Game Reviews

Madden 20 Review

What does Madden have in store for us this year?

by William Schwartz

More often than not, Madden games are fairly iterative.  Rarely are there sweeping changes in gameplay and features that really shake up the formula, EA often opting to refine things that players of the previous year’s game complained about.   This year, maybe even more so than most, Madden 20 feels like a bunch of small changes and minor features.  Graphics feel little improved, gameplay feels largely the same, though everything, to some extent or another feels fine-tuned.  What’s here are some additional features to existing modes layered onto the same great football experience.  So long as you aren’t expecting huge changes, Madden 20 delivers what we’ve come to expect from the franchise.

Madden 20 looks to bring the best players in the league to the forefront of the on-the-field action with the introduction of Superstar players and X-Factor abilities.  Instead of relying on a set of statistics to distinguish the good players from the average ones, Superstar traits and unlockable X-factor abilities bestow powerful attributes to the best players.  These are passive traits that players posses from the start of the game and unlockable abilities that can be activated by completing objectives in a game.  Players like Tarik Cohen of the Chicago Bears isn’t exactly a household name, but an incredibly quick offensive player.  He has faster juke animations as a passive traits that persists any time the ball is in his hands.  His teammate, Khalil Mack has superstar X-Factor abilities.  He also has passive traits that make him better than other defensive players, but if you complete an objective in a game, he’ll unlock the “Unstoppable Force” X-Factor which allows him to shed blocks quicker and rush the quarterback faster.

While the X-Factor and Superstar traits do change the game pretty significantly, the unlockable X-Factor abilities aren’t an instant win.  They will give you a significant boost on the offensive and defensive side of the ball though.  On the field, Madden feels pretty good.  The development team was out ahead of the release of the game boasting about how this game will feature less bugs that previous years, and that’s more or less true.  Madden 20 does feel like it has less jank than recent years.  The introduction of the new physics system a few years back has definitely gone through its growing pains, and this year feels like the best yet.  It’s not quite perfect, but less bugs is better than more and animation glitches and warping players are far less prevalent.  Gameplay stays relatively flat in terms of improvements with some slight refinements to the running game for a smoother feeling experience.

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The on-field action certainly feels dialed in, with an incredible presentation to boot.  This carries through into the core game modes of this year’s Madden which are the Franchise, Story, and Ultimate Team modes.   Face of the Franchise takes over as the story mode in Madden 20.  Longshot goes away after two years of being the story-based career mode of the game.  Instead, you take control of a high-school player who is highly recruited for some of the best colleges in the NCAA.  You’ll write your story by playing in the National Championship Playoffs before it’s on to the NFL Combine and NFL Draft.  After that it’s all about winning and improving your player.  While Face of the Franchise starts out fairly strong with a ton of choice and narrative structure, this clearly breaks down into a fairly standard career mode once you’ve made it to the NFL.

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Madden Ultimate Team is probably the most engaging of all the different game modes in Madden 20, if just for how much variety this online card collector offers.  Whether you’re looking to build your team through completing challenges against the computer, want to play with friends, or want to have highly competitive matches against the online Madden community, there’s something for you here.  The Madden devs have been pouring more and more love into MUT over the last few years and it certainly shows.  Ultimate Team is far less restrictive than previous years, in Madden 20 it feels that you’re always earning something new and unique through your first 10 or so hours with this mode.  As you do spend more time, you can certainly see where the monetization hooks come into play, as the mode does get somewhat grindy after spending some time with it.  Still, the on-field action and the management of your ultimate team make for a compelling game mode.

For those looking for that year when Madden developers finally blow the doors off on a revamped franchise mode, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer.  The franchise mode in Madden really doesn’t bring anything new or fresh to the table.  While there is plenty of room to improve here and integrate the many different and fascinating aspects of the NFL, it’s players, the drama of the league, and the many decisions that franchises make throughout the year — Madden feels like they’re still using a formula from about 10 years ago.  The good news is that franchise mode can be played online, including the option to do fantasy drafts to build the best team possible.  It’s still a good mode to play with friends, but a little bit more depth to the franchise mode will be welcomed if/when that finally arrives.

While most of Madden 20 does feel like a lateral move in terms of features and modes, it is a refinement year for the series.  The introduction of X-Factor and Superstar players does its intended job in bringing the best players in the NFL to the forefront of the game.  Madden is still the primary option for NFL fans when it comes to virtual football and it definitely won’t let you down if you’re craving your yearly fix.  The good part is that the game continues to get more stable as we head towards the end of the console cycle.  While we all crave sweeping changes to the game, those changes do come with a downside.  Madden 20 is probably as good as it’s going to get before we head off into the land of PS5 and the next Xbox when it comes to features and visuals.

The Verdict

Madden 20 does very little in this year’s game to impress, but it doesn’t do anything that truly disappoints.  What it offers is a competent and refined football experience with a stellar presentation and plenty of modes to play.

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Madden NFL 20

  • Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC
  • Published By: Electronic Arts
  • Developed By: EA Tiburon
  • Genre: Sports
  • US Release Date: August 2nd, 2019
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "Madden 20 does very little in this year's game to impress, but it doesn't do anything that truly disappoints.  What it offers is a competent and refined football experience with a stellar presentation and plenty of modes to play.  "
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