Title: Madden NFL 20
Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Developer: EA, EA Tiburon
Version Tested: Xbox One
Official Site: https://www.ea.com/games/madden-nfl/madden-nfl-20
Release Date: August 2nd, 2019
Where to Buy: Microsoft Store, PlayStation Store, Origin Access, Local Retailers
The state of the Madden franchise is troubling. Before I sat down to write this review, I decided to go back and look at my review on Madden NFL 19. I found myself cracking up by the end of it because I could easily just copy and paste about 70% of it onto this one.
That is insane. Obviously, I’m not going to do that but it should be noted none-the-less.
Despite all its flaws, and there are many flaws, Madden NFL 20 is still a somewhat enjoyable title. But, if you are a Madden gamer who doesn’t invest hours upon hours in Ultimate Team or the basic Play Now mode, you’ll probably find this title to be… disappointing.
Stellar Gameplay Outshines Madden 20’s Lackluster Presentation
Madden 20 may feature one of the best gameplay experiences in this series’ long-running history. It’s a bold take, for sure, but one that I feel is justified by its quality of life improvements and overall smoothness.
Passing was improved in Madden 19 but there was still the issue of a 6’3” linebacker jumping like Odell Beckham Jr to intercept passes with relative ease. It has been an annoying part of Madden for the last few years. That stops with Madden 20.
The passing lanes are wide open now. Building off of last year, passing the ball is more about your skill and your decision making rather than some lucky CPU animation. The addition of RPOs (Run-Pass-Options) is also a welcomed sight in Madden 20. It’s your play calls and your skill that decides whether or not you get a touchdown or a turnover.
As good as passing is in Madden 20, I would argue that the run game is even better. I have yet to be “vacuum tackled”, or caught by some 300+ lb defensive lineman in the open field. Your movements are crisp, making every possible truck, spin, or juke move critical to your success.
With all of this improvement to the offense, I expected the defensive side of the ball to take a huge hit. Not really. With these more realistic animations and play calls, you still have a shot to make a huge impact on a play.
The Presentation is Basic
The core gameplay of Madden 20 is fantastic. However, the game still features a few bugs to sort out. There are always the “occasional” glitches like someone’s helmet carrying the ball for about 30 yards:
— – (@opmszn) July 28, 2019
On top of that, there are a few balancing issues to sort out as well. Fumbling is set way too high and you can say the same for facemask penalties.
My big critique, in terms of gameplay, once again goes to the game’s overall presentation. The commentary team is god-awful. They constantly repeat themselves and half the time, their lines don’t translate to what just happened on the field. The crowd is still a non-factor, which is a disappointment when you see previous EA football games like NCAA Football 14 make a crowd feel like a 12th man out there. To put it bluntly, the presentation of this game feels extremely basic. As if it was just slapped on at the tail end of development without much thought or care.
Luckily, it doesn’t tarnish the gameplay too much, mainly due to the improvements mentioned above and the X-Factor abilities.
X-Factor and Superstar Abilities Lead to More Exciting Games
On to Madden 20’s biggest addition, X-Factor and Superstar abilities. These two new features are fantastic ideas that add on to the game’s stellar gameplay. With X-Factor and Superstar abilities, the elite NFL players play like elite NFL players. Let me provide an example.
I played a franchise game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings have Harrison Smith, a safety who has an X-Factor ability to essentially hit me into next week and defensive end Danielle Hunter. If Hunter got near me, there was a good chance I wasn’t getting past him. So, since these guys were both lined up on the same side of the field for the majority of the game, it forced me to adapt and play on the other side to avoid them. That’s awesome as it adds a bit of realism and strategy to the gameplay.
X-Factor players have these goals in each game to complete. Some are easy, some are fairly difficult. Once you complete your goal, you’ll be in the zone and unlock your ability.
It’s pretty much impossible to stop anyone while they are in the zone. I let Harrison Smith get his X-Factor and he proceeded to strip the ball from my running back 2 possessions in a row and took it to the house both times. Thankfully, I was up 28-7 so I still squeaked out of there with a win.
The most fun in this game comes from between the lines. Outside of that, it flounders.
