The Madden series has been around since the early ‘90s, but only a handful of entries have truly managed to revitalize the pig skin-throwing extravaganza in ways that are still felt today: The playmaking of Madden 2003 made offensive readjustments into a deadly art, while the hit stick of Madden 2005 transformed defensive play into a Terry Tate simulator.
And while the Real Player Motion of Madden NFL 19 might not seem like a revolutionary step when compared to the impact of its game-changing forbears, its one of a handful of subtle changes that confidently cements this year’s installment as one of the best gridiron simulations of all-time.
The best on-the-field experience
It’s a lofty claim, but one you can instantly appreciate the moment you make your first offensive drive. Now the league’s biggest playmakers and stars sprint, juke and scramble just like their real-life counterparts. It made a big impact to last year’s FIFA, and shows developer EA Tiburon is finally making better use of the newly-introduced Frostbite Engine, but it’s a change that’s only really going to benefit core returning players who’ll notice the sharp cuts of a certain tight-end or the staccato footwork of a given receiver.
Still, it’s indicative of the myriad smaller changes that coalesce to make Madden NFL 19 such a riot to play. Animations, for the most part, have been significantly improved on both offense and defense, with QBs rolling off teammates far smoother when making a scramble run up the field, defensive ends peeling off their blocker to make a last-second tackle and running backs juking with a fluidity that can turn a third down nightmare into a 60-yard touchdown.
The passing game has also been given an enhancement, and it’s both a blessing and a curse. Throws are now more accurate, meaning you’ll have the opportunity to complete incredible bullet passes through a sliver of daylight, but it also means there’s a noticeably higher rate of incomplete passes or interceptions.
If you’re playing with a higher-rated receiver or tight end, the Real Player Motion addition will help negate this somewhat, but it’s still a frustrating result of EA Tiburon’s raft of subtle tweaks to on-field play.
Hits also feel meatier than ever, with the truck stick stiff arming defenders off your ball carrier with a satisfying thump and linebackers crunching poorly-timed running plays without mercy. It also, once again, helps balance out the benefits of Real Player Motion - especially when you’re playing cornerback and covering a receiver with magic hands and need to shut it down quick with a well-timed tackle.
Rookies, this one's for you
When it comes to offering something for new or less experienced Madden players, Madden NFL 19 does make an effort to make the game’s myriad modes less daunting. The returning story mode - now called Longshot: Homecoming - leads the pack, combining a mixture of grassroots melodrama and on-field challenges that actually serves as a surprisingly satisfying faux tutorial for the wider game.
Wade and Cruise are once again at centre stage, but with much of story following their separate stories, Homecoming loses some of the chemistry that made the first instalment in Madden NFL 18 such a worthwhile addition. Thankfully, when the story does come together it proves to be an enjoyable ride that’ll appeal to fans of Friday Night Lights and Last Chance U - with a little bit of Nashville’s cheesy southern charm sprinkled in for good measure.
However, much like last year’s installment, this final chapter in Wade and Cruise’s story is heavy on the long cutscenes and low on the actual football. For hardcore fans, this ratio might make this one to breeze through and forget, but if you’re a little less seasoned in all things Madden you’ll probably benefit as it introduces more complicated concepts such as play adjustment and seven-on-seven matches in a way that’s more engaging than the dry practice modes available elsewhere.
Madden 19's MUT is the G.O.A.T.
Of course, this being Madden, you’re also getting Franchise mode and Ultimate Team. MUT doesn’t stray too far from the formula perfected in previous entries, offering that heady mix of opening packs and competing online that’s served every other EA Sports annual title so well. The addition of new solo challenges provides a fun new stream of content, enabling you to compete against teams put together by celebrities, athletes and the developers themselves.
You can also upgrade and buff your collected players this time around. It’s great to be able to transform your favorite players and increase their stats - and overall performance on the field - over time, but it does mean you’re effectively going to have to grind and play through a lot of online matches to get these players to the level they need to be for competitive play. And, for the first time, fictional players from Longshot can also be drafted into your squad.
Elsewhere, Franchise mode has been given a noticeable overhaul that makes it the comprehensive version in years, but also a much more palatable entry point for newcomers. Draft Days can now be customized, meaning you don’t have to stick with the raft of fake players heading up from the collegiate level. There’s no official roster for NCAA players, but you know someone in the community is going to take the time to create them, meaning you’ll potentially be able to build a roster at a far deeper level than ever before.
Franchise mode also supports schemes for both defense and offense. It’s a brilliant new approach to an incredibly deep and often intimidating mode, providing a way of seeing which potential draftees and free agency athletes would best fit the gaps in your roster. Less experienced Madden adoptees will get the most out of this new approach, although if you’re a Franchise mode veteran you probably won’t appreciate this change as much. Still, with the door now opened for customization, these new schemes won’t be enough to put off Madden veterans.
Verdict: Play it now
While Madden NFL 18 was a by the numbers entry that played it safe due to the transition to the Frostbite Engine, EA Tiburon has used that improved tech to turn this year’s installment into a powerful gridiron experience. The draft customization changes to Franchise mode and the benefits of Real Player Motion make Madden NFL 19 the most essential iteration yet for core players, but the noticeable recycling of commentary lines from previous years and temperamental passing game can upset the flow for returning 'backs. However, small issues aside, there’s no denying Madden finally has its mojo back.