Madden 24 Preview – How SAPIEN feels like a next-gen leap in realism

Madden 24 Header

Madden is back, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The series stands as one of EA’s key pillars in its sport’s portfolio –alongside FIFA it probably pays for a lot of the company’s other endeavours – and as we prepare for the real-life return of Mahomes, Allen and friends, we also prepare for another season of the storied sports game series. After our early hands-on, Madden 24 is shaping up to be a clear and confident upgrade over its predecessor, and one which has been built by listening to the fans.

Skeletons. You wouldn’t think they’d be the most exciting change to Madden 24, or one that’s all that impactful, but when you put last year’s release next to this one, the differences are shockingly clear. So much so, you have to ask yourself how you’ve lived with the slightly inhuman way that player models in the older Madden games had joints that fold unnaturally and characters that couldn’t actually stand truly upright. The technology that EA has branded SAPIEN changes all that, a new skeleton model developed by EA that will also be rolling out to all of their sports titles in the coming year. It brings a new level of accuracy to player’s movements and stature, moving Madden 24 closer than ever to being a visually realistic representation of the sport.

It’s immediately clear that players move and position themselves in more natural ways, their body mechanics aligning correctly with their position and their action on the field. Senior Producer Mike Mahar calls the old models ‘immersion breakers’ and when you focus in on them you can see why; your brain can’t help but be drawn out of the action on the field while you question each offensive linesman’s bizarre double ankle joints. Madden 24 looks right, and now that we’re getting the change, I don’t think you’ll be able to comfortably go back to its predecessors without annoying yourself every few moments as your eyes are drawn to the inconsistencies. The only downside is that Patrick Mahomes now walks too much like a normal human being, when, as everyone knows, he does not. Perhaps they should leave him as the only player still on the old skeleton model. For consistency.

Madden 24 Skeletons and Animations

Fluidity is the watchword with Madden 24, and there’s further changes to appear more natural than just Sapien. In previous entries there’s always been a hitch as players reach out and align themselves for a catch, often resulting in the receiving player then being easily caught by the chasing defenders. Madden 24 has seen the development team overhaul the catching system so that players maintain their momentum, allowing receivers to catch in-stride, just as they would in real life. It means that players like Tyreek Hill now do what Tyreek Hill should do, which is cause no end of headaches if you put the ball close enough to their hands. Once again, the change is immediately apparent, taking Madden 24 closer than ever to its desire to fully simulate the sport. I think players will love just how realistic it feels to see receivers catch on the run with barely any loss of speed.

Alongside maintaining momentum, the team have also implemented a new contested catch tackle system, and contested catch swats. You’ll see new tackle types, including scoop tackles, DB mismatches, mismatched tackles, players being wrapped up, and low wrap tackles. There’s going to be more differentiation and specialisation than ever before, and as well as being more realistic, these new tackles add a further sense of drama to every single play. Some of the scoop tackles look absolutely brutal, and you’ll be heading for the instant replay option time and time again.

How do you continue to innovate in a yearly sports release? It feels like the answer with Madden 24 is to upgrade all of the underpinning programming. Our preview session also allowed us to check out the improved logic and AI that computer-controlled players utilise, and it’ll hopefully serve a dual purpose of adding further depth to the game, and dealing with some of the nagging issues long-term fans have with player behaviours. First up is blocking. This has basically been rewritten so that players should more naturally target the correct opposing player, reducing the opportunities to game the system by knowing that they’ll lock onto the incorrect target. Equally, you might throw your controller a little less often at your own defensive line going for the wrong guy.

Madden 24 Scoop Tackle

The upgrades extend to the ball-carrier AI as well, with enhanced logic systems written to deal with route finding. What’s that actually mean? It means that when your running back, or a QB like Josh Allen perhaps, has the choice between running directly at a 300 pound monster or running somewhere else, he’ll choose the more sensible option. In practice your ball carriers definitely seem to have more awareness – once again heading towards a more organic game of football – though we’ll need to see a larger sample to judge just how much more intelligent they are.

These systems all play into a particular player’s stats as well, so elite players will have – in this instance – a wider field of awareness than those less capable ones. If you’re lucky enough to have Christian McCaffrey on your team – go Niners! – he will read the situation and react to it with the kind of efficiency and intelligence he has in real life. Or at least, with more intelligence than a lower rated player will.

Madden 24 McCaffrey

There’s a host of other tinkering going on under the hood of Madden 24, all of which promises to make this year’s edition the best yet and a more meaningful step forward for the series. Whether it’s the addition of new catch types, including the return of diving catches, or the upgraded QB throws which include a Mahomes-specific diving pass, there’s some great steps forward on a technical level.

Keep an eye out for our preview of the revitalised Franchise mode, and the other new modes in this year’s edition, which we’ll publish shortly. However, in terms of gameplay EA Tiburon have made significant strides with this year’s edition, and after our hands on session I’m champing at the bit to get my hands on the finished product.

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TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.