Madden NFL 24 hands-on preview – Updating the Franchise while respecting the past

Recently I had the honor to be invited to an EA event at their Redwood Shores location to take a look at what the team has in store for Madden NFL 24. I’ve been an avid Madden player for a long time now, so I packed my bag and flew from Atlanta to San Francisco to take a first hand look at what we can expect from the newest iteration of the Madden franchise. Let me say this before we get started: I’m excited in a different way than the past few years. The team they have working on the game has a direction for the future, and that in itself should excite any player of the Madden family. Let’s jump in…

We got a first look at the Madden NFL 24 trailer for this year, showcasing brand new animations, new and exciting features, and more. It was exciting to see and exciting to learn that the team at Madden looks at every trailer side by side to make sure that what you’re getting every year is a brand new trailer with only new animations being showcased, an attention to detail that I appreciated seeing very early in the presentation. Here it is…

Madden 24 Official Reveal Trailer

From a gameplay standpoint, there is a focus on Fieldsense, foundational football, and their new Sapien Technology which will allow for more authenticity (more on this later).

  • Tackling has been updated with new contested catch tackle systems, new tackle types, and a focus on trying to expand blocking AI to allow for more realistic looking tackles from the defensive.
  • Catching and passing has been upgraded with the addition of momentum catching (allowing for Tyreek Hill to not randomly slow down during a route to then have to magically catch up to the ball and get tackled later.) There is also a return of dive catches including a wide range of animations. They’ve also added improved passing visuals to make for more realistic catches and swats.

Their focus on Foundational Football is clear with a focus on several points that have needed some refreshing in the Madden Franchise.

  • Blocking has been upgraded with a brand new pre-snap targeting system. We saw this in action side by side with Madden 23, and it’s night and day. Running the ball will clearly be much more fun now that the linemen have a newly programmed system for who they block and when. They also upgraded the open field blocking to hopefully eliminate those dumb block in the back penalties and assist with running the ball.
  • QB and RB also have new AI systems that allow for more skill-based passing, tight window throws/runs, enhanced quick game, and new audibles for QB’s. RB’s also have a brand new Frostbite navigation grid system to allow for more realistic running in game.
  • DB and pass coverage has taken a step up with new DB Read Steps with new crossover movements, improved coverage positioning, enhanced user control, and an increased defender breakup time.

Something I’m very interested in is their new Real Time AI Adjustments while playing against a computer. Defenders are now programmed to adapt to repetitive play calling on the running schemes. So if you run the ball on an inside zone three times, you might get them on the first time, but the AI will learn you’re running the same play and the linebacker will actually adjust to stop this play from succeeding a second or third time. This will be interesting to see more of in the future. When asked if this will also be done for passing, the team was quick to say it’s a much harder thing to program, but it’s being looked into for future Madden games. In the meantime, it’s exciting to see new technology being introduced in Madden to enhance the realistic aspects of the game.

Speaking of new technology, let’s talk about Sapien. Sapien is a brand new performance skeleton adapted to support both athletic and casual experiences. This stuff looks amazing. They basically redid their entire skeletal model of their players to make for a more realistic look and movement. They no longer look like “characters”, they look so much more realistic. They have also made it to support both the male and female form for the referees, fans, and more. This technology will launch with Madden, but will be the groundwork for many things to come, it seems.

In this system you have specific archetypes for the player bodies.

  • Standard is the main style we should see from skill players. Their example was Josh Allen.
  • Muscular is what you’d expect. Heavy hitters with speed. Their example was Micah Parsons.
  • Heavy is our guys in the trenches on the D-Line and O-Line. Their example was Leonard Williams.
  • Thin is going to mostly be QB’s and WR’s from what I can tell. Their example was Joe Burrow.

Inside these systems, they’ll actually be able to mix and match to create a more authentic experience from a looks perspective. Gone are the days where linemen look super awkward because the weight isn’t where it needs to be. This new system looked amazing from what I was able to play of Madden 24. I’m very excited to see how the final game looks and how Sapien might be used for the future of gaming.

Now let’s discuss something I am VERY excited that they announced. Are you ready for this…? MINI GAMES ARE BACK. They have put together a way for their team to make mini-games and they have delivered. We heard from a team member, Spade, who really led the excitement about this inclusion. They will have 25 games built for launch as of now, but they said more could be on the way depending on time. If you played Madden back on the PS2, Xbox, or GameCube, you know what I’m talking about. But for those newer to the franchise, Mini-Games are a fun way to do training in game. This will be an exciting addition to any franchise player as these mini-games can be used during training to help gain XP for players you choose.

I played a lot of these mini-games during my hands-on with the game. I loved the passing games, but the rushing games are truly what felt like home to me. I loved Rushing Attack where your goal is to follow the blocks and get the TD. That one, with help from Blur 2 and Thunderstruck being played on a neighboring gamer’s phone, brought me back years to playing these mini-games on older Madden games.

