With the launch of Madden 20, it marks 15 years since the Madden NFL series has faced any actual competition.
Over this last decade-and-a-half, there have been incredible installments in the series — I’m looking at you Madden 07 and Madden 10 — but there have also been some real duds like Madden 13.
Touting a new career mode, game-changing player abilities, sharper gameplay, and more, EA Sports is hoping that Madden 20 avoids the dud list and brings the series back into the good graces of football fans everywhere.
But is Madden 20 the game fans have been waiting for, or is it another three and out?
Best in Show
If there’s a true bright spot in Madden 20, it’s the gameplay
For the first time in quite a while, the gameplay in Madden feels great. The passing is crisp, running feels easy to grasp yet hard to master, and playing defense is just as enjoyable as ever. It just feels…smooth. It’s hard to see by just watching video, but when you go from playing Madden 19 to Madden 20, you definitely feel the difference on the field. It finally feels like player ratings and matchups mean more than ever, and better players will take over games with or without the X-Factors.
A lot of that can be attributed to the game’s new ratings methods. There’s a bigger difference between the stars and the borderline starters. You can’t just throw a 60-70 overall receiver on the field and expect him to perform on par with players like Odell Beckham or A.J. Green.
Thanks to the updates with RPM (Real Player Motion) 2.0, player movement is much improved. There’s actually a realistic flow to actions on the field and things feel less jagged or rigid than they had before.
The long-awaited addition of RPOs open up the offense more, allowing for more play styles on offense. There’s also a better feeling of control with the quarterbacks, especially when trying to place passes into windows or lead your receivers. Oh, and we can’t forget that pump fakes actually feel natural to pull off this year.
When running, you notice that — aside from various small bugs that should be patched in the near future — the offensive line picks up blocks and their various assignments better. They move well and turn to open holes for runners without feeling too overpowered.
Moving to the defensive side of things, defensive line play is where you notice the biggest improvement this year. The battle between the opposing lines has never been so intense, and it’s really nice to see how the best offensive linemen go up against the best run stuffers or pass rushers.
Gameplay-wise, it’s the best Madden of this console generation.
In the back seven — you can chalk this up to the changes in player ratings — middle of the pack linebackers won’t be seen making an olympian-like hurdle to pick off a pass while 7th round cornerbacks won’t be able to keep up with speed receivers like DeSean Jackson.
For the longest time, it’s always been a problem that players like J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald never really stood out enough to warrant keeping them on your team in Franchise nor did they really take over games online against others. Madden 20 takes a big step towards alleviating that issue with the introduction of the new Superstar X-Factors.
These X-Factors, ranging from Fearmonger that allows defenders to put pressure on the QB even when being blocked to the Double Me ability that sees a player win aggressive catch attempts against single coverage, help showcase the best of the best in the game. Great players like Aaron Rodgers, Zach Ertz, and Cam Newton now stand out more than ever with the new abilities widening the gap even more than what the standard ratings suggest.
There are still some glitches and issues on the field like when a player gets tackled but the game still registers them as up, but there’s no denying that Madden 20 gives players the best gameplay the series has had since the launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Even something as simple as running the no-huddle offense feels better than ever.
As I said, the gameplay is the bright spot of Madden 20. The rest of the game’s offerings? At best, they’re no more than mediocre.
Starting with the good: Ultimate Team (MUT) continues to get the bulk of the updates year in, year out. In Madden 20, MUT fans get, arguably, the most improvements in a single year than they’ve ever had.
What makes MUT more accessible this year is that you no longer need to go all the way back to the menus after completing challenges. Instead, you can load right into the next challenge, spending less time waiting and more time playing. You can even change up your difficulties on the fly without being kicked back to the main MUT menus.
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Traditional Solo Challenges have been removed in favor of Ultimate Challenges that come with various difficulty levels that give you different rewards depending on what you choose. You can also bring X-Factors into your Ultimate Team — up to three on each side of the ball — allowing players to take advantage of the big new gameplay addition in the game.
Obviously, microtransactions remain a major aspect of MUT as you’ll still build a better team if you decide to shell out real cash for the virtual coin, but, thanks to easier access on the solo grind, the gap between those who pay and those who earn is being shrunk.
Face of the Franchise…or is it?
The big new mode that was touted throughout the buildup was the debuting Face of the Franchise: QB1 that saw you finally get to play college football again before trying to become, well, the face of an NFL franchise.
