In line with the recent tradition of the Madden franchise of story modes, Madden NFL 20 is introducing a new narrative campaign. This new model falls flat; however, the pro football sim stands out on the field, with the latest additions that faithfully capture the feel of the NFL experience while being fun to play over and over again. The new storyline, QB1: Face of the Franchise, replaces the Longshot story mode seen in Madden 18 and 19. This is our Madden NFL 20 Review.
Madden NFL 20 Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Developer: EA Tiburon
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Genres: Sports game
- Release Date: June 14, 2019
Madden NFL 20 Review: Gameplay
QB1’s story picks up when you decide which college to attend and play. However, the football elements within Madden 20 are not something extraordinary. You select a school from 10 different options, including heavyweights like Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and Clemson. It’s terrific to see fully licensed college football teams complete with lifelike sweaters, logos, stadiums, and marching band songs. Still, the gameplay experience is limited to two games in the College Football Playoffs- and you can’t play the college teams in quickplay later.
After winning the National Championship against all the odds, you’ll go to the NFL Combine where your performance for the scouts and GMs will determine how high you go in design. There are some hilarious moments here with your aloof agent Les Moore, and the interactions with him are some of the best moments in the storyline. After making it to the NFL, the game then becomes disappointing the standard Franchise mode, except your character, has more background story that acts as fuel to drive you to succeed on the field. That’s the idea, in any case; in practice, it leaves a lot to be desired.
In part, that’s because QB1’s cinematic cutscenes and Telltale style choices end once you’re at the NFL. At that point, play out the narrative beats through text messages you receive from fans and other players away from the league. There is one storyline in particular where a sick child rooting for you falls flat; it tries too hard to pull on your heartstrings, moody piano pieces, and everything, without any reward.
Despite the lackluster storyline and the way it’s delivered, QB1 manages to connect you to your performance on the pitch and inspires you to improve every week or play differently once you’ve arrived at the NFL. While the SMS system is not the best way to have a full conversation, it is better used to meet your goals and challenges from week to week. You can complement it to earn XP, which you can then invest in your character in an RPG-lite-like system where you select which aspects of your game you want to develop.
During our Madden NFL 20 Review, I reacted with some trash talk against one of the best cornerbacks of the league, Richard Sherman, and my Game Day Goal, as it’s called, was reaching 400 yards or more of offense and a 60-yard pass-not an easy task with Sherman in the backfield. The system is dynamic and responds to what happens on the field from week to week, and this is a fun touch that provides a further level of connection to your character and their status in the league.
Madden 20’s standard Franchise mode, which is separate from the QB1 mode, will get a welcome update this year. The implementation of the new Scenario Engine, which allows you to communicate with players and coaches via the SMS system as mentioned above, is the best new feature for Franchise. As with the QB1, having weekly goals that you decide on is a compelling way to keep yourself interested and busy with a 16+ week season that could otherwise become monotonous and repetitive. However, the Franchise mode, in general, won’t get any other essential or meaningful updates this year, which can be a disappointment for seasoned players who want more.
Perhaps the most significant and most exciting change for Madden NFL 20 Review is the new X-Factor and Superstar capabilities. 50 of the league’s best players have been given these super abilities, and they renew the foundations of Madden play. X-Factor abilities are unlocked when you meet the qualifications to get “into the zone” – for some QBs; it’s multiple throws for 5 or more yards in the air without making a mistake – while Superstar abilities are passive abilities linked to your player and are always active.
The new X-Factor abilities are real game-changers, and they further emphasize the distinction between the average NFL player and elite athletes. For example, the Gambler X-Factor ability – which only Aaron Rodgers has – makes it impossible for AI defenders to intercept his passes. Powerful X-Factor capabilities are also available to defenders, which helps to restore balance. Not only that, but X-Factor abilities can be quickly lost; a QB that takes a bag is immediately out of the zone, while the drop passes and debris also lift these abilities.
These skills, when combined with an elite player like Madden 20 cover star Patrick Mahomes can, in some cases, become too powerful. Mahomes’ unique passive Superstar skills give him immense speed and agility from the pocket, on top of his already powerful and precise arm. When teammate Travis Kelce releases his X-Factor ability, it only becomes too easy to complete big games in the field.
Beyond that issue, the new X-Factor and Superstar skills introduce a level of strategy that the Madden series has never seen. I often thought about whether I should pursue the X-Factor qualification conditions or choose lower-risk games that are more likely to be successful. In the hinge stages, such as in the fourth quarter or a third-and-long situation, this level of risk/reward is increased. Not only that but with 50 X-Factor skills spread across players in the 32 NFL teams, it encourages you to try new teams and strategies.
