Title: Madden NFL 21
Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Developer: EA, EA Tiburon
Version Tested: Xbox One S
Official Site: https://www.ea.com/games/madden-nfl/madden-nfl-21
Release Date: August 25th, 2020
Where to Buy: Microsoft Store, PlayStation Store, Origin Access, Local Retailers
(This game was tested and reviewed via an Xbox One S. And before we get into the review, I do want to send out appreciation to EA for providing us with a review copy.)
In my review of last year’s Madden NFL 20, I noted that the long-running series had become complacent. Unfortunately, things have only gotten worse for EA’s latest installment.
Madden NFL 21 Thrives In The Yard And Superstar KO
The Yard is a fast-paced, chaotic game mode that takes cues from games like NFL Street and NHL’s Chel. You can customize your avatar, pick from a variety of playstyles (called Prototypes), and level them all up by playing backyard football games. Although this is a 6v6 game mode, you can only play The Yard either solo or with up to 2 other friends. Along with this, there are several fields to play on. Each field has its own set of rules and player pools to draft from.
When you hop on the field, you’ll quickly notice that you can do a lot in this game mode. You can perform multiple passes behind the line of scrimmage and if you score a touchdown while executing these passes, you’ll actually get extra points. You can also get extra points for interceptions on defense and scoring after a lateral on offense.
Another fun gameplay mechanic in The Yard is the multi snap feature which allows for the center to snap the ball directly to anybody on the offense. This allows for more unpredictability across the board.
What makes The Yard work so well is that anything can happen at any given time. You can be down 10 points with a single drive left and still have a chance to win the game. It’s so entertaining, whether you’re playing with your buddies or a few rounds by yourself.
The Yard is genuinely a fantastic addition to the Madden series but, it could be even better. There’s not much to customize or unlock in The Yard. Sure, you can equip your favorite team’s uniform or a few custom jerseys EA has put in the game (most of which look terrible). But, this is an arcade game mode with slightly cartoonish animations and gameplay. EA could lean into that a little more. Personally, I would like to play without a helmet and pads. Or maybe there could be more options for what jerseys are available and even the ability to just wear normal clothes.
Superstar KO was a solid late addition to Madden NFL 20. 1-3 players pick a set team and then begin drafting 3 NFL superstars. After each win, you get to choose another NFL all-pro until you have 3 offensive stars and 3 defensive stars. Admittedly, there’s not much new to Superstar KO here. That said, it remains a wildly entertaining mode, especially with friends.
For a simulation football game that is meant to realistically portray how professional football is played, it’s somewhat ironic that Madden NFL 21’s best game modes are The Yard and Superstar KO. It won’t happen, especially since the NFL and EA recently renewed their deal, but maybe it’s time for EA to lean into their non-simulation ideas. Maybe it is time for another studio to have a crack at the more realistic aspects of professional football. Because Madden NFL 21 fails to showcase that.
Improving The Pass Rush Can’t Fix Madden NFL 21’s Gameplay
I applauded Madden NFL 20’s gameplay and said it was “one of the best gameplay experiences in this series’ long-running history.” It was a hot-take, and although the gameplay started to show cracks a month or 2 in, I still believe Madden NFL 20 was fun to play. That’s not the case with Madden NFL 21.
Madden NFL 21 has an abundant problem with linebackers jumping like Wide Receivers and catching insane passes. Nearly every game I’ve played has had some crazy glitch or bug that takes you out of the action. While playing as a defender, I rarely dive towards the ball carrier. These are things that did exist in Madden NFL 20 but they weren’t as prevalent as they are here.
Visually, the game remains impressive. Nonetheless, I do have to ponder the idea of the Frostbite Engine becoming a liability for EA. We’ve seen countless game-breaking bugs from other EA titles like Anthem and Mass Effect: Andromeda. If you’ve taken one peek at what people are saying about Madden NFL 21 online, you’ll know that this game is no different. Maybe it’s time for a change.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some enhancements to the gameplay. Rushing the passer has greatly improved and that’s one of the rare joys I get playing on defense. But again, half the time my player dives away from the ball carrier. The revamped running mechanics are another cool addition. You can make more precise cuts in no time. That’s awesome when compared to the clunky juking in previous Madden titles.
