In the back of EA's booth we got our hands on the sticks of Madden NFL 15 for the first time. The jump in fidelity from last year's title to this one is immediately noticeable, from the presentation to the passing game. Here are the five most notable takeaways from our brief time on the sticks.

EA Tiburon Is Trying To Make Defense Fun Again

The Madden developers are well aware that defense no longer holds the allure it did back when the Hit Stick was introduced. To be honest, I frequently super-sim my defensive stands in Connected Franchise because the gameplay feels the same as it did several years ago. To correct this, EA is introducing a couple new wrinkles. First is a new pass rush/block shed system. When you get into your stance at the line of scrimmage, you have a split second to jump the snap like you used to be able to in the now-defunct NCAA series. From there you can use face buttons to make moves around the blockers. If they successfully engage you, all is not lost. You can drive the lineman a particular direction and try to shed the block at the right time to sack the quarterback or deliver a blow to a ball carrier.

Newcomers may come to appreciate the new tackling cone visualizer, which makes it easier to line up hits. Veterans can turn this off if they wish, and it's automatically shelved for games played on All-Madden difficulty. EA is also including the option to play with a perspective where the camera is placed behind the defense, which makes pass rushing and run stopping feel more intense.

The Passing Game Is Markedly More Realistic

For the past couple years the A.I. zone coverages and rocket jumping linebackers have driven me crazy. By completely re-writing the coverages and passing accuracy, Madden now looks more like the actual NFL than a video game. Quarterbacks with low accuracy ratings are going to throw behind, above, and underneath the receiving windows, which results in much more varied catching animations. Playing with the Vikings, rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw some balls in tough-to reach places, resulting in some pretty difficult catches for Kyle Rudolph. I also feel more afraid throwing against skilled corners like Richard Sherman than I do about linebackers jumping routes given the new positioning. I saw a much greater variety of pass breakups all over the field when throwing into tight windows.  

Presentation Takes A Big Step Forward

For years Madden games have suffered from poor framing on their in-tight camera systems that focus on the wrong things and don't give a very good view of the replays. For Madden NFL 15, EA Tiburon hired a former NFL Films cinematographer to rebuilt these from the ground up, and the new look is fantastic. From the shortened pre-game to the half-time highlight show, the camera jumps from interesting angles to show you iconic players, game-breaking replays, and post-play reactions that looks more in line with what you'd see on the NFL Network. He also hired the jumbotron operator from the Miami Dolphins to rework the jumbotrons in every stadium to make the game feel truer to life. Players on game-breaking runs may even look up to the big screen to see how close the trailing defenders are on their way to the end zone. 

Coaches Look Like Their Real-Life Counterparts

EA Tiburon rebuilt all of the coaching models this year so they look more like their real-life counterparts. Each coach has a unique body and head, so slim coaches won't look so bulky anymore. The presentation also works them more into the presentation between playcalls, showing a bespectacled Andy Reid calling plays from behind his play chart or Mike Zimmer congratulating his defense for a turnover. Unfortunately for Patriots and Saints fans, both Bill Belichick and Sean Payton are still missing from the sidelines.

Improved Commentary Is Still A Focus

Rather than rest on the considerable amount of recording EA did last year, they enlisted Phil Simms and Jim Nantz to record just as much commentary as they did last year, effectively doubling the amount of content users may hear. The developers also worked on making sure the talking points line up with the stat wipes, so if the number of turnovers is highlighted Nantz and Simms will address it. The game tracking tech has also improved so the booth team can pick out players who are having particularly good or bad games.

Look for more information on Madden NFL 15's game modes in the coming months. If you want to learn more about the game, check out Kato's in-depth preview.