The release of a new Madden game is usually cause for excitement but in recent years, the annual NFL release has been a little lackluster. Madden NFL 21 marks the end of an era as what could be the last Madden titles on Playstation 4 and Xbox One. With the world descending into chaos due to COVID and college and professional sports in limbo, we need this escape more than ever. Will EA deliver a touchdown or will they fumble at the goal line?
I want to come out and say, I do not play Madden Ultimate Team. This review will omit that section of the game and will focus on gameplay and other features.
First thing I did was jump into an exhibition game. I do this every year as I want to get used to the controls and gameplay. Right off the bat, I notice the animations look fluid and the character models look better. Passing, running, blocking, it all feels better. If one area feels particularly worse, it’s kicking and that is because there seems to be a hiccup with the kick meter, at least on my PS4 Pro. Hopefully this is something that can get patched if it truly is a widespread problem. The in-game presentation took a step forward this year. The audio commentary is still on point, but the graphics and visuals to a leap forward.
Aside from the core gameplay, the additions to Superstar and X-Factor abilities felt great and balanced. While they did give me an edge in certain moments, it never felt cheap due to the fact that my opponent also had their own superstar and X-factor abilities.
Another new addition is the skill stick which allows you to take your game to the next level. Gone are the days of just juking and spinning. The skill stick allows you to string together combinations to shed the defense. The pash rushing system gets an overhaul as well with each defensive lineman getting a limited number of moves while also allowing the offensive lineman to adapt to your playstyle. I usually don’t enjoy playing defensive snaps that much. This year, I love it. Overall, the core gameplay mechanics this year are great. How are the features?
There are two big new game modes this year. Face of the Franchise, which isn’t “new new”, but the newest entry in this year’s game, and The Yard. The Yard is a chaotic 6v6 street football game mode. Arcadey gameplay and instead of playing as your favorite pros, you play as your own created player. Winning games and meeting goals allows you to upgrade your gear and clothing on the field. This game mode is fun, but I’m not sure how much replay value it will actually have. One thing it does have is an excellent player creator which is much better than in games past.
Face of the Franchise is Madden 21’s story mode. You take an up and coming prospect played by yourself this time instead of a predetermined character. You begin your career in high school and work your way through college and into the NFL. This year’s edition provides you with more hurdles to overcome than in the past but it seems like they are trying to bring the “starpower” like 2K has done with their NBA career mode.
Franchise mode has gone largely untouched this year, a decision that sparked outrage from fans and led to the hashtag #FixMaddenFranchise. This bad publicity led to EA committing to improving franchise mode for this year’s game post-launch and for Madden NFL 22. While it is disappointing that my favorite mode has been neglected for another year, it is promising to see EA cave in to public outcry and commit to fixing it
It is unclear if the Xbox Series X and Playstation 5 versions will be the same game with updated visuals, or if it will be an entirely different experience. This game does set out what it intends to do, it just doesn’t really add anything meaningful that warrants a high score.