When you’re the only football game on the market, you face a great deal of pressure to be a good one. For years, EA Sports has been pushed to make the Madden series something special, with little tweaks here and there to keep its franchise going strong. It’s done so, but you could see little signs of wear indicating that it could use an overhaul.
These signs might be more evident than ever with Madden NFL 20, though there’s still enough here to make it a winner yet again. That said, you must wonder if EA’s thinking about revamping things as a whole somewhere down the road. Perhaps with the real Madden NFL 25…?
Where the gameplay improves the most is with the running game. There are still moments where plays can come across as a bit awkward, particularly with animations that don’t always sync up correctly. However, when it comes to nailing a particular run for a quick six out of the end zone, it’s still a pretty spectacular thing to pull off. What’s more, adding little things like dodges and jukes still feels special, especially when you throw off a defensiveman online and hear him cursing on the other end.
The passing game continues to be pretty solid as well, although it’s been this way for years. Interceptions seem to be a little more fluid this time around, as players can now be able to pull down a ball in the midst of a play. You may not see the importance of it at first, but in the midst of a crucial play, it can make all the difference when you’re attempting to run down the field and keep it out of the hands of defenders.
But if you really want to make people curse you out, you’ll take advantage of the new pump fake. This allows you to throw someone off with a fake-out of sorts, in case you have another move in mind during a play. It’s a neat trick, but maybe don’t take too much advantage of it – you’ve only got a few precious seconds before someone sets you up for a sack.
The on-field trainer is a crucial tool as well. With this, you can actually learn a thing or two about the mechanics involved here. It’s a great tutorial system that teaches you better than ever before, though you’ll still need the natural skills to put everything together. Overall, the gameplay isn’t completely overhauled, but there’s enough here to tinker with. Just don’t expect a revolution in football controls – just the usual go-around when it comes to Madden tweaks.
Some new features do stand out, however. The first is the new Superstar X-Factor. With this, a new progression system introduces special abilities for your players as you complete objectives within the game. This can depend on team and player, so they change up quite a bit. This adds a surprising amount of depth to Madden 20, so it’s worth tinkering around with. However, it has a greater effect with higher-ranked teams. Um, surprise?
Then there’s QB1, which reintroduces EA Sports to college football for the first time since NCAA Football 14. Sort of? With this mode, you create your own quarterback and draft them through a dream career, starting in the lower ranks and influencing their career into the NFL. This isn’t the greatest mode out there, as the scripting and voice acting could use some work. But it has its moments, and is definitely worth a look, especially if you’ve been looking to create your own Peyton Manning.
The other modes are pretty familiar. Franchise is back and jam-packed as ever before, though there’s very little new here. At least it’ll keep dedicated fans busy with its Super Bowl Dynasty, Seasonal Awards and career options. And Ultimate Team is back, with a lot to unlock and, if you wish, purchase. Just be prepared to grind for several hours because…well, that’s the nature of the mode, really.
Multiplayer continues to be as strong as ever. Sure, the CPU is dedicated if you go single player, but Madden NFL 20 is built for competition against buds. Local multiplayer is still as great as ever, and online is surprisingly good, with the ability to customize your match-ups however you see fit, and solid play (on the PlayStation 4 front, anyway) based on the matches we played. But be prepared for a beating if you haven’t practiced first. Oy.
As for the presentation, Madden 20 looks pretty good. The visual engine put together by EA Tiburon continues to hold up well, with a solid frame rate, great animations and fine details. That said, some of the player models do look ugly, with a few coming across as hideous with their large head sizes. Like…are they related to Frankenstein or something? “IT’S ALIIIIIIVE!”
The audio’s not bad either, with some good mixing of commentary and on-field action. The EA Trax selection, however, isn’t really that hot. What I would’ve give for some classic music selection to go with these contemporary beats.
So there are signs that the new Madden feels a bit stuck in the past. Ultimate Team and Franchise don’t show much movement forward; the visuals have some dated moments with player models; and a bit of the QB1 dialogue could use some work. But other aspects, like the X-Factor, small gameplay tweaks, and multiplayer components still make it a winner, even after all these years.
If it’s football action you’re after, this game still holds up pretty well with its odds and ends. But the real question is at what point players might ask for an overhaul with the series. That might come sooner rather than later. 3.5/5 X-Factors.