The cult of Madden is strong. Here’s a sports series that has consistently turned out the best digital version of American Football year in, year out – ok, let’s quietly forget Madden 25, the name of which will come back to bite EA again in six years – so much so, that everyone else gave up trying a long time ago. For Madden NFL 19, you can rest assured that the EA Tiburon team have once again tightened everything up, popped in a few new additions, and put out the best American Football game you’re ever going to need. Until next year.
There’s three different game styles squirrelled away under Madden 19’s hood, and they cater to pretty much every gamer who’s looking to pick up a pad for a spot of American Football. At the casual end of the spectrum there’s Arcade, which is going to pump out higher scores, emphasise spectacular plays, and limit the number of flags on the field from those pesky referees. In the middle sits Simulation, where players will perform in a manner befitting their rating with all the regulation NFL rules are in place, and then at the top end there’s Competitive, where control is king, and user stick skills give players unprecedented levels of control over the action before trying – and likely failing – to compete with the Madden elite online.
Last year’s biggest addition was the first Madden narrative mode, and season 2 of Longshot – subtitled Homecoming – is here in all its glory. We meet up with Devon Wade and Colt Cruise after a tough first year in the NFL which saw them both dropped from the teams that picked them up. Disappointingly there’s nothing really to link this season with whatever result you achieved last time out, but Wade has a beacon of hope after being signed by the Dallas Cowboys.
The story starts with you trying to convince them that he should make it out of the ninety possible contenders to be a part of their fifty-three man roster. Just like last year it mixes the drama with some on field action, though they’ve simplified things by removing the need to worry about any decision making. If you don’t manage to play all that well it’s hard not to feel like you’re ruining Wade’s life, even when, unlike last year, you get to retry all of the integral moments.
That subtitle should probably tell you that there’s some home-based drama in the mix as well, and it’s the tale of Colt Cruise’s family and his attempt to save their hometown team, the Mathis Bullfrogs, that actually takes up the majority of your time here. The acting is just as good as it was last year, and there are plenty of likeable characters, but the fact that you can’t really fail can take the shine off, as you’re forced to repeat sections over and over again. Still, it remains a likeable and engaging mode – the flashback game’s local ‘colour’ commentary remains a highlight – and it serves as a decent primer for the full game, feeding into both Franchise mode and Ultimate Team when it finishes up.
Every year I think I’m going to give up on Ultimate Team, and every year I end up spending money on it. EA’s player-collecting, team-building fantasy football mode is obviously incredibly lucrative for them, but a big part of its success comes down to the fact it is actually fun. While buying player packs remains the easiest way to find success with the mode, you can earn rewards by beating the array of solo or squad challenges, taking part in other modes, or trade at the auction house to help bolster that roster.
This year has seen the addition of solo battles where you can play offline against Ultimate Team lineups from around the community, including the teams of Youtubers and Madden influencers, and weekly squad challenges where you can earn extra XP and Series Tokens. The biggest change is the ability to upgrade your players, and collecting Training enables you to add value to your favourites, perhaps saving them from disappearing from your roster when a better player comes along. This is undoubtedly a welcome improvement. Maybe next year the shine will have worn off this money pit of a mode, but it’s not looking likely.
Real Player Motion is the other headline new ingredient, and while last year’s move to the Frostbite engine was far more significant, EA Tiburon have brought us the best-looking and most fluid entry in the series yet. Celebrations have also returned, and when you score a touchdown a flick of the right analog will give you a few seconds of dancing or special movement. It adds literally nothing to the experience, but it’s nice to give a bit of visual smackdown to other players online and obviously terribly annoying when you’re on the receiving end.
Madden 19’s improvements are quality-of-life changes that long-term fans are going to love, but it’s probably a worse stepping-on point than last year. Season 2 of Longshot doesn’t give you a recap, and without having spent time with Wade and Colt previously it’s unlikely to have the same emotional impact. The fact that Longshot basically serves as the game’s training mode is also an imperfect solution, and it’s a real shame to lose a dedicated mode to really dig into the controls. I assume it’s because there are no really major differences from last year, but Madden NFL 19 is guilty of assuming you’ve played the previous game.
For returning players, Madden NFL 19 does exactly what you’d expect, offering a fantastic rendition of the NFL experience with improved graphics, tweaked modes and other minor improvements. However, if you’re not a franchise devotee, 18’s introduction of the new engine, full training mode and Longshot’s superior first season makes it the better option for newcomers.
Version Tested: PS4 Pro – also available on Xbox One and PC