There seem to be three types of Madden players. There are the die-hard players that will purchase every game in the series. There are the casual fans that will hop back in every few years just to see what’s up. And then there are the players that have been away for a long, long time but every so often will feel a pang of nostalgia. The ones that wistfully remember the glory days of yore. The ones that, every so often, find themselves wondering how their old friend Madden’s been doing.
I fall squarely in the third category of Madden players. I played Madden 97 for the Sega Genesis for years, all the way until I picked up Madden 2003 on the PlayStation 2. That game lasted me several years until my interest in football dwindled and, thus, any desire I may have had to spend $60 on another Madden game faded away into nothingness.
To be clear, I wasn’t necessarily gunning to review Madden NFL 19. After all, it had been over ten years since I played a Madden game. Still, the prospect of returning to a series that I truly loved for the majority of my early years was a little exciting, like meeting up for lunch with an ex ten years after you broke up and seeing if there’s still a spark.
The good news is that Madden still offers some damn fine football gameplay. Two decades since my first encounter with the series, Madden 19 has certainly refined the gameplay core that captured my attention for hours at a time as a kid. The bad news is that, based on last year’s review, you’d probably be just as happy picking up Madden NFL 18 at a discounted price.
As essentially a new player, coming back to Madden was pretty rough at first. Thankfully, Madden 19 brings back an assortment of practice modes and skill trainings, letting you run drills against different coverages and offensive schemes to find out what works and what doesn’t. Within hours, I was cutting apart different defensive formations with well-timed passes and experimenting with pre-snap adjustments like a mad football scientist.
Connecting on passes still feels great, and that remains the most reasonable offensive option, but Madden NFL 19‘s Real Player Motion reintroduces the running game as productive force. Being able to control your cuts with the acceleration burst button gives you a few more ways to ditch a defender’s tackle. The added touch of using the right stick to push the ball carrier into your own lineman to move the pile and gain that tiny bit of extra yardage is something I’d have expected a long time ago, considering it’s a staple of the real game, but at least it’s in the game now. There’s also a context-sensitive mechanic that lets you more easily hit the gap using the right stick, but I never got that to work as well for me as simply finding a lane the old-fashioned way. Still, the actual run cycles and player animations really look good, and hit detection is as accurate as I’ve seen in any recent sports game, including either NBA title.
The problem is that, as far as new features go, Madden NFL 19 falls short. Whether or not Real Player Motion is enough of a reason to revisit Madden is your call, but that’s really the only reason that you’re going to get unless you’re an Ultimate Team player.
Longshot is back from last year’s game to continue Devin Wade and Colt Cruise’s stories. This year’s chapter, “Longshot: Homecoming,” mostly focuses on Colt, who I assume is the less talented player of the two since Devin is first seen on the Cowboys practice field and Colt’s first seen busking outside a bar, waiting to see if he made the open mic list. Last year’s concept—Devin and Colt getting a second chance at the NFL through a reality TV competition—at least sounded unique. Homecoming doesn’t have that engaging of a hook, unfortunately, and instead hopscotches from one cliché to another.
Is there a former big shot who selfishly chases his dreams, only to realize home is where he left it? Check. Is there a fundraiser that just reaches its goal in the last seconds? Check. Is there a former coach who imparts life knowledge that the hero ignores until the coach passes away and the hero realizes he was right all along? Check and check. Are there two other father figure characters that reflect on the regrets they have? Oh, most certainly that’s a check. Homecoming even goes so far as to straight-up steal the big twist from another EA Sports series, FIFA 18‘s The Journey: Part Two, by introducing a half-sister that the hero never knew he had. There’s not a single interesting twist or compelling plot point in the entire shallow, three- to four-hour experience.
The weird thing is that, by following Colt, most of the action still takes place on Mathis’ high school football field, whereas Devin’s story in the NFL barely goes anywhere at all. Homecoming’s first half seems to strike a nice balance between the two childhood friends’ narratives, but the story seems to lose sight of Devin’s arc halfway through. Basically, it just ends with him getting a starting spot no matter how well you perform on the field. I would be more inclined to give Longshot a second chance if it included some of the skill building and player choice that The Journey: Part Two included, but at this point I could’’t care less if Longshot comes back next year. Unless EA Tiburon puts in the effort to make Longshot as engaging as The Journey on a gameplay level, if not so much a narrative level, it seems like the developer’s time would be better suited working on other aspects of the series.
Sadly, the real focus, once again, is Madden Ultimate Team. Madden 19 will push Ultimate Team on you every chance it gets, whether it’s on the home screen or during loading screens. Clearly, the most energy has gone into figuring out how to make as much money on Ultimate Team as possible. Fortunately, as long as you don’t want to compete online, you don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy what’s on offer. The single-player challenges are, on their own, quick little jaunts through typical football moments and covers a wide range of Madden mechanics, sort of like the aforementioned skill training. You can earn rewards and new players and work your way through the different skill levels, raising your level and progressing your team.
Unfortunately, Madden (or any sports game, for that matter) hasn’t figured out a way to take what makes Ultimate Team exciting and inject a little narrative into it. Sure, you’ll build your team, but the main reason for doing so lives online against other players, and creating a truly competitive team will either mean grinding challenges and solo battles until your eyes bleed or spending more money. Otherwise, the entire venture seems spiritually empty.
Besides Homecoming, the main narrative thrust is still in Franchise, which is somehow less exciting than it was back in the Madden 2003 days. You can play Franchise mode as either the coach, which lets you control all the players, or else lock yourself to a single player-created gridiron warrior and bring him up through the league. The third option, Owner, skips the on-field action in favor of the simple yet mundane tasks of running a team. The player option isn’t nearly as fun as NBA Live’s The One, which actually weaves a narrative out of your journey through the pros, and controlling just one character is as boring as it’s ever been in any sports game unless you’re a QB. Owner misses out on everything that makes Madden fun, which is the on-field experience. Playing as the coach is the standard franchise experience, but even that lacks in world-building context, with the league-wide news relegated to a small submenu that houses a sprinkling of headlines and text-based analyst chatter, making your experience feel somewhat isolated.
What could help franchise mode come to life is a more exciting presentation, akin to what NBA 2K has done the last few years. But Madden NFL 19‘s presentation is as stale and perfunctory as it’s ever been. Obviously, Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis’ play-by-play is more natural than Maddens from more than a decade ago, but its production value was somewhat underwhelming, especially compared to other sports franchises. Watching football is more than just seeing the game. It’s experiencing pregame shows, quarterly on-camera recaps from the casters, and postgame shows, and the fact that Madden still doesn’t include that stuff after all this time seems like a major oversight or, at the very least, a lack of imagination. Fortunately, EA Tiburon did make time to include Gatorade ads in a video game, so at least that was realistic.
After over a decade of not playing a Madden game, I’m glad I got the chance to get back into the franchise. That being said, it hasn’t come as far as I would have thought. If you’re looking to get back into Madden, now’s as good a time as any, but I’m left wondering if maybe I would have been better off just playing last year’s edition instead.
Madden NFL 19 is, in pretty much every way, less exciting than its predecessor, at least on a conceptual level. Last year’s game had a new engine and a completely new mode to boast. This year’s biggest selling point—Real Player Motion—definitely makes running a more viable offensive option. Otherwise, all you’re getting is part two of what’s becoming an unnecessary trend in EA’s sports-related telenovelas and a whole lot of advertising for Madden Ultimate Team. If that doesn’t sound good enough for you, then you probably should just skip Madden this year.
E – Everyone
|Madden NFL 19 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|