If there is a patron saint of annualized sports video games it is surely Madden NFL. This series has been a mainstay on home consoles for over three decades, faithfully producing a new edition each year.
Madden NFL 22 comes hot off the presses with promises of improvements across the board. While that is certainly true of the underlying gameplay and presentation, the gameplay modes disappoint, while technical problems frustrate.
Platform: Xbox Series X
Time played: 30 hours
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The latest in the venerable Madden NFL series of American Football games
- When can I play it? August 20, 2021, with three day early access for Dynasty or MVP edition pre-orders
- What can I play it on? PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia
Bringing the boom
- Gorgeous current-gen graphics
- Well-executed gameplay updates
- New momentum system needs fine-tuning
Madden 22 is EA’s sophomore effort on the new generation of consoles, and the visuals are suitably stunning. The authentic gameday presentation features the most realistic looking players yet. Mud and grass stains accumulate over the course of games, and the improved crowd models are a thankful upgrade over the dated low polygon versions from before.
Weather effects are satisfying. A snowy game played late in the evening has a cinematic feel, evoking the same tension of a primetime showdown between two great teams. The lighting has taken a noticeable leap forward in quality from Madden 21. Open air stadiums cast realistic shadows from their structure, with some of the most pleasingly illuminated fields in gaming.
The gameplay itself has seen quite a bit of adjustment. All motion feels a bit slower, and more deliberate. That is strongly for the better. Players move and collide with a great sense of mass. Running with the ball has an excellent feel, especially between the tackles, where the more measured pace allows great runners to maneuver precisely through the mass of bodies, finding creases to gain a few extra yards.
Defensive play has been overhauled the most. Tackling animations are much more realistic. Defenders will wrap up runners and try to drag them backwards, preventing them from reaching first downs or the end zone. Tackling low often results in “gator-rolls”, where the defender wraps up the ankles of the runner and rolls in order to bring them down. That extra layer of authenticity really adds to the experience.
Superstar and X-Factor abilities are back, and star players once again have the ability to be game changers. Madden has also added a new momentum system, and home field advantage. On paper this is meant to emulate some of the intangible aspects of a football game.
In practice, is mostly obnoxious. A rumbling controller and shaky screen are annoying, but don’t do much to change how you play. Some effects, like distorting or wiping your play preview art just kick you while you are down. It’s a pain to be trying to stage a comeback when you can’t see which of your wideouts is running which route.
The games within the game
- Franchise mode has received a major overhaul
- Bugs almost ruin the experience
- Other modes have been largely ignored
Franchise mode has had a major facelift in Madden 22. You still choose to be a player, focused on your career, a coach, focused on the field success, or an owner who focuses on financial solvency. Practice has been replaced by weekly strategy planning. This allows you to tailor your focus to stopping certain types of plays on defense, and boosting success with certain offensive plays.
You can choose how hard players practice, and how reps are split. That feeds into the all-new fatigue system. Practicing harder yields more results, but the increased fatigue can lead to more injuries. It’s an enjoyable, if shallow balancing act.
The other major addition to franchise mode is the addition of coaching trees. Teams now have offensive and defensive coordinators. They, along with the head coach, have skill trees, spending points that are earned from completing in game challenges. The skill trees often branch out, and choosing one path locks out another.
The result is a defensive or offensive-minded head coach, or an offense that focuses on pass catchers versus running backs, much like actual NFL coaches. It is fun to tinker with, but the trees fill up rapidly, and there is little incentive to hire or fire coordinators.
Unfortunately, Franchise mode has proven to be a buggy mess. We saw everything from freezes and crashes, to wrong stats, and worse. Imagine winning a game 28-17, racking up a good enough performance to upgrade a player to superstar status, only for the game to record zero data for your team.
That win is recorded as a 17-0, and your would-be superstar is despondent after their non-existent performance. That happened no less than three times over two seasons.
Key moments during the season are told via cut scenes that would have been ridiculed during the PS2/Xbox Era. Two character models stare at each other, as text for one of them appears on screen.
Then, an awkward pause, the camera shifts, and the other person spits out their text. It is shocking how poor the quality is, especially juxtaposed against the gorgeous and detailed presentation of the rest of the game.
Face of the Franchise, a single-player story which follows your created players journey from college to NFL stardom, is disappointing. They’ve eliminated the melodramatic narrative structure, which may be for the better, and replaced it with just dumping you into Franchise mode as a player, with a few cut scenes at the beginning. You are introduced to a diverse and inclusive cast of characters, but nothing actually happens with them. Once you reach the NFL, which is very early, there is little to distinguish this mode from just playing franchise.
Madden Ultimate Team and The Yard modes return, and are largely the same. Collecting card packs to form the best team of players remains fun and engaging. The rate at which you accumulate cards doesn’t appear to have changed much, so casual users will have a hard time keeping up with people spending real world money to buy packs of high-level players. The backyard style football of The Yard is cute, but there really isn’t any substance to it beyond a simple campaign mode.
The weak modes and awful bugs are shame, given how strong the core gameplay is. The action of the field is exemplary. Everything else ranges from fine, to outright bad. These aren’t new issues, but may be worse than ever in this newest iteration.
EA has promised ongoing support, including fixes, roster updates, and revamps to scouting. This may end up being a great game, but until then it is difficult to recommend Madden NFL 22 to anyone other than the hardcore Madden faithful.
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