At face value, it sounds great. You create your quarterback — you have to play QB if you want to play in college in go through the pre-draft process — and then go through college and the draft before starting your NFL career where you work to become one of the greatest to ever play the game while juggling player egos and coaches. Again, it sounds great.
But this is what you really get.
At face value, [Face of the Franchise] sounds great.
After creating your QB, you get to play in two college games with storyline elements and cutscenes surrounding them. What’s nice is that your performance both in the games and at the NFL Scouting Combine actually impacts your draft position. But just when the mode starts to get good and you find yourself invested in your player’s journey, the shiny coat of paint peels away to reveal the real mode underneath.
After getting into the NFL, it’s right back to what’s been there in the past: a player-locked Connected Franchise game that utilizes the new Scenario Engine.
It’s like unmasking a terrible Scooby-Doo villain.
Speaking of Connected Franchise, the game’s basic Franchise Mode feels pretty much the same as the last few years.
- The free-agent signing logic remains the same
- You can still automatically sign any free agent during the season to a one-year deal
- If you choose to relocate, you are still limited to the same cities, nicknames, and uniforms that we’ve had for half a decade now;
- You still can’t create and bring custom teams into Franchise
- No true coaching carousel – Just Head Coach, Trainer, and Scout
- No restricted free agency
Now, just because a lot remains exactly the same from prior installments, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some additions to Franchise.
After being removed years ago, the Pro Bowl as added back into Madden 20 as the big new addition. Now, before playing in the Super Bowl, you can take the best of the AFC and NFC and have some fun. But, that’s only if you are playing an offline CFM. If you are playing online with friends, the Pro Bowl is still unavailable.
The other touted improvement to the mode was the previously mentioned Scenario Engine.
This new engine will see conversations happen throughout the season with players and coaches. You may have a disgruntled player demand more playing time or touches. If you give in to what he wants, that player may see a boost in either moral, development, or even get an X-Factor ability. But, if you decide to continue on with the status quo of what you’ve been doing, that player will see those elements drop.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really lead to much. It gives more nuance to the mode, but you don’t really see it really impacting your team in too much of a negative way.
Circling back to the Face of the Franchise, the messages make the mode more playable but it’s easy to find yourself seeing the same types of interactions with nothing of substance coming out of them. There’s a lot of potential with the scenario engine, but the first iteration of the feature just comes off as too barebones.
Time For An Overhaul?
It’s been a nice effort, but it’s time to blow things up with the game’s presentation.
The pregame, halftime and postgame presentations are still forgettable and add nothing to the enjoyment of the game. And the broadcast elements within the game itself continue to feel bland and lack any sort of visual appeal. That includes the updates that came out of the feedback from the beta.
Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis return as the commentary team with a number of the same lines that you’ll hear time and time again in your various modes. Far too often the calls don’t seem to flow nor do they fit in the right situation, and they come off as sounding like they’d be great for a game from the mid-to-late 2000s rather than the late 2010s. There’s just something about the pair that doesn’t click. And though the current pair can work out for Madden if more work is done in the audio editing department, at some point you have to just admit it’s time for a change.
On the field, the players have received slight improvements but still look largely the same, and that’s not a bad thing. What is still bad are the actions on the sidelines of players looking robotic.
Also head-scratching was the removal of the on-field officials. It can be spun any which way you want, but taking referees off the field takes away from the authenticate feel that the game should present.
[NOTE: Currently, enabling the MSAA anti-aliasing setting on the PC version of Madden 20 will prevent in-game UI elements from being shown, making kicking impossible and disabling on-field play art.]
Every year, it feels like people say the same thing about Madden. The game is moving in the right direction; It’s taken a step forward; It feels like a real game of football; so on and so forth. And while that’s definitely the cliche thing to say, it’s clear that Madden 20 has come through in major ways in some aspects while still falling flat on its face in other areas.
Gameplay-wise, again, it’s the best Madden of this console generation. And if a game’s gameplay is great enough, people will often forgive the lack of innovation in current modes or the addition of brand new modes. That said, players can only feel like their wishes are being neglected for so long before they start to turn on a series.
That’s where it feels like Madden 20 sits. Fans who love MUT and have been getting the attention for all these years, will come back and really love what they have. Fans of modes like Franchise and Superstar, Career or whatever you want to call it, may feel like enough is enough, no matter how great the action on the field actually is.
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Madden 20 Review
Madden 20 is a game that will divide fans right down the middle. Fans who love MUT and have been getting the attention for all these years, will come back and really love what they have. Fans of modes like Franchise and Superstar may feel like enough is enough, no matter how great the action on the field is.