Madden 20’s Franchise Mode Feels Like More of the Same
Madden 20’s Franchise Mode is very similar to Madden 19, albeit a few nice additions. Now, mapping out your gameplan is vastly more important. Players will ask to be put into the gameplan and the veteran players will help mentor the younger guys. A reporter will also send you a few messages throughout the season, remarking on your progress. For instance, the reporter can send you a message, congratulating you on a recent win. Here’s the kicker. At times, you’ll lose that recent game and still receive the same “Congrats on the big win coach” message. Just… what? Like the presentation, this feels tacked on and sort of unnecessary to the overall franchise experience.
Player development has been improved, with a “hidden” trait behind a ton of players. The only way to unlock this hidden trait is to put the player on the field for a required number of snaps. Contracts have been fixed too, as player’s desired contracts make a lot more sense for someone in 2019’s NFL free-agent market. All of this is fine, but it’s just a bit disappointing when I think back to previous Madden games that featured training camps, full coaching staffs, create-a-team, and even position battles. This franchise game mode gives us an improvement on Madden 19 but it is still pretty barebones when you look at what could have been.
Face of the Franchise is a Lackluster Experience, Even Compared to Longshot
Madden 20’s Face of the Franchise mode is the replacement for Madden 18 and 19’s Longshot mode this year. Here, you create a QB, choose your college team, and fight your way to the top of the draft boards to become the face of a lucky NFL franchise. Unfortunately, this new game mode may be a downgrade from its predecessors.
Longshot 2.0 was cheesy and pretty unrealistic when it came to its story. But, I found it somewhat endearing. It felt like they leaned into the ridiculous narrative and at the end of the day, it had some heart behind it. Face of the Franchise takes those same cheesy moments and does nothing with it. You pick your college, play two games, answer a few dumb draft interview questions, and participate in the combine. Once you are drafted, there isn’t much else to do other than progress your player through games.
The cutscenes stop almost entirely and you are left with essentially the Connected Franchise mode but with a create-a-player. Ultimately, the Face of the Franchise game mode is left looking incomplete.
Once Again, the Focus is on Ultimate Team
It seems that EA cares first and foremost about Ultimate Team, the mode that is essentially the virtual version of trading football cards around and building your ultimate lineup. To do this, you’ll play through challenges, CPU teams, and your fellow Madden players. There’s also a 3v3 mode in this, which may be one of the best aspects of Ultimate Team overall. At this point, I don’t think there’s much to say here that hasn’t been said over the last few years. For those who enjoy this game mode, you’ll have fun with Madden 20’s Ultimate Team. If you already despise this mode’s existence, that’s not changing with this installment.
Ultimate Team is not my thing and, in most cases, I would just leave it at that. Other people enjoy Ultimate Team and that’s why it exists in the first place. But, the overwhelming amount of pop-ups or “ads” that I had to go through each time I booted up the game isn’t just annoying. It’s worrisome.
EA makes so much money off Ultimate Team. They want to pull you into this mode with a free player and then entice you to spend money on it when you get that urge to build up your lineup. And, for the most part, it’s worked for EA so far. That’s why there is so much focus on it year in and year out. It’s one of the major reasons why we don’t see vast improvements in every game mode for each new Madden game. As I mentioned above, if you like Ultimate Team already, you’re going to like this one. For me, a gamer and die-hard football fan who has played this franchise since I was a little kid, it feels that those who just enjoy the Franchise aspects of Madden are being left by the wayside.
Verdict: I don’t hate Madden 20. It’s just that, unfortunately, I think I’m starting to grow tired of this long-running video game series. It’s sad. I still remember playing my first franchise and drafting the now borderline Hall of Famer Darren Sproles as my first-round pick. I remember these features that have been ripped out of the game in place of Ultimate Team and Face of the Franchise.
With the annual release schedule for this series and a good bit of focus on Ultimate Team, it’s nearly impossible to add on a ton of major features. I would love a 3v3, 5v5, or 7v7 teamplay mode like the criminally underrated NFL Street as a side mode. Sort of how NHL 19 had their Chel Mode. But, I know that’s just wishful thinking.
Despite the superb gameplay, I just can’t recommend anyone buy Madden 20 at its $60 price point unless you are just planning on playing Ultimate Team or just Play Now.