Few things are guaranteed in life beyond death, taxes, and a new iteration of Madden every single year. MADDEN NFL 20 is yet another American football game from EA, and it’s one that plays things very safe. After all, the publisher rakes in hundreds of millions each year with the series and significant changes could divide a dependable fanbase that buys the game each and every year. Even with that being considered, there just isn’t much that feels all that new this year as the game removes the big selling point for the past two years and lacks any sort of real innovation.
From the vision cone to the hit stick, every year of Madden seems to have one new feature that the developers are counting on to get players to buy the newest iteration beyond getting updated rosters. This year it is the addition to X-Factors, which builds upon the existing superstar abilities in past years. Basically, it comes down to fulfilling some in-game objectives in order to gain a boost in play. It’s a way for the most important players (as only 50 of them in the game have them) to be even more clutch during key drives.
For example, cover star Patrick Mahomes will be able to throw deeper passes (by over 15 yards) after he gets in the zone and completes several long-distance throws. These boosts can open up some additional strategy on the field, but they’re all unlocked by playing the characters as you would ideally use them, so it doesn’t feel like the major shift that it should be. Still, it makes the all-star players really stand out while playing and any way to make the larger-than-life players seem that way in the game is a positive move.
Madden NFL 20 Review | Face(plant) of the Franchise mode
The past two years of Madden had a story-focused mode called Longshot that had players following the NFL dreams of two separate college players. That doesn’t return this year, but EA did add in some rather light story elements to their create-a-player franchise mode and slapped a fancy name on it as a replacement offering. It actually starts off well, as we get a glimpse of something video game players have wanted for years now in the form of getting to play college football. Sadly, there are only two college games to be played and there are only 10 teams whose likeness were allowed. And since there’s annoyingly no way to play these in exhibition mode, it winds up being a weird tease of college ball that won’t satisfy those wanting a new NCAA Football game.
Other than that, it’s pretty much the same exact mode we’ve seen in the game for years now as players will slowly improve themselves based upon on-field performance. There are also opportunities to text message rival players and get into side-bets for XP, but the new addition is really just a slight facelift. From a design standpoint, it’s fine for what it is, and there are a variety of “endings” that trigger after the first season, but this doesn’t scratch the same itch that Longshot did as serving up a fun Friday Night Lights narrative to see through.
However, the gluttony of glitches and frustrating coach artificial intelligence are the most damning parts that make it easy to stop playing. Multiple times I finished a game only for the game to go back to the simulation screen that plays when your player is off the field. There’s no way to back out of this other than to quit the game completely and then lose the entire progress. It’s one hell of a crushing blow to lead your team back to an overtime victory and then the game just decide to not count it. Similarly, there were several moments where the awful coaching AI would refuse to go for field goals in game-winning situations in the fourth quarter and I lost games due to no fault of my own.
Madden NFL 20 Review | Opening the field up to more players
For as much as EA deserves criticism for not delivering any significant changes this year and putting forth a bad story mode replacement, it also deserves praise for doing some great work on the accessibility front. Credit goes to Karen Stevens and the team for taking this so seriously and including a number of options that should be standardized in gaming, but are not, like menu narration, larger user interfaces, and a number of other additions. Seemingly small changes like this go a long way in opening video games up the largest possible audience and more games need to take this seriously.
The Ultimate Team mode is another thoughtful addition. It’s still largely the same enjoyable mode that lets players grind their way to having a solid roster and deal with a number of digital currencies and upgrades, but it’s much more structured now. It’s great for newer players as it will walk them through how to upgrade their team while also giving them a sense of progression while the onboarding process was underway. Similar to the accessibility options, it opens up the game to more people.
While many of the annoying glitches and wonky AI will hopefully get patched out of Madden NFL 20 there still isn’t a good reason to recommend it if you have purchased any recent years of the game. The new Face of the Franchise mode is totally underwhelming and fails to tell a meaningful story and the X-Factor abilities are helpful for newcomers but don’t really change how a solid player would play the game any. These changes are all a positive for long-term but it lacks any selling point and has launched in a frustrating state that undermines the solid football mechanics that EA has refined over the past several decades.
GameRevolution reviewed Madden NFL 20 on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.