Madden NFL 21
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Sports Simulation
Platform: Xbox One
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 27/08/2020
A code was provided for review purposes
I am always a sucker for sports games. Yes, they are mostly repetitive, but it is precisely that element that appeals to me. I don’t play exclusively in the sports genre, but if I ever want to escape into something, then its sports that I often turn to. It’s like a comfy pair of slippers or a warm blanket on a stormy winter afternoon. You can nestle down and go with the familiar. You know what to do, yet there are still variances, none more so than in an (American) football game.
So, when the chance to review Madden NFL 21 on the Xbox One came along, I knew it was one that I could not pass up.
Incremental Improvement to a Perennial Franchise
Sports games like Madden NFL 21 are annual staples of the gaming calendar. Released like clockwork, these games fill a niche and serve a need. Yes, they will always pick up new fans along the way, as new gamers and sports fans come of age, but it is the long-term fans that these games service. They make changes in small increments, and sometimes this can be subtle and almost not noticeable, and other times it can be a new game mode or a complete restructure of the backend programming engine.
With Madden NFL 21 there is a bit of both going on. But we will cover those in a few moments. First of all, the graphics and the way the game plays is impressive as you would expect from a AAA title company. The play animations are good, and there is a fluidity to everything that meshes together nicely. From rushing through the piling bodies in an attempt to steal a few precious yards to throwing up a stiff arm or spinning away from a potential play-ending tackle, everything works. I encountered very few bugs or issues during my playthrough. There was the occasional frame rate drop, but these were, in my experience at least, few and far between.
Smooth Graphics but Improvements Can Still be Made
As we stand on the cusp of a new generation of gaming machines, you would have thought the final few big games would have stretched the current systems to the limit to give a smooth transition to the next generation of consoles. While the gameplay animations of the characters are solid, there is certainly enough that could be done to have tested the Xbox / PS4 capabilities a little more. The minor details that when optimised, make a huge difference: the crowds, or facial animations of the players in particular.
It’s a shame because most of what Madden NFL 21 does graphically, is done well, and for the majority of gamers, this will be enough. However, for those that want the next year’s edition to further the immersion from the 2020 instalment, these things will feel like a letdown.
I should note, it’s not just Madden that suffers from this, but all sports games struggle with crowds and the use of a limited number of stock animations that don’t always seem to 100% fit the situation.
The Sounds of the Gridiron
There is a limit to what you can do when creating a sports simulation. You have the sounds of the game, a cheer from the crowd, the odd shout from the players and the commentators. Yes, you have a menu soundtrack, but this is easily taken care of. There is no need for the music or audio to add to the storytelling aspect of the game, and I think that is what sets the audio of sports games apart from the rest of the scrum.
I can pick at the repetition of phrases, but if you listen to real sports commentary, they are a lot of phrases that get repeated, so know when you’re going into it, that what awaits you is indeed a reasonably realistic auditory experience.
If anybody has read some of my earlier reviews on sports games for the site, such as UFC4 or NHL 20, one of my common comments about the sound is that it is what it is. This also rings true here for the latest Madden instalment.
New and Old Game Modes Collide
One of the most significant additions to this year’s instalment of Madden NFL 21 is The Yard. An online experience where you can charge up superstar players and take on the world in a 6v6 version of American Football.
I enjoyed playing this mode as it offered something different from the standard 4-quarter games. In The Yard, each side gets three offensive plays, and it is up to you to either score or shut down the opposition. It’s a little over the top, as you can pass multiple times behind the line of scrimmage, and there are a plethora of ways to get bonus points for doing just that. Still, it was a refreshing, fun, and welcome addition to the franchise.
Become the Face of the Franchise
Much like in the FIFA games, there is a decent story mode to be found in NFL 21. I say decent because it is far from perfect. The story itself is relatively weak, but it does give you something different, and a nice way to combine storytelling and sports gameplay – more on my criticism in a second. However, compared to the ‘career’ mode available in UFC4, it is remarkable. This is the sort of thing I mentioned was missing in my review of the MMA hit.
I enjoyed playing the Face of the Franchise mode. Still, the story was weak, and I rarely felt my actions influenced the story – subsequent research would point to it having ZERO impact at all, and everything is pre-determined by background algorithms. I get the message the story was trying to present us with, but it just felt flat and weak. Maybe that’s because I view these things from the mindset of a writer, but I would want EA to invest some serious time in creating a more engaging and interesting story for the 22 version of the game. This applies to all of their games that have this mode.
The majority of my time was spent playing the standard franchise mode taking my own created player through his career. Ramping up his stats and seeing him drive touchdown after touchdown. Yes, I’m not averse to putting the game on the easiest possible mode to see how much I can score, just for fun and in the interest of science.
Stat Upgrades, Coins, Skill Equipment and More
There is no shortage of ways to upgrade your characters in Madden NFL 21, and to be entirely honest, the full scope and interconnected pathways of them still pass me by. You can get great upgrades for your players in the yards, including the equipment of skills like Deadeye and other nicely named skills. Stat upgrades and XP points the same as you would expect and are used to from previous instalments also abound, as too does the coin system. Different tasks and challenges can also be done to gain extra items. There is a lot here and yet; they are mostly natural upgrades that you come across as you play. Of course, it is not that you need to go out and hunt these down the way you would collectables in a more story-driven game.
I enjoyed my time playing Madden NFL 21 and will continue to play it long after this review has been posted. Yes, it’s a sports game. There is a certain level of genericness to this, but there is enough there to keep it interesting and to keep me a fan of the franchise.
I liked the ease at which you can pick up the game and get going. I will always prefer to play offence than defence and enjoy having the ability to simulate that part of the game, especially when playing as my created character. That is nothing to do with the gameplay but purely personal preference.
Is Madden NFL 21 worth the investment? That will always be a split argument. For many it’s a no-brainer, for others it’s a sports game, so they wouldn’t touch it. My two cents, that is why you’re reading my review after all. I think it’s a good game. Far from perfect, but it does what it says on the tin, and a lot of fun can be had playing it. Fingers crossed the 22 version picks up on the weaknesses and uses the power of next-gen consoles to take sports simulation games to the next level.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can buy a copy of Madden NFL 21 from the Microsoft Store today.
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