They added a lot of new mini-games including Backfield Survival which almost feels like a Pac-Man-esque game mode of surviving in the backfield as long as possible with a new defender being released every so often to try and tackle you. These games were so much fun and I can see people playing these not only for fun, but to simply get better at the playing part of Madden. I’m excited to see more games in the future, but 25 at launch? That right there is exciting.

Now, the time I’ve been waiting for, let’s talk about Franchise Mode.

Franchise mode is where I do the majority of my time in Madden. I’ve played so many seasons of offline franchise mode, I couldn’t tell you how long. So hearing all of the things that’ll be in Franchise and hearing this isn’t where they’ll stop pushing for Franchise in the future, it made me excited.

The term “quality of life upgrade” doesn’t seem to do justice for the amount of work that seemingly has gone into Franchise Mode for Madden 24. Trade improvements have been made including having up to six slots to allow for more realistic trades. You can have up to three players with three picks OR up to six picks to trade. They’ve also made it so you can trade two year’s worth of picks. So you can make those Wilson trades a reality. They also upgraded the AI trade logic to allow for more fair trades when placing someone on the auction block. Free Agency has also gotten a face-lift, but I didn’t get to seeeverything that went into it. From what we were told, the team was excited about the jump in Free Agency last year, but it needed improvements. There will also be draft class generators to allow for finding more gems, adding more excitement to finding a generational player, and keep a lookout for some easter eggs in draft classes based on legends from the past.

Alongside this is an exciting addition to coaching trees. They’ve added a third tree for both OC and DC that will allow you to create a coach that specializes in specific groups. For example, if you’re KC, you don’t need an OC specialized in QB play, so maybe focus that on OL or WR. It just allows for more ways for Franchise players to add to the fun.

Speaking of control and adding to the fun, the team at Madden made the choice to allow for coaches to have the ability for relocation, and that can happen at any time. No longer do you have to wait for your stadium to fall apart before leaving. On top of that, the new logos are not stuck with a location. Some of the exciting new look teams are the Dragons, Redwoods, and Bisons, and they look awesome. Seems like the team had some major fun putting these together. Now, any location can have any team!

They’re clearly trying to give every Madden player a way to play, from those wanting to focus on drafting and teambuilding, to those wanting to only play the games, there’s something for everyone and the team at Madden has plans for the future to make everything even better. This was great to hear and I’m excited to see the final Franchise form for Madden 24 and how it’ll be even better in Madden 25.

Superstar has gotten a new facelift as well. You’ll be able to take your superstar into Superstar AND Superstar Showdown (more on that later). During your career, you’ll be able to play the mini-games we discussed, have major and minor interactive and cinematic moments, and of course, try for that 99 Club status.

During Superstar gameplay you’ll have real time feedback rewarding you for doing your job on the field. Blow a coverage and cost your team the game? You may not get an A. Get that final pick you need to seal the win, here comes an A+. There will also be a new post game report that shows your stats and progression.

The missions outside of gameplay allow for the Superstar to build their brand. Want an endorsement? There will be things unlocked if you take the endorsement deal, and you’ll have new cinematics to see. I’m excited to see what Superstar can do this year when the game comes out, it looks like all the things people have wanted and polished.

Superstar showdown is taking the place of The Yard. They’ve taken what worked in The Yard and it helped guide them to a new mode called Superstar Showdown. This is a 3 v 3 mode where you can play with your friends. Any type of player can be used, so if you have three QB’s, that works, but it’ll be harder. So it’ll be fun making new players to allow for different ways to play the game. Progression is also something that moves between modes, so if you power up your player in Superstar Showdown and take him into Superstar Mode you’ll have a leg up. It’s once again allowing the player to choose.

The one negative I had was the ability for players to choose to pay for currency to gain some of the gear. While everything is supposedly able to be unlocked by playing the game itself, I always feel a little weird when it comes to buying gear you should be earning.

At the end of the day, I was able to have an amazing experience with the folks at EA learning what work has gone into Madden NFL 24 and some of the ideas for the future. This core group we heard from truly seems to love pushing the game forward. We’ve seen strides for the past two to three years now, but Madden NFL 24 seems like almost a culmination of three years of trying different things. Playing the game and looking at the game in the build we saw, it looks better than Madden 23 already, and that is exciting. The other thing that I appreciated about the team was their willingness to listen to player and critic feedback. Some of the big changes they made between Madden 23 and 24 actually came from conversations with players about what they wanted to see. On top of that, speaking with Creative Director Connor Dougan really made me feel good about the Franchise Mode for Madden NFL 24 and the future of Franchise Mode.

Thank you to EA for allowing us to attend the event, we’re excited to see the final game in August. Keep your eyes peeled for our final review! Madden 24 releases on August 18 on XSX and PS5.

Adam is a musician and gamer who loves his partner in crime, Regan, and their two pets Rey and Finn. Adam is a fan of Star Wars, Mass Effect, NFL Football, and gaming in general. Follow Adam on Twitter @TheRexTano.

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