Up next for review is Madden NFL 20 from EA Sports. EA has taken a bit of heat in recent years for becoming stagnant. Perhaps just a little unjustly. Don’t misunderstand me, the Madden franchise has definitely had its problems but the game of Football is still the game of Football. EA can’t just reinvent the sport to make it feel new and fresh. Especially if you’re one of those fans that buy the new Madden year after year after year. I’m not sure what people expect every year outside of the updated rosters but I get it, for $60 bucks you don’t want a rehash of what you’ve been playing for the past year or two (or three). I don’t mean to open up with a rant, though, so let’s just get into what Madden NFL 20 gets right, and where it falls short.
Visually, things don’t seem to have improved all that much this year. While I feel that the stadiums have gotten some love, it seems to me that player characters have taken a step back. Character models from some previous iterations I feel looked better – even some from the Xbox 360 era. Weather effects are just okay; something like rain drops look a little unnaturally large at times, but I understand that it’s so you can see them. Natural grass fields do degrade over the course of a game in heavy rain, which is a nice touch, but strangely enough player uniforms remained clean throughout. Where is the mud or the grass stains? Games in the snow I found to be a little amusing, though not necessarily not in a good way. The falling snow looked great but the snow accumulation on the field was pretty underwhelming. What I really found odd was that players would leave footsteps in the snow, but their bodies when tackled didn’t leave a mark. Going back to player uniforms, I was impressed with how the fabric seemed to stretch and crease and wrinkle in real time instead being permanently rendered, so that’s a positive.
In the audio department, unfortunately I can’t be as nit picky as usually would be. My old surround sound receiver is dying on me so I’m stuck listening in monaural sound. The ambient game noise is fine. The crowd responds appropriately to what’s going on on the field. The commentary unfortunately has a lot of recycled lines. It doesn’t really bother me too much, but you should be aware that you may hear the same comments repeated on a single drive. In one case, I heard the same comments on consecutive plays. Short comments aren’t as noticeable but when it triggers an extended conversation between the announcers you can’t help but get a sense of deja vu. The menu music tries to be relevant with a decent mix of hip hop, but a bigger variety of music would’ve been nice. I actually miss the old NFL films music from a few years ago.
It took a bit of menu exploring to actually find the music tracks to discover that that are a number of orchestrated tracks that just need to be toggled on to be added to the mix. But that’s about the extent of the variety, with no rock music unfortunately. But that’s not a big deal. I don’t play Madden for the music. While I would think they’d pipe music in through the stadium speakers I honestly didn’t notice it in game but that may be because of my current surround sound issues.
The overall presentation seems a little lacklustre this year. I would have liked more of a pregame, halftime, and post game. Perhaps show highlight plays from other games around the league. I mean I remember playing on the original Xbox, where certain other games featured these extra atmospheric elements.
So, how does it play? Well, it plays a lot like any Madden of this console generation. There are a few tweaks to the gameplay that do feel like an improvement, but I’m not sure if they are significant enough on their own to warrant a purchase if you have any Madden game from the last few years. Lineplay is improved on both sides of the ball. Running with the ball seems a little more fluid and intuitive than I remember, but not by much. Touch passing feels a little more natural. Pass defense can be a little finicky at times, and open field tackling can be frustrating at higher difficulty levels. Hit detection can be questionable at times. The AI will make some questionable decisions in coverage but hell, real NFL players make questionable decisions in real life. I do like the X factor and superstar player system.
Unfortunately, I did come across a few glitches that I found to be quite bothersome. In one game a number of penalties where called on the offense for a false start immediately after play selection. The teams hadn’t even lined up at scrimmage yet. Another glitch I encountered was in the kicking game in the second half. I noticed it happening after scoring 30 points or more. It didn’t happen in any low scoring games anyway. This particular glitch would cause the kick meter to not appear onscreen when kicking a field goal, extra point, kick-off, or punt. You still had to press the button three times to kick but it was blind and more often than not my kick would go off to the side. It’s hard to time your button presses on the kick meter when you can’t see the kick meter.
While I personally prefer to play in franchise mode, EA is very clear on what they’re pushing you for and that is Madden Ultimate Team. It’s literally in your face between every loading screen. In case you’re unfamiliar with the mode; you build your team from scratch through player cards that have different values (common, rare, legendary, etc). You can grind for these in game, or, they are sold in DLC packs for real cash. Think of the old football collector cards that came in packs of five and had a dried out stick of gum inside. This kind of thing just isn’t for me, but I personally know someone who has spent hundreds of dollars on Madden Ultimate Team over the last few years. To each their own I guess… Other modes are H2H Exhibition, and Face of the Franchise which is this year’s story mode.
Ultimately, I feel that the yearly model for releases is perhaps starting to become outdated. Of course, the moment to moment gameplay is still as solid as ever, and fans will no doubt find enjoyment here. But, in the age of live service games, something like Madden seems a natural fit. I’m not saying what’s here is bad, as such, it just feels like the value proposition is getting lower each time.