Just as managers, coaches and fantasy football players alike begin scrutinising their team sheets, and wonder whether there’s enough depth to their squads to make it to the very top, the arrival of a new Madden heralds the coming of a new NFL season. Every year EA Tiburon make their own roster changes, letting some elements go – see you later Longshot – while the elite superstar money-maker of Madden Ultimate Team grows ever more integral and annoying. It’s the Tom Brady of game modes. Still, if you’re a committed fan the excitement of the new season will almost certainly bubble over into buying another year’s outing, and like Blake Bortles, Madden NFL 20 will just about justify itself.
Madden NFL 20 plays a fantastic game of football – not to be confused with what every non-American calls football. You shouldn’t expect anything else, but I suppose there was always a chance that they could get it horribly wrong. The headline new additions, Superstar X-Factor and its little brother the regular Superstar, are actually a compelling new way to differentiate the elite from the slightly less-elite and lend the very best a sense of God-given – well, EA Tiburon given – ability. The 50 top NFL players have the X-Factor, and no, there’s not even a phone-in vote or any sign of Simon Cowell or Louie Walsh to confirm that, just an X under their feet when you’re on the field. These top players have both Zone abilities – ones that you can activate by completing particular objectives on the field – as well as Superstar ones that generally boost specific traits under the right conditions.
So the Browns’ ridiculously talented WR Odell Beckham Jr. boasts faster juke animations as well as being able to turn and change direction quicker after a catch, while the Packers’ awesome QB Aaron Rodgers has more range when precision passing, and perfect accuracy when running or standing outside the pocket. They’re all tailored in such a way that they make sense and accentuate the sometimes in-human skills that these guys exhibit. They also promote play that reflects their real-life persona, and in action it makes the game versions of these iconic players seem just as god-like as the real thing.
QB1 is the new story mode, and where the past two years gave you Devin Wade’s hopes and dreams to bring to reality, this time out you’re making them your own. There’s a semi-decent player creator, though watch out for saddling yourself with an annoying voice (option 3, if you were wondering). The narrative provides some underlying drama to the on-field action, and there’s some really nice inclusions like live Good Morning Football snippets that make it feel closer to real life. Much like the past couple of years though it’s hampered by clunky animations and indifferent voice acting, You can probably look past them when you take to the field and it’s as good, if not better than ever. It’s no Longshot Season 1 though.
Ultimate Team is also here once again in an effort to siphon as much of your money into EA’s coffers as possible. I mean, Ultimate Team is here to bring you the best in quite ethical surprise mechanics! Whichever way you paint it, Ultimate Team’s playable take on fantasy football is a fantastic mode, and horrendously compelling to boot, but you can temper how much you play it by thinking about how horrendously expensive it can swiftly become.
There’s still the good old Franchise mode at the heart of Madden 20, but it’s hard to feel like it’s really the heart of proceedings when nothing has changed since last year. If there’s one element that is crying out for some love it’s this one, but when it’s neither the flashy narrative, nor the money maker, you can tell more than ever that it simply isn’t a priority for the development team. Ho hum, I suppose there’s always next year.
Brandon Guidan and Charles Davis also provide some excellent play-by-play commentary, and their instantly recognisable voices help every game to sound like a real broadcast. You can actually learn some really interesting stuff about every team and player in the NFL thanks to their incessant chattering, and largely it hits the mark with what’s actually happening on screen, with enough variation not to become annoying as well.