The pre-release time period for Madden 21 has been eventful, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I created the #FixMaddenFranchise initiative, which it warms my heart to see so many other people help to push that to another level.
There was also the scramble to remove all offensive imagery associated with the Washington Football team from the game. That had to be fun for the team of men and women who drew that responsibility.
The development of the game also largely took place during a global pandemic while the first version on the next-generation consoles was also being developed. To say there is a lot going on would be an understatement.
When I first got my hands on Madden 21, it was wrought with bugs and instability. EA informed me that updates would be coming on August 25, 28th, and then a third one on September 3.
Because of this communication, I decided to wait a bit before doing my final evaluations because I wanted my score to reflect the product most consumers would receive.
That said, here is the good, the bad, and the bottom line with Madden 21.
I’m not going to spend a ton of time here because it’s pretty apparent, all sports games on this generation of consoles have hit their ceilings from a visual standpoint. Does Madden 21 look solid?
Yes, it does, but there is nothing here visually that will send you reeling.
The Simulation Gameplay
I can hear all the hardcore guys and girls saying, “simulation gameplay in Madden?” Don’t get me wrong. I know EA has pushed things a bit more toward an arcade experience, but at this point, there goal is to walk a fine line that will likely frustrate the hardcore audience, while exciting a more choice demographic.
I understand that, but it doesn’t mean I agree with the direction–at least not in every instance. Let’s look deeper.
- Gameplay is smoother in almost every aspect. The animations are stronger, and there aren’t as many instances where the engine seems to be at a loss for a suitable visual result based on the on-field circumstances.
- The passing out of contact and sacks is a major win. It is an absolute game-changer for both sides of the ball. This addition has opened up a whole set of new situations that weren’t possible before. I’d become so accustomed to those tired animations where my QB would take a sack even though it felt as though he should’ve gotten the pass off. On defense, the increased number of passes that get off against the rush offers more opportunities for picks, deflections, etc.
- The new runner archetypes are arguably the best locomotion-related addition to the game. The fact that only some players can do certain moves adds some needed individuality. The animations are surprising slick in most instances.
- Linebacker play has been appropriately nerfed. They’re no longer able to cover as much ground.
- The defensive line stick is excellent in concept, but there is a downside that I’ll discuss a bit more below. However, the idea of creating a mini-game of sorts between the pass rusher and the offensive lineman assigned to block him is great.
- Some people hate the X-Factor and Superstar abilities. I admit, I was one of them early on when they were initially introduced last year. However, EA has found a pretty good balance and these abilities now enhance the overall experience while serving to separate the best players from the rest.
- Fumbles are still far too overpowered. I shouldn’t have to switch settings to conservative ball carrying just to get NFL players to take better care of the rock–and that’s especially after they’ve fumbled multiple times. We’re not even talking about abusing the usage of a mobile quarterback. I’m referring to wide receivers and running backs routinely coughing the ball up. That needs to be turned down.
- The accuracy rate for QBs throwing while pressured is supposed to go down, but I’m not sure if I’m seeing that as often as I should. Los Angeles Chargers rookie QB Justin Herbert was dotting Keenan Allen on out routes with blitzing safeties and linebackers bearing down on him. I wouldn’t say this is broken, but it should be a little tougher for guys like Herbert who haven’t proven themselves capable of making such throws.
- As much as I like the defensive linemen mechanic, it’s still difficult to make line play as much of a factor in the passing game as it should be. Usually, things materialize so quickly that good QBs will already have the ball out of their hands before you’re able to go through your commands. Thus, the cat-and-mouse battle you might be trying to create at the line of scrimmage between a pass rusher and offensive lineman is too often negated.
In all, the gameplay in this version of Madden 21 is actually pretty strong. This came as a bit of a surprise after the experience was initially marked with bugs. However, after playing through games post-update, things have been much smoother.
Sound and Presentation
As has been the case for the past few years, EA does some things really well in this space, and fails miserably in other areas. Unfortunately, the failures in this category far outweigh the successes.
- The team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis still provide a strong commentary presence, and the promised updates through the season should continue to update this aspect of the game.
- We’re still waiting on a suitable halftime show. This is a more urgent issue in specific modes that we’ll get to in a moment, but the overall absence of something that isn’t an insult to anyone who cares about such a thing is disappointing.
- The animations and presentation related to injuries has taken a slight step forward, but it’s still not up to par considering how big injuries are in football. Again, this is even more problematic in some modes in the game.
- A little more variety as it pertains to pre-game presentation would be great. Things specific to Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games would make all the sense in the world. Unfortunately, besides a few swoop-over effects, there isn’t much that distinguishes one broadcast from another.
A good portion of this review will center on this aspect of the game. Here is where I’ll discuss my thoughts on The Yard (Madden’s new 6-on-6 arcade mode), Face of the Franchise, Franchise Mode, and MUT.
Let’s start with The Yard.
THE YARD – Good
- The backyard football idea is a good one. It’s an attractive mode with an obvious target audience, and it conceptually delivers.The gameplay is fun and appropriately over-the-top. Every time you play, you’re liable to see something that makes you want to replay the last segment of your game.
- The customization options for your avatar are just what the doctor ordered. Trotting onto the field with that brand of individualism only makes The Yard look and feel that much different from a traditional contest, and that’s the whole point.
- The linkage between Madden Mobile is also a smart and intriguing touch. The shared inventory across platforms is something I’d love to see more often with other franchises.
