Call of Duty and Battlefield and Halo altars. Those franchises deserve plenty of respect, yes, but no shooter is quite as unique as Splatoon. Every gamer should spend at least six hours playing it — somehow — before making a judgment. 2) I think a case could be made that Nintendo's next console shouldn't lock itself into a unique brand of gaming. Yes, have motion controls, or a touchscreen controller, or anything else that Nintendo wants, because, hey, Nintendo is incredibly good at reinventing the gaming wheel. But, on some level, it wouldn't hurt to deliver the horsepower and core experience to drive, say, the next Assassin's Creed or Madden. As terrific as Nintendo's first-party lineup is (and from Smash Bros. to Mario Kart to Splatoon, it's been out of this world over the last few months), the lack of mainstream titles and sports games forces gamers to either buy two machines, or choose between Call of Duty and Super Mario. Not an easy choice. 2) I think the classic two-thumbstick, four-face-button controller form still rules, and that's not changing. Sure, there's chatter of a new Xbox One controller on the way, but will it really change that much? We've seen some attempts to revolutionize, but Continue Reading