Madden NFL 21 Review

Posted August 28th, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Between the ongoing pandemic and impending transition to new consoles Madden NFL 21 and other sports games this fall will have faced unprecedented challenges. Some of what that could mean has already been demonstrated with the release of Madden 21 which has stumbled out of the gate to the worst reviews in the 32 year history of the series.

First impressions are always important. When people have limited time and money it’s especially difficult to overcome poor ones. Unfortunately for EA Sports it was trouble from the start with Madden 21 as it was apparent it was not ready for release.

An abnormal number of visual bugs included invisible/missing players that made The Yard unplayable, the screen randomly going white for some plays, fields loading in without any art on them, and even misspellings such as the embarrassing mistake of ‘Seahacks’ in place of Seahawks. Some of those things have already been fixed with patches but again that’s what many will remember about their initial time with the game.

Gameplay does see some enhancements that will be valued by longtime players of the series. The ability to throw out of sacks, defensive lineman rush moves to help create pressure and feel more engaged when controlling them, and toned-down user movement on defense are worth noting. And yet, when there’s a fumble and no one can pick it up, or when a pass bounces off a receivers head six times, those are the moments that tend to stick in your mind.

Having been a fan of many story modes in the past – the first Longshot and Face of the Franchise last year among them – it’s truly remarkable how bad this Face of the Franchise turned out. Poorly written and poorly acted without performance on the field or decisions made off the field mattering in any way. The entire thing is total nonsense and may be the worst mode I’ve ever played in a major sports video game. A bug that forced me to waste my time through the entire CFP semi-final without being able to super-sim, with the gameplay locked on Rookie difficulty throughout high school and college, made me question why I was still playing this atrocity. The logic written in really doesn’t improve at the NFL level either.

The big new addition for the exclusive “sim” NFL game on the market is…an arcade mode. While The Yard shows potential and is genuinely fun it is also fairly shallow and may have a short shelf-life. Being able to snap the ball to any player, throwing the ball around as much as desired behind the line of scrimmage, and the idea for “one-timers” down the field are all great ideas. Despite that The Yard is still Madden just with those unique rules and animations so it doesn’t feel like a standalone arcade game. Character customization is a positive but it needs more in the way of stats and campaign/league and the ability to play 6v6 online instead of just 3v3.

It was no secret of course that Franchise Mode was essentially the same this year as last. In some ways it might actually be worse though. One example are the rushing stats for QBs which don’t account for those that scramble or frequently have designed run plays called for them. No QB, including cover athlete Lamar Jackson, accumulated more than 200 yards in a season in any of the sims that I ran for testing purposes.

My overall feeling on Madden NFL 21 was actually impacted less by Franchise Mode and more by the other missteps. Franchise is still solid and for eight years running has been the best Online Franchise experience in the sports gaming genre. #FixMaddenFranchise is about asking for more than just status quo. EA has committed to providing that for consumers and they now are on notice that they’ll be held accountable by not just them but also reviewers if they do not.

Technical issues have also impacted the moneymaker in Ultimate Team. Menu slowdown has been excruciating which can totally sap anyone of their energy to commit time in that mode. Considering that affects the revenue that can be generated it’s sure to be addressed immediately.

Because of the free upgrade from PS4->PS5 and XB1->Series X there may be little reason not to buy the game now if planning to pick it up with one of those new systems in November. But for those who are hoping the new consoles will bring about a huge leap from Madden you should ask yourself whether EA Sports would be giving the game away if that was the case.

Had Madden NFL 21 simply inched forward and provided a steady bridge towards the future that would have arguably been acceptable given the extraordinary circumstances. However some subtle gameplay improvements and a diversionary arcade mode aren’t nearly enough to overcome regression in almost every other area of the game.