The YARD – Bad
- There aren’t a lot of drawbacks to The Yard, but the one that sticks out the most is its lack of options and overall depth. There simply isn’t enough to do and control. The 6-on-6 with three human players per side still brings in too much of a CPU presence in online matches. This would feel a lot more lively if it was a true 6-on-6 experience.
- Even more customization options would be great, and having the ability to play without a helmet might have been attractive too.
- The mode lacks structure. There aren’t any tournaments or events at the moment, thus it’s hard to imagine spending a ton of time playing it in its current state. It’s badly in need of some layers, and I’m not sure if that’ll come on this generation of consoles.
Face of the Franchise
EA continues to reboot its old Superstar feature and they’re also attempting to meld their Longshots concept with the experience. As is the case with almost every aspect of this year’s game, there are hits and misses.
FOTF – The Good
- The concept is strong. Taking a look back through a documentary style is an approach I’ve wanted to see in other sports video games.
- It’s nice to be able to play on multiple levels (high school, college, the Combine, and the NFL), but even this needs more layers.
- The different twists your career can take over the years offers some freshness, but this is only partially a positive. However, I’ll get into what I don’t like about this in the next section.
FOTF – The Bad
- The plot twists become increasingly less cinematic later in your career. These cinematics, while not for everyone, are what set this mode apart from others. After awhile, the changes are downplayed so much that they lose impact.
- The limited college football experience is peculiar and a bit wasteful. There’s currently no college football experience available at the moment in the sports gaming universe. This mode would have been the perfect place to allow you to play through an entire college football season with fictitious schools, and the licensed programs in the game mixed in for some legitimacy and atmosphere.
- The NFL Combine should be so much more involved, not to mention a part of other aspects of the game. It’s still more of an afterthought while the interview portion gets far too much attention.
- The creation tool is far too limited. I know your player spends most of his time in a helmet, but if EA wants me to connect with the character, it should allow more customization options while also giving me more screens and segments without a helmet.
EA’s cash cow is back in all of its glory. Truthfully, there isn’t a lot here that is new, but that won’t stop the mode from helping EA rake in an obscene amount of money again over the next 12 months. Superstar KO is back and not much of an addition as it was added during last version’s life cycle.
Here’s the good and bad from what’s new and or still missing.
MUT – Good
- The ability caps are the most significant new addition to MUT. EA does a great job of balancing their collector mode and making sure fans who want to temper the wildness of their card-collecting experience has somewhere to go to find some semblance or order.
MUT – Bad
- There is still a lack of customization options with relation to stadiums and uniforms. I love being able to create my own uniforms in MLB The Show’s Diamond Dynasty and NBA 2K’s MyTeam, and my own arenas in the latter. Until MUT allows you to create at least your own uniforms, this will be a minus on my scorecard.
- MLB The Show introduced a Seasons component that blends franchise mode concepts with card collection. This year’s version of MUT sorely misses that sort of private usage concept for friends who want to compete in a structured environment.
Here we go.
Franchise – Good
Nothing. What was “added” is essentially a patch from last year, the year before that, the year before that, and…well, you get the picture. We still have zero immersion as it pertains to presentation and elements that make the franchise experience unique.
Franchise – Bad
- The halftime show in franchise mode is laughable. Literally, almost nothing happens, and that completely disregards the immersion you should feel in your team’s game as well as what’s happening around the league.
- The injury presentation isn’t geared toward a functional and realistic franchise mode experience. We have lightning quick diagnosis and almost no visual evidence of off-ball injuries.
- The between-weeks events are really non-existent. Where’s the pageantry and presentation around Player of the Week, Games of the Week, Plays of the Week, etc. Can we still not have a weekly highlight show in franchise?
- Making it to the Super Bowl is supposed to be rewarding. Unfortunately, the presentation for this monumental moment hasn’t changed in years.
- Several legacy issues still exist such as sack totals not being kept properly, and a lack of meaningful stats in team menus.
- The NFL Combine should play a MAJOR role in franchise, and it’s essentially non-existent.
- The presentation for the NFL Draft is pretty horrible. You can’t even see which players have been drafted by other teams until the end of the event.
- Free agency has no flavor at all, and it’s not exciting to recruit and sign players. These are all very valuable aspects of the offseason, which is the nucleus of any franchise mode.
Franchise mode badly needs a calendar with events stored on it that help to create an experience. Right now, that simply doesn’t exist.
However, it should be noted, EA circulated this note to re-commit to addressing franchise mode in a post-release update. Perhaps that will come on September 3. It reads as followed:
“Madden NFL 21 operates as a true live service and is targeting meaningful change in Madden 21 Franchise based on community feedback via post-launch support including improvements to tuning, Commissioner Tools, AI Personnel Management, Trade Logic and more.”
We shall see.
The Bottom Line
This is a strange version of the game for several reasons. The post-release updates will be key, but we have to review what’s available now.
While the gameplay is in as good of a spot as it’s been for a while, Madden 21 is dragged down but neglected features, stagnant and/or underdeveloped concepts. Hopefully, this inconsistent effort is a product of the development team packing tons into the next-gen version. If not, all things considered, from a reception standpoint, this could be one of the worst years in franchise history.
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
- Developer: EA
- Publisher: EA
- Released: August 28th, 2020 (August 25th for EA Access)
- Price: €59.99 for the standard edition, €79.99 for digital, €99.99 for MVP edition
- Review Score: 6.25 out of 10
EA provided a review code for the Xbox One version of this game.
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