It’s been 30 years since John Madden Football changed the sports gaming landscape forever, so can this year’s iteration do the same in the modern day?
Title: Madden NFL 19
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC (via Origin)
Release Date: August 10, 2018
For a little over three decades, American football fans have always had a game representing their sport to look forward to. From unlicensed beginnings to taking the NFL’s properties and running with them, various contenders stepped up to the plate to deliver experiences on the virtual gridiron.
Now only one remains. Thanks to EA continuing to hold onto exclusive rights, Madden is the only NFL game in town. It now serves as a herald for the upcoming season, and an early way for fans to get that early football fix just a month before kickoff.
Since the move to current-generation hardware, however, fans began to sour on the series for not doing enough to change up the formula. With big talks of change this year, the question at release became whether or not Madden NFL 19 is that next big leap for the series.
The answer? Not exactly.
And that answer becomes immediately apparent in the game’s visual presentation. Much like last year, the move to Frostbite has been especially kind graphically for stadiums, statues and building architecture. While impressive, it doesn’t really do much for the on-the-field looks. There are some subtle lighting improvements and player model updates, but the game ultimately doesn’t look that much different than it did last year (at least on consoles).
That sentiment also extends, for the most part, into the broadcast packaging. The addition of Jonathan Coachman to the pregame festivities is a great choice. His delivery on most occasions is pretty exciting and can even get you pumped for a game. He also narrates the new halftime show that does a serviceable job but doesn’t hold a candle to what games like NBA 2K or even ESPN NFL 2K5 did with showing highlights between halves.
Meanwhile, the duo Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis are back on the play-by-play. The two clearly have solid chemistry doing Madden commentary, and it shows in some of their friendly banter. Some of that banter goes on a bit too long though, and many of their lines feel almost ripped out of last year’s title. Most of the camera shots were also the same, including the same behind-the-back coach shot from the sideline that I saw over eight different times in a given game.
It would have been nice to see another new dimension of Madden presentation take root this year, whether that be rotating commentary teams or new sideline reporters. There are also these neat-looking 3D logos and helmets that appear before games, but they’re immediately overshadowed by the unchanged score bugs and statistics packages that were in desperate need of an update this year.
On the field, Madden also feels a bit too familiar in most areas. While the newly-implemented Real Player Motion technology is certainly there, it doesn’t give off a real year-to-year difference. The new system also improves some animations, but only keen-eyed players will notice them. The game still struggles with problems it had last year.
For instance, zone defense still gets repeatedly shredded by certain routes. Running the ball is actually much more difficult with running lanes shrinking at an unrealistic pace. And that’s not even getting into the unreal amount of glitches and bugs that many, including myself, caught while playing the game. Madden has become pretty notorious for these, but they’ve been much more prevalent in this year’s edition.
One of the most common ones I ran into became AI players running past a live ball during a fumble. Sometimes the ball would even move about 10 yards back by itself, even though it appeared that player should have kicked it. Quite frankly, things like this are just inexcusable in an AAA-published game, especially one that charges for a premium edition as Madden 19 does.
Of course, Madden ships with game modes galore for those who want a deeper experience.
Ultimate Team, for better or worse, is here to stay and is the best it’s ever been this year. Contracts are now gone, so players you get are players you keep unless they’re traded or put up for sale. New training points also allow for certain Power Up cards to be upgraded, which can make it easier to get players you may want on your team (i.e., Michael Vick.)
The solo play also got more of a focus this year. Solo Battles allow players to match up against AI-controlled lineups from top-ranked users. It’s a neat idea with big rewards thrown in for those who place on the leaderboard at the end of a given week.
A wide variety of Solo Challenges also return, though they’re definitely a grind fest and could have used some major quality-of-life improvements. For example, I should be able to go right to the next game in a given ladder instead of having to cycle back out to a menu. Camera options also never stayed the same and had to be reset upon every single challenge.
Connected Franchise got some upgrades this year as well, though not nearly as monumental. The process of upgrading players is more streamlined, and the new scheme system helps to enhance the experience of playing and coaching in the NFL.
Creating custom draft classes is also back, and should really be helpful for those playing on the PC. However, these feel more like a step in the right direction instead of that next leap forward. Everything is pretty much the same, including most of the menu UI that’s now also occupied by weird coach and player animations in the background.
But by far the lowest point regarding game modes is Longshot: Homecoming. The sequel to last year’s story mode catches up with Devin Wade’s journey in the NFL and Colt Cruise’s troubles at home. The cutscenes become a blend of the odd uncanny valley, a sudden lack of dialogue choices and subpar writing for a plot that feels very safe and ripped right out of a made-for-TV movie.
While there is more actual gameplay this time around, not even a somewhat likable Dallas Cowboys GM played by Rob Schneider can save Longshot this time around.