A (Slower) Step In The Right Direction

HIGH  Animations and AI combine to deliver unique, unpredictable gameplay.

LOW  The selection of modes hasn’t changed much in a decade.

WTF  Why do the menus have lag and load time?

Each fall, GameCritics is kind enough to send me the season’s hottest sports titles for review, and each year, I wait to send in my reviews until roughly one month after receiving them. While this delay might seem counterintuitive for a gaming journalist, today’s leading sports titles are practically the size of RPGs in a sense — they deserve more time and review than a weekend can provide.

Madden NFL 24 is a perfect example of why this approach is recommended. One month ago, I would have given the title a middling score, lauding the graphics but questioning the lingering glitches and spotty AI playcalling. Today, after several updates, Madden scores notably higher thanks to depth, realism, and enough improvement to consider it a bona fide upgrade from previous editions.

At first glance, Madden 24 isn’t a tremendous visual leap over its predecessor — that is, until users pay closer attention to the subtleties away from the ball. For example, both blocking and tackling are far more lifelike, using Sapien Technology and FieldSENSE to make desperate lunges and full-body tackles resemble actual footage. Likewise, seeing defensive backs reach for last-second interceptions no longer seems arbitrary and unrealistic. Now, upon watching the excellent replay angles, gamers will understand why their “unbeatable” passes missed the mark.

That said, Madden 24 is a noticeably slower and more deliberate game, continuing a trend that started a few years back. Seasoned players may initially find the pacing a little sluggish, but should soon learn to appreciate how this approach makes the game more true to the real thing. Interestingly, the slower pace actually benefits the running game, as it allows users to better read defenses and explode through gaps, instead of blindly aiming and hoping for daylight and open field.

Gamers aren’t the only ones who benefit from this new pacing, as Madden 24 features some of the best AI in series history. Previous editions saw the game deftly figure out playcalling patterns while maintaining good football intelligence, but (after an early game update) this year’s edition goes above and beyond to deliver a simulation that thinks beyond the obvious. NPCs react to user decisions, adjust strategies, and generally play a high-quality rendition of what fans watch every Sunday. Ideally, this would have been in place at launch, but I’ll take an update that improves gameplay instead of more trading cards or gimmick modes. I doubt I’m alone in feeling this way.

The rock-solid presentation also creates a better sense of immersion than in recent editions. Perhaps the commentary is a little repetitive from time to time and hardly resembles the NFL’s leading announce teams, but it’s solid, unintrusive, and true to the action… I just wish it was an easier journey getting to this point.

While slower gameplay turned out to be a welcome addition, no one wants or needs slower menus, yet, Madden 24 mires users in endless menu loading screens. Even when navigating entries on the main menu screens, there’s noticeable lag and sluggishness with seemingly every button press. I didn’t buy a Series X to have my game choke on an options page, but there were moments that made Starfield seem spry by comparison.

As always, Madden brings an extensive slate of modes and features to the table, but for a change, all modes seem designed to enhance the core Franchise gameplay experience. The Training Camp and Superstar story mode both feature mini-games designed to build players’ understanding of gameplay features. This would be a welcome addition if users weren’t forced to repeat these mini-games dozens of times to upgrade player skills in each mode. Die-hard enthusiasts will likely play them until their avatars are maxed, but more casual users may pass on these redundant exercises.

The Superstar mode, as was recommended by many review sites (including this one), is notably pared back in Madden 24, with a simplified barrier to entry and a threadbare narrative that likely won’t engage many newcomers. As predicted, another underdog story isn’t likely to be missed by Madden fans, and the lack of an interesting plot means there’s little reason to cover it here.

In turn, the omnipresent Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) card trading mode is back, with an even bigger focus on microtransactions than before. Those who pay will likely enjoy the strategic elements of MUT. However, while testing it for this review, all I could think about was getting back on the field and just playing football — this is why the streamlined Franchise is where most gamers will spend the lion’s share of their time. Though not as deep as other sports game franchise modes, or even as deep as previous Madden titles, I was able to take control of my team, set some strategic goals, and get back out to the gridiron. Maybe other gamers want to get lost in team management minutiae, but for me, it was simply an enhancement to the core game, not a replacement.

Online, the Madden 24 lobbies were as sluggish as the main game menus, but the on-field experience was seamless and enjoyable. Matchmaking took longer but seemed more accurate and fair overall. And other than one game-ending hiccup, online gameplay never struggled to keep up with my controller inputs.

Impatient readers who scrolled to the bottom of this article for the final score are probably wondering why I gave a game with this many criticisms such a lofty rating. The answer to that comes down to gameplay. Slower, more deliberate, and ultimately much more authentic, Madden 24 feels less arcade-like than it has in years — a welcome return to form for a franchise that practically invented sports simulations. There is still much work to be done, but EA Sports put its focus on the field, and fans have good reason to celebrate.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 

Disclosures: This game is published by EA Sports and developed by EA Tiburon. It is available on XBO, XSX/S, PS4, PS5, and PC. This game copy was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to online multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. This is a realistic representation of full-contact NFL football, and some tackling animations and injuries may concern some parents.

Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available in the Game Settings menu.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Madden NFL 24 features subtitles, speech-to-text, and numerous tactile feedback features in all modes. The game is easily playable without sound and is fully accessible.

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

Brad Bortone
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