When Madden NFL 18 released last year, it was a breath of fresh air for a franchise that had grown pretty stale. Not only did they improve upon the visual aspects of the game, but its Longshot mode, and the inclusion of a full-fledged story mode, in general, signaled a much-needed change that Madden was willing to do what was necessary in order to shake things up. Though sports games as a whole will never be able to truly change – you can’t exactly completely reinvent the wheel when you’re a football game – they can still improve and add things that will keep players more engaged. Does this year’s iteration, Madden NFL 19, do that? It’s a mixed bag, but the answer isn’t as clear as we’d like.
Diving right into the meat of the game, Madden NFL 19 has once again improved upon its predecessor in the looks department. Once again, the Frostbite engine used for the game has resulted in another stunning looking title. Players look exceptional, and the presentation and camera angles used this year are so good that, if you aren’t aware that you are playing a game, then you might be able to fool yourself into thinking that you’re watching an actual NFL game. This time around, EA Tiburon has tweaked the animations and controls of the game, introducing the Real Player Motion system. The system is aimed at giving players more control over in-game situations, either rewarding or penalizing them for making cuts or acceleration bursts at the right or wrong time.
Of course, things aren’t always perfect. Players used to the Madden NFL 18 way of doing things will find a somewhat steep learning curve as they make the transition into the new system. In terms of realism, the cuts and bursts highlighted in the new animation system don’t always look too real, which can result in some odd looking moments during a game.
Similarly, the computer players in the game, namely the running backs and wide receivers, suffer from a serious lack of on-field awareness. During my time with the game’s Franchise mode, any time an AI wide receiver or running back would get the ball, they would do any number of weird movements, including juking right into defenders, spinning into coverage, and just generally avoiding open space altogether. This was a problem that running backs had in last year’s game as well, and it seems as if the tweaks to the passing game have resulted in wide receivers getting changed as well.
Speaking of Franchise mode, the folks at EA Tiburon have made sure to spend some extra time with it this year. Players are now able to implement both offensive and defensive schemes into their franchises, allowing for even deeper managerial simulation then years prior. Now, not only can you hire coaches based on your schemes, but when drafting and signing players, schemes also play a big role by allowing you to perfectly construct a team however you’d like.
It’s a great addition to a mode that has been hungry for new content for some time now, and players of the mode will no doubt fall in love with it right away. Players can now create their own custom draft classes, which can then be scouted and shared by the entire Madden community. This was the #1 requested feature for the mode, according to the developers, so it’s great that they were able to work it into Madden NFL 19.
When it comes to Madden, the flagship mode for some time now has been Madden Ultimate Team. MUT, as its known, continues even stronger this year, intruding Solo Challenge tournaments that allow players to compete against custom squads built by Madden developers, NFL athletes, celebrities, or even Madden community members.
This new mode gives players a taste of what competitive Madden is like without having to deal with online play, and is a great introduction on just how chaotic playing against a real opponent can be. Elsewhere in the mode, players can now upgrade the players they collect via training. Gaining it through gameplay or by selling players off, players can stack training points and then turn a player into a true superstar. The mode even