Importantly, X-Factor skills don’t feel gimmicky or too powerful because they are hard to unlock and have a lot of counters. Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots, for example, has an X-Factor skill called Acrobat that allows him to make a diving move that breaks an incredible pass. Some pass rushers, including Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, can also shred the defense and easily break the O-Line to fire the quarterback for a significant loss. The saying “a certain Sunday” is more accurate than ever in Madden 20 thanks to the X-Factor abilities.
Overall, the action on the field in Madden this year is better than ever. The game offers more on-screen information than last year’s iteration, making it easier to see things like specific decisions and which elite offensive and defensive players have X-Factor and Superstar abilities. This is an easy way to help you understand the chances of success in a game before it begins. The menus in the gamebook are tidy and brighter, which allows you to see important information at a glance.
Also new this year are the Run-Pass Options that have been added to the playbooks. These hybrid games offer yet another way for players to mix things up and let defenders guess. There are also plenty of player-specific animations, including Aaron Rodgers’ signature quick release and Patrick Mahomes’ sidearm throw. All this works together to make Madden 20 closer than ever to mimicking the look and feel of real professional football.
Nothing in the updated gameplay mechanics for Madden 20 is as substantial as last year’s introduction of Real Player Motion. Still, the controls in Madden are as good as they’ve ever been thanks to further refinement on last year’s improvements and the introduction of some welcome tweaks and small changes. A subtle change in gameplay for 2019 is that you can double the receiver icon to fake pumping; this small change makes it easier than ever to seduce a defender to bite on a passing route, providing yet another level of depth and control.
The fundamentals underlying Madden 20’s gameplay feel more robust and reliable than ever. Mistakes like bad passes missed tackles, and bad decisions are up to you and you alone because the controls rarely or never let you down. After many hours of our Madden NFL 20 Review, I’ve only experienced a handful of small bugs. However, you can vary distance in kilometers, and it’s worth noting that you can continue to expect other curiosities, such as out-of-place commentary and some side players running the same animations all the time. I’ve also experienced what felt like an unusually high number of facemask calls and injuries.
Now in its third year with EA’s Frostbite engine, Madden 20 also looks very good with its better-looking player models that have more luxurious details and flourish more realistically. The Madden 20 game engine also offers beautiful environmental effects such as glistening sunbeams peeking through the clouds and casting shadows on the pitch, and snow effects that limit your vision and force you to suggest a more conservative play for winter conditions.
The commentary team, consisting of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis, also returns in Madden 20, and they’re a constant treat to listen to. Despite some lines being repeated from time to time, the pair delivers the right mix of lines that will keep you informed and equally busy. Madden 20’s global broadcast, presentation, and gameplay packages are focused on replicating the real-life NFL experience. Still, it remains a shame that the voice lines – at least all the ones I’ve heard in over 20 hours with Madden 20 – don’t comment on real-world NFL issues. As in previous years, the comments will be updated regularly throughout the season.
Among Madden ’20s other modes is the fantasy teambuilding map-based Ultimate Team, and this remains the richest of the game when it comes to completing the sheer multitude of challenges. It remains a thrill to build a fantasy team and compete against other fantasy AI teams or the world at large through online play.
A subtle but pleasant change for MUT this year is how you can go from one challenge to another without returning to the menu screen, which is great considering how many there are to complete. There is also a new “Mission” system that helps you select the right challenges to acquire items for your deck. In the past, the MUT may have felt like a complicated system to parry, but the new system gives you more direction, and as such, it’s more respectful of your time.
Ultimate Team does, however, have problems with microtransactions. In the beginning, the tutorial instructs you to visit the store where you can buy real money, which feels like an unnecessary push to spend extra money. As with previous iterations of MUT, it can feel like a rut to get the cards you want, which in turn encourages you to consider spending money on microtransactions when otherwise you might not do so.
Madden NFL 20 Review: Conclusion
Madden NFL 20 is an enhanced version of the professional football series that excels in some areas and leaves few things to be desired in others. The new QB1 career mode, which includes a barebones NCAA soccer experience, feels like a half-baked idea that doesn’t make any sense of interest. When it comes to action on the field, however, the new X-Factor and Superstar capabilities shake up the familiar gameplay to give seasoned players and beginners alike a fresh way to plan play and orchestrate strategy on both sides of the ball.
Madden NFL 20 is an enhanced version of the professional football series that excels in some areas and leaves few things to be desired in others.