Madden NFL 21’s biggest problem, from a gameplay standpoint, is that it takes 2 steps forward but 3 steps back. Pass rush and running have developed. Yet, the gameplay is riddled with glitches and repetitive movements. That’s only amplified when you hear the commentary team spew out the same lines year after year. Or the scenes that play when you win the Superbowl. There’s nothing new in the game’s presentation. There’s nothing new in the game’s player animations. As a result, the gameplay feels stale.
Madden NFL 20 Madden NFL 21 Connected Franchise And Ultimate Team
I don’t want to spend too much time on this because Madden NFL 21’s Connected Franchise and Ultimate Team are mostly the same as they were in Madden NFL 20. Connected Franchise has a different color scheme in the background. Other than some minor quality of life updates, that’s all. It seems that little effort was put into these 2 game modes this year, which is a bit of a surprise considering how much stock EA has put in Ulitmate Team over the years. To be fair to Ultimate Team, I’m still working my way through this game mode. But so far, there’s not much new to the table this year.
In NCAA 14, coaches had multiple skill trees to progress. There were offensive and defensive coordinators who had their own skill trees. Recruiting and scouting mattered in that game.
In previous Madden titles, we had training camps where players battled over positions. There was a college all-star game each year where you can play as the best-projected prospects. Each team had coordinators who all had their own strengths and weaknesses. These were mechanics implemented in simulated football games years ago. Nothing close to that is in Madden NFL 21.
Simply put, there’s nothing to latch onto in either of these modes. And in the case of Connected Franchise, it’s been this way for quite some time.
Face Of The Franchise Disappoints… Again
Connected Franchise may be the same as it was in Madden NFL 20. But at least it wasn’t as frustrating as Face of the Franchise.
Madden NFL 21’s Face of the Franchise puts you in the cleats of a high-school baller. You become the backup quarterback behind this guy named Tommy Matthews. Tommy is the star of the team. He’s like, really at football. So you get the nickname QB2 because they think you’ll never see the field. That’s just how good Tommy is. After something happens to Tommy, you’re thrown into the starter spot and thus begins your convoluted journey to the NFL.
I don’t have the words to perfectly describe this year’s ridiculous Face of the Franchise. Tommy, who is your rival in the story, is nonsensically dumb in terms of motivation and as a character. Your college coach shares those same traits too. He’s a defensive-minded coach so stupid things like cementing a starting QB is too much for him to handle apparently. You know, in 2020. A time where QB’s play matters more than anything else in football. Even at the college level.
What’s even worse is that your play on the field doesn’t matter. I averaged 60+ points a game and, at the end of the day, you’re still forced into situations that imply you’re playing poorly.
I’m ending this review with Face of the Franchise because this is a prime example of what’s wrong with modern-day Madden games. Instead of moving resources to Connected Franchise, Ultimate Team, or even The Yard, time and effort are spent making an unnecessary storyline.
Fans of this series want real innovation in these game modes. They want meaningful gameplay improvements. Madden NFL 21’s Face of the Franchise provides none of that.
Verdict: At this point, Madden is a franchise held together with band-aids and roster updates. Madden NFL 21 is a tremendous flop compared to previous installments in the series. The gameplay is a clear case of taking 2 steps forward and 3 steps back. Rushing the passer and running the ball is much better. But, the gameplay is littered with bugs and repetitive animations. Connected Franchise, Ultimate Team, and Face of the Franchise provide nothing meaningful to the table. The Yard and Superstar KO are genuinely fantastic. But, it’s not worth purchasing this game for at its current $60 price point.
- The Yard and Superstar KO are insanely fun with friends or solo
- Rushing the passer and new run mechanics were solid additions
- The gameplay is stale
- Connected Franchise and Ultimate Team feel as if they were copy and pasted from Madden NFL 20
- Due to the numerous bugs, it's probably time to question the decision to run Madden on the Frostbite engine
- Just everything about this year's Face of the Franchise
- Customization is limited