Just as the pre-season gives coaches and pundits a chance to see what’s in store for a raft of the NFL’s second and third-string players, EA Play similarly lets Madden fans hop onto the field themselves before the real season starts. Old and new ideas wrestle for position in this year’s game, with improvements on the field that are engaging and exciting, and a refreshed structure that brings few surprises for franchise fans.
This is the best-looking Madden game yet, with the Frostbite engine doing some serious heavy lifting. On Xbox Series X or PS5 you have a choice between “performance” for a guaranteed 60fps and “image quality” for shinier helmets, though truth be told, you aren’t noticeably sacrificing frame rate with that setting.
The player animations have taken another step forward towards out and out realism on both sides of the ball, and there are times where you could be watching a live game. That’s helped by the increasingly convincing TV-style presentation, with visual elements and overlays that wouldn’t be out of place on ESPN. If you’re a fan of the sport, Madden 22 will feel as familiar and intuitive as you could hope for.
The series’ changes continue early, and the accessibility options for Madden 22 are front and centre when you first boot up the game, and directly available on the main menu throughout. There’s support for colour blindness across the RGB spectrum, menu narration, and various visual and audio options to tailor to player’s particular needs, hopefully making Madden 22 the most accessible entry in the series. It’s great to see EA making a commitment to bringing more people into the Madden family.
Newcomers and series stalwarts alike will be greeted by a few changes on the gameplay front. No one likes change – it’s a good job Brady is still reassuringly, and annoyingly, brilliant – and I wasn’t sold on them at first, but once you settle into things it’s clear that EA Tiburon has made a concerted effort to make the game feel as engaging as possible, no matter whether you’re playing offence or defence.
First up is the Momentum Meter. These home field advantages kick in when you’re playing well, and bring with them a host of different boosts, whether that’s your QB tightening up their accuracy or your receivers being fumble-proof. It’s an interesting way to reflect when a team is playing well, and it feels authentic. When you’re on the receiving end of it you’ll feel like you’re facing an uphill battle, just like the real thing. It sits at odds with the commitment not to secretly fudge the game flow, but you can see the meter at the top of the screen, at least clueing you in on the shifting sands.
EA Tiburon have had ‘the real thing’ firmly in their sights this year, and alongside momentum there’s both Gameday Atmosphere and live player AI that updates each player and team’s playstyle and tendencies as the real season progresses. What that should mean is that your weekly play reflects what’s going on in the NFL, though we’ll have to wait to see how impactful this proves to be.
Player classes are another new facet for your created character. You can select a class, choose a physique that’s going to match your style, and then see its impact on your class’ power. Progression for your character is thankfully unified across Face of the Franchise and The Yard as it returns for a second year. You can also unlock and equip Superstar and X-Factor abilities across classes to forge a truly unique player that suits your personal playstyle.
Your player can of course become the Face of the Franchise, and you’ve got a spot of narrative drive to take you through the mode, but it’s still not a patch on the Long Shot sequence from Madden 18 and 19. When you consider where NBA2K stands in terms of putting you at the centre of your own sports movie, Madden has a long way to go.
That may well not be why you’re here though, and Franchise itself has finally had a long-awaited update. You can now really dig into the management and control of your entire team, from the staff upwards, and it feels as though they’re taking a few of the right steps with a scouting tool that allows more granular scouting of college players.
The staff now have their own talent trees, with these active abilities helping to improve your team’s chance of success, and you can tweak and tune to your heart’s content. The biggest downside at the moment seems to be that Franchise has a worrying habit of crashing the game, forcing a restart. I didn’t lose any progress, but even on Series X reloading the game takes well over a minute, sucking a bit more of the fun out each time. Hopefully this can be patched out in the very near future.
I try not to think about how much I’ve spent on Ultimate Team over the years. I also try not to think about the fact that those purchases don’t jump from one edition to another, as that way madness lies. Instead, let’s think about the compelling card collecting, the daily challenges, and the opportunity to craft a team featuring your favourite superstar players. That sounds much better, and it is. Ultimate Team also serves as a great on-ramp for new players as it leads you by the hand through the basic situations you’re going to experience before it starts to ask more complicated things of you. You can also get away without spending extra money on it, but chances are if you’re into it, you will.
The Yard is back for its second year, and you know what? It’s grown on me since last year. I thought it lacked depth in Madden 21, and was a throwaway aside that I wouldn’t spend any time with, but it’s grown into something that I find myself hopping on when I can’t put the time into a full game. There’s a batch of challenges and redeemable rewards to go with them so you can dress your created player up in all manner of differently coloured gear, and it’s a nice, beat-driven extension of the central game. It’s still not NFL Street, but few things are.