If It’s In The Game, It Stays The Same…

HIGH “Face of the Franchise” is a nice entry point.

LOW How have the graphics gotten worse?

WTF This could have been an update for Madden NFL 19.

For years, the Madden NFL franchise has stood head and shoulders above all of sports gaming, with each successive entry (usually) making notable progressions over previous editions. Madden NFL release days were also massive events, with grown adults skipping work to celebrate their new football titles. However, over the course of this console generation, apathy started appearing – both from EA and its customers. Never has that been more evident than with Madden NFL 20.

True Madden fans can relax – there’s no need to cancel that Amazon order because Madden NFL 20 is a fine, playable American football title. Controls are responsive, graphics and presentation are on par with the rest of the series, and all the usual array of roster enhancements are in place. In other words, it feels and plays like Madden. But what they won’t find in this title is anything resembling innovation.

While the Madden NFL 20 packaging and marketing touts “revamped” gameplay modes and “all-new” animations, fans of the series will quickly get a sense of been there, done that when looking at this edition. From the moment the game boots players into a Pro Bowl scenario all the way to the umpteenth graphic clipping problem, experienced Madden enthusiasts will recognize virtually every aspect from previous editions.

Visually, Madden treads the same waters it has occupied for several years, save for a handful of new animation sequences – few of which are under user control. And while the presentation and realism is as strong as ever, gamers looking for EA Sports to venture closer to elusive photorealism are going to be disappointed — player models follow a handful of set templates, face scans seem a generation old, and the model clipping during intense sequences becomes downright distracting in a product that’s supposed to be about realistic precision.

Some gamers might think, “Hey, I can handle some minor clipping as long it plays well” but these visual quirks lead to bigger problems. Once, while trying to manually leap and catch a sideline pass using the “low throw” option, the receiver bobbled the ball no fewer than 11 times before finally dropping it in the end zone. On another occasion, three linemen clipped right through the opponent’s offensive line but suddenly stopped moving, allowing the running back to morph through them, then beyond them, resulting in a tremendous gain. On a new title, bugs are expected, but on a title that’s effectively a retread of an existing product? Less forgiveness is warranted.

One area of Madden 20 that should interest users is the “Face of the Franchise,” which serves as both a quality training module for new control features, as well as a miniature story-based feature that blends right into the erstwhile Madden Franchise mode. Though this mode is far from perfect – the acting and storyline are as wooden as an oak – the way it melds training and drama still outpaces the previous years’ “Longshot” modes. It’s also far too short, and once the story ends the narrative interactions slow to a crawl. But while it lasts, “Face of the Franchise” is a highlight in a game shockingly devoid of them.

The other modes pale in comparison. Franchise feels like the most limited version of this feature to date, with less of the front-office micro-management users have grown to expect. Yes, it’s still possible to customize a good chunk of team and game details, but there’s something inherently ‘hands off’ about the experience, and gamers will likely walk away before diving too deep. Even the player creation tools are inferior to previous editions, leaving player avatars mere shells of what they possibly could be. 

On the field, Madden NFL 20 is pretty much the same experience users have come to know over the past several seasons. That is to say, controls are sharp and responsive during basic gameplay operations, but advanced juke and special moves tend to launch pre-canned animation sequences that remove some control from the player, often resulting in less-than-desirable outcomes.

While Madden experts will quickly adapt to updated control schemes, series newcomers will find the controller gymnastics to be a little obtuse, potentially leading to frustration. And though the running game still offers a quality experience, like the actual NFL, it seems that the devs are more focused on passing mechanics. In that sense, Madden NFL 20 delivers some interesting new pass control options, but it’s unlikely most users will take full advantage of them, simply because of how awkward the controller inputs are during the heat of gameplay.

All that aside, the most unforgivable aspect of this year’s Madden is how buggy it is, with glitches that pervade all modes and features. Whether users are rocketing scoreboards in Arcade mode or trying to play the most accurate defense schemes around, random, inaccurate penalties and visual glitches are present throughout.

In one exhibition game, an on-field scrum for an AI fumble became so visually intense that the audio started clipping and the title suddenly booted back to the main menu. This is a 2002 problem, suddenly manifesting in 2019, and there’s far too many of these moments for a game being sold as a finished product.

Maybe the problem here is complacency. It’s been a long time since there was a true NFL Gameday-type competitor for the Madden series, so perhaps the lack of viable competition has made the devs a little less motivated to fix what’s wrong? A little less eager to add new features that would move things forward?

If EA wanted to do something revolutionary with the series, it would have offered Madden NFL 20 as a roster and feature update to Madden NFL 19. Not because there isn’t an enjoyable, playable game here, but because Madden NFL 20 is just more of the same when the series should be making strides toward true greatness.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by EA Tiburon and published by Electronic Arts. It is currently available on XBO, PS4 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. 11 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Other than some background music lyrics or intense dialogue, there’s nothing inappropriate for young audiences. However, the on-field action is realistic and includes hard hits and injuries, so parents may want to review before allowing younger children to play unsupervised.

Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available in the options. 

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Madden NFL 20 features subtitles and numerous tactile feedback features within the controller, in all modes. The game is fully playable without sound.  I’d say this is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.

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