Reviews

“Scores a touchdown, but misses the extra point – Madden NFL 21 review”

Death, Taxes, Madden. I know we can lump plenty of other games here like Call Of Duty or any sports franchise, but Madden is a staple not just of each year, but of the season. Madden is our beginning to fall gaming releases, so starting with a bang is always preferred. As with many annual releases, Madden NFL 21 has the opportunity and challenge of figuring out the line between innovation and retaining what works. This is where the fun starts, where we get to dive into the latest iteration and see just how EA Tiburon approached the line of scrimmage.

Madden is the only football sim out there, not counting stuff like “Doug Flutie’s Maximum Football 2019”. Madden truly doesn’t have to improve, but I’m glad the developers take the time to make sure they build things correctly. Jumping into a game you see that all over the structure. The shine of the stadium, feel of running with or passing the football, all of it is right on the money for what you expect.

One of the things that really impressed me this go around is the presentation. The pounding of the soundtrack behind the opening sizzle reels of your team is a nice touch, as is the staples of teams practicing before kickoff. But the best part in my mind is the announcers. The way they seamlessly talk about the drives and bring in previous statistics organically make it a fun experience rather than the annoyance it has been in previous years.

I know what you’re thinking: “So yeah David, can we talk about playing Madden NFL 21 yet?” I guess we can! I hate to sound blasé about it, but it’s a good football game. The original formula is there, and the rule of thumb is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There are only so many ways I can go about describing touching and throwing a football, so let’s go over a few new points with the gameplay.

The new skill stick and pass rushing moves are wonderful enhancements to the game. If you’re anything like me and terrible at playing defense, you generally move to the defensive line and let the corners do their work. Rushing the passer is easy, so we gravitate to it. Unfortunately, it’s also been mostly “one button, run at a lineman and hope you get through” option. Now the stick includes multiple motions to shed, bull rush, and more to make your way to the quarterback. As a career pass rusher on defense this is the best thing ever. The skill stick, while not revolutionary, is another welcome addition. Everyone likes to use the spin move religiously, but deadlegging a safety by pulling back on the right stick is awesome.

The SuperStar X-Factors are also something that sparks up the fun. Operating as mini challenges, it’s more than just an ability a good player gets. I equipped my Face Of The Franchise quarterback with the “Omaha” X-Factor, and once I completed four 5+ yard passes I could suddenly see what the defense was doing. This is just an example of one of the more useful ones, but when you have a receiver making huge contested catches just because he caught two 20+ yard passes it can change an entire drive. It makes the player think strategically in how they play, opening the game up even more than the chess match of football already is.

Just like a chess match has a lot of pieces, Madden NFL 21 has a ton of modes. Almost too many. You have your normal ones you expect like exhibition, online games, franchise mode, and of course the incredibly addictive Ultimate Team. Madden NFL 21 goes even further this year, cementing Face Of The Franchise as a premiere mode and dropping the new “The Yard” mode out of thin air. However you want to play football, EA Tiburon has a way for you.

Let’s start with Face Of The Franchise mode. I keep going back to the presentation of the game, but they do it right again here. You’re a legend telling his story of how he made it in the NFL in an almost 30 for 30 style. This all means you control the telling of the narrative, and we end up going all the way back into our high school days to tell it. My character is the backup, and your rival character is a decorated senior trying to make himself look good to scouts.

As with most of these stories, you’re going to have to get a shot somehow, and Tommy (the rival) happens to be dealing with a heart defect. It’s obviously affecting him, and while you have a choice as to if you’ll out his problem it seems you’re hitting the field no matter what you do. From here the tale of the “Heartbreak Kids” forms, and I’ll be honest it’s somewhat confusing from here through the college portion. Tommy and you have a bond, but I can’t tell if it’s brotherly love or disdain. One second you’ll do anything for each other, the next Tommy is talking about showing you up. It just wasn’t consistent, and though it’s a sports game narrative I wish it worked better.

The college part of the game is fun, but way too brief. I had the impression when it was mentioned that two seasons of college would be a much larger portion of the “campaign”. Instead, you play a few games and have an opportunity to win a National Championship when Tommy’s condition flares up again. Then, after all you do, the coach sits you down to tell you he’s going with Tommy as next season’s quarterback because he’s “a better fit”. This is really frustrating, especially if you’re like me and wanted to keep playing in college and just threw seven touchdowns to win the title. I figured my choices would influence the story, but they really only influence the player’s RPG-esque stats. You’re given the option to switch positions to running back or wide receiver, which is cool and different. But I just went straight to the NFL given I’d increased my draft stock so much.

From here you have moments of choice in the NFL, but it just feels like a surface thing I do before a game. While the NBA 2K series isn’t by any means perfect, the MyPlayer mode is generally excellent and leaves you feeling invested in it. Face Of The Franchise is fun, but feels shallow in comparison. One area in which they are both similar is graphically, and that’s not a compliment. I give them a pass for the most part because it is a sports game and looks good when you’re actually playing, but with where we are (i.e. Cyberpunk 2077) I think it’s time to expect a little more in that department.

The Yard is the other big addition to Madden NFL 21. If you’ve followed sports video games since the mid-2000s, you may remember NFL Street. It’s one of my favorite sports games to this day, and it was a sad day when the third one released and disappeared with barely a whimper. The Yard looks to inject some of that into Madden, and it does a pretty good job of it. The Yard puts you in a six on six, but with some wacky rules to it all. Double passing (although behind the line of scrimmage), multiple laterals, snapping to any offensive player and more are allowed. The One Mississippi Two Mississippi rule even applies to rushing the passer in this case. And the points system is just absurd. For instance, there is distance and style points included in scoring. So if I take an interception back from mid-field with a couple of laterals in there and go for a 3 point conversion, I could score 13 points. It’s nuts, but it’s a breath of fresh air of a mode.

One of the coolest things about The Yard is it’s connectivity. You get to create an avatar in this mode, and as such you want to level him up and deck him out in special gear. The Yard has an okay selection when it comes to that (I assume more will arrive in content updates throughout the year), but earning usually means you’re stuck in front of your TV grinding. Not this year, thanks to Madden NFL 21 Mobile. It’s as easy to set up as entering your EA account info in the mobile version, and I immediately had access to my stuff. Being able to play and earn on the go is a huge thing in Madden, and it makes The Yard into something most fans will gravitate too.

 

That said, it still isn’t without its flaws. Once I played a few matches I kind of felt done. The six on six gameplay and street focus is a novel approach, but it’s more NFL Street without it’s soul. Madden on casual friday if you will. It’s fun sure, but like Face Of The Franchise, you feel like there should be more to it. I should not be dependent on content updates to want to play a mode, and it feels like EA Tiburon may have spread itself a bit thin with all it added in this year’s iteration.

I want to end this with a positive, and that’s definitely Madden Ultimate Team. This is where the money is literally made in Madden, but you are getting your money’s worth. From the moment you log in there are tons of events to complete. I spent several hours there, and I’m still arguably in the beginning stages. If you buy Madden, you’re usually going to play Ultimate Team, and in Madden NFL 21 it’s a blast.

Madden NFL 21 is a solid product. It excels in several areas, like the presentation and Ultimate Team. The core gameplay is as fun and smooth as it’s ever been, and I’ve been playing since Madden NFL 2005. But the new jewels in the crown are flawed and need to be polished a bit more. Face Of The Franchise and The Yard both have tons of potential, but they aren’t realized here. Content updates may help with The Yard, but in the end it’s like scoring a touchdown but missing the extra point.

80

Great

Madden NFL 21

Review Guidelines

Madden NFL 21 is a solid product. It excels in several areas, like the presentation and Ultimate Team. The core gameplay is as fun and smooth as it’s ever been, and I’ve been playing since Madden NFL 2005. But the new jewels in the crown are flawed and need to be polished a bit more. Face Of The Franchise and The Yard both have tons of potential, but they aren’t realized here. Content updates may help with The Yard, but in the end it’s like scoring a touchdown but missing the extra point.

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