Annual sports releases are a tradition now, and the 2019 season has kicked off with Madden 20.
Madden will officially drop on 2 August on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
The question that gamers face every year is "why should I get this one?". What step forward has been made in 12 months that means you should part with your hard-earned cash?
Some games promise the world and deliver, with new game types landing and tweaks to career mode being perfected (I'm looking at you F1 2019). Others, like FIFA 20, have to try and win back fans after a poor year and some on-coming competition.
Madden 20 was not facing any competition thanks to its continued exclusivity deal with the NFL, and Madden 19 received pretty solid reviews and had strong player engagement throughout the year. So what have they done to try and create a reason for you to buy this years version rather than simply sticking to last years one?
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Face Of The Franchise: QB1
This is the biggest addition to the franchise this year. EA have been trying to create a meaningful story mode in their games for a while now, from The Journey in FIFA to Long Shot in the previous 2 Maddens. Neither really took off primarily because they were a series of cut scenes with very little gameplay involved.
That is not the case with Face of the Franchise: QB1.
You play a highly regarded high school quarterback who gets to take his pick of 10 elite football schools from Oregon to Miami. After declaring for a school you end up riding the bench for 4 years, only to start your first game in the college football playoff semi-final.
You get a full 2 games in college, with the school band in the background and the gorgeous uniforms on full display, between the obligatory cut scenes, but there is some interactive dialogue and it sets the bedrock for your character.
Then there are a handful of Combine drills before you get drafted. My guy went in the 4th round to Cincinnati.
At that point it turns into a pretty close match of Franchise Mode but you only control the quarterback. You can interact with the head coach and if you praise teammates they get a morale boost or even statistical jumps, while talking yourself up does the same for you.
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The lower QB-only camera changes gameplay a little, making it harder to spot receivers and view the whole field. It drops you into the action and gives a better feel of being the player rather than some supreme being hovering over the field.
EA have promised that no two careers will play out the same way thanks to unique scenarios and choices that can be made. Your rookie year will see a spectacular finale, be it if you make the Super Bowl or play so poorly you get cut. This game mode should have legs as it also offers the ability to unlock and equip superstar and X-Factor abilities, adding an RPG element to it.
X-Factor & superstar abilities
The big change to gameplay is X-Factor players and superstar abilities. These are designed to make elite players standout from the crowd in specific situations and they do that well. For example, Todd Gurley gives his O-Line a blocking boost on outside zone runs, and once he is in "in the zone" he has a much higher chance of successfully juking out a defender, making him incredibly difficult to tackle.
These aren't too OP, which I feared during the build to this game, but some are very easy to get into and make life particularly easy. Tom Brady need only complete 3 passes that travel more than 5 yards in the air to get into the zone, which will highlight the first open receiver for you while you're in the pocket, a deadly weapon especially for new players.
It doesn't change the flow of gameplay too much against the AI, but it can make dealing with elite players extremely difficult. It isn't easy to get into double coverage situations or pick up sacks, so knocking a player out of the zone can be difficult. It's also hard to get defensive players into the zone. Pass rushers need 2 sacks to activate their abilities, while corners and safeties need to break up passes which relies on the ball coming their way. This does add to the imbalance between offense and defense that has often kept Madden on the arcade rather than simulation side of the coin.
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Outside of using the X-Factor powers (though you can turn them off in the menus) Franchise Mode has seen a menu face lift and little else. Player progression and contract negotiations are the same, as is the scouting system and practice programs. Even trades remain a 3-item max minefield.
The one addition is player interaction, which provides you with choices to be made that impact the roster.
This is a nice touch that certainly adds some depth to the whole game mode and makes you feel more in charge of an NFL team, but it is a very small detail and there is no wrong answer in any of your decisions. You can't lose the confidence of the locker room or negatively impact player development like actual coaches can.
But beyond that, franchise mode is much the same as it has been for years now. This is a similar issue that games like FIFA and NBA 2K get into where the actual bedrock game mode is so well refined that creating changes to it annually becomes very tricky without a complete overhaul, which will take far more than 12 months to create.
Madden Ultimate Team
This is the most profitable part of Madden for EA Sports, and so more focus is given to this mode each year.
This mode has seen another overhaul of the menus, while the one addition to it, Missions, is mostly a guide for new players to help them navigate the chaotic and lengthy options.
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Missions helps to identify challenges that your team should be competitive in and points you in the right direction to win coins and unlock packs.
This is very useful for the uninitiated but the seasoned MUT player won't make much use of this part. Otherwise, like Franchise Mode, MUT is much the same and I'm sure plenty of players will love that.
Madden 20 looks fresh. The menu and icon art is eye-catching and engaging, but underneath the surface there is very little about this game to really sink your teeth into.
Face of the Franchise is an excellent addition to Madden and will hopefully be opened up to other positions in future years, but if you aren't going to play that mode I'm not sure there is a gripping reason why you should move on from Madden 19.
Hardcore franchise mode players will be disappointed at the lack of progress, while MUT players should only migrate because the herd does.
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Online play is likely to fall into a pattern of focusing only on those superstar ability boosts. There is no point running a HB power with Todd Gurley if he gets such better blocking on outside zone, and why run a dig when DeAndre Hopkins has a boost on post routes?
Overall, Madden has reached a plateau. Real Player Motion has improved a little this year, with movement feeling smoother and less like running in molasses like last year did. However, tackling physics is still an issue and blocking AI can still be woeful at times. It remains hard to play realistic football on Madden, with the offense extremely overpowered and superstar abilities only adding to that. But there aren't many tweaks needed to the gameplay unless they were redress the offense/defense balance of the game, which looks unlikely.
As a result Madden 20 feels far too similar to last year to justify buying it. It feels like EA are coasting by on the fact that they are the only NFL game in town. Small touches like franchise relocation, that should be something to help engage global players, hasn't been touched since Madden 18 and leaves people without the option to take the NFL to Munich, Barcelona, or Beijing. This wouldn't happen if there was a rival game pushing EA to innovate and develop.
It isn't a bad game. The gameplay is still good and the navigation of menus and options is pretty easy. But outside of a roster update, playbook update, and the Face of the Franchise mode it doesn't feel like a necessary game.
RealSport Rating: 6.7/10