Madden NFL 20 Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC
EA's long-running Gridiron sim is back for another season, and like a rookie quarterback is eager to impress. Is this a player worth investing in or should you cut it from your team?
Booting up Madden NFL 20, it's clear that this season's product is an evolution as opposed to a revolution. Throwing players into a Pro Bowl setup, you could be forgiven for thinking this was Madden NFL 19 (itself a great looking, and faithful, adaptation of a sport built on details). Look closely, though, and the differences begin to appear.
For one, the much publicized Superstar X-Factors are prominent in the game's menus - even appearing alongside the team selection. These flashy new abilities are reserved for the rosters biggest personalities, and help differentiate the way they play. They never feel too overpowered, but you could easily build a franchise around a certain style of play.
Each X-Factor has its own requirements for activation - making several runs of ten or more yards with your running back could lead them to activate the "First One Free" ability, increasing their maneuverability. Meanwhile, wide receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster can trigger "Double Me" by making multiple catches of twenty or more yards - giving him more heft when it comes to aggressive catches. Thankfully, these aren't "always-on"abilities and so for the most part a player's ability is still determined by their individual attributes - it's just nice to throw a curveball (wrong sport) at the opposition every once in a while.
It can be a lot to keep track of at first, but just as important are the new animations that breathe life into these abilities. Risky passes feel more likely to come off now with players able to dive more convincingly. A pass in Madden NFL 19 that may have felt near-impossible to complete now feels difficult, yes, but that chance of a huge gain of yardage is an allure too enticing to ignore. A new locomotion system also allows faster players to eat up the ground in front of them, preventing them from being unable to avoid markers as has been the case before.
With this change, I did feel Madden NFL 20 felt a little easier. I usually play on fairly low difficulty settings and enjoy the game's Arcade play-style but had to bump my difficulty up slightly to compensate for the presence of X-Factors and arguably more forgiving animations. Doing so rewarded me with a much more exciting game, but also allowed me to ease myself into it.
That theme of helping players get the most out of Madden permeates every aspect of the game - from quicker playbook choices, to a clearer listing of play types, including the new Run Pass Option. The time between plays feels noticeably shorter too, so whereas a match of Madden has taken over half an hour before, you can now get through all four quarters in about twenty minutes. It's a shame that the series doesn't look to be heading to Switch anytime soon with that kind of "pick up and play" brevity, but I digress.
On Xbox One X, Madden NFL 20's refreshed lighting and textures make it closer to watching a game than ever, and with arguably the best commentary in sports gaming right now it sounds just like it too.
Aside from on-the-pitch action there's plenty of bang for your buck here. New addition QB1: Face Of The Franchise mode takes the narrative reins from the last two games' Longshot mode, and iterates on it in smarter ways. Rather than feeling like a predetermined path with minor choices along the way, the addition of a custom character and the way the plot plays out in relation to your match day performances put this on a similar level to the superlative NBA 2K MyPlayer offerings.
Starting from humble beginnings as a college freshman, you'll interact with other players and the coach using Longshot's familiar dialogue options, and while there isn't quite the same star power as has been found in previous cast lists the voice acting is still excellent throughout. Some frame-rate stutters hamper the cutscenes a little, but this is still a journey worth taking.
Despite its undoubted quality, there's a good chance many will skip over QB1 and head straight for Ultimate Team, and those that do will be pleased to find that it's just as life-consuming as ever. You still can't customise your team's colours or jersey, but what is here is excellent.
Menus have been streamlined to help get players into Ultimate Team challenges more quickly, and smarter on-boarding makes it much easier to set a target for your next acquisition and find a path to unlock them. It's basic, yes, but it helps players spend less time jumping through menus and more time on the field.
A much appreciated tweak is the new way that rewards are doled out, too. Whereas a challenge previously had to be entirely completed to earn a reward, many are unlocked at different stages. It means some rewards are diminished for the final challenge, but it does mean that rookies can make progress towards new players without feeling like the grind isn't offering any returns.
Elsewhere, Franchise mode returns (along with its excellent online version), but it feels neglected in comparison to the rest of the game. It's just as good as before, but with the steps taken elsewhere longtime fans may be disappointed with that.
The main change here is player growth, something that can be automated or taken over with coaching. Scouting a diamond in the rough is just as compelling as it is in Football Manager, as is realising that potential through targeted drills. This growth extends to a player's personality - as they grow they may become more ambitious, more complacent, or change in any number of other ways. Franchise mode feels at its best as a sports sandbox of sorts, but we're ready for a bigger play area.
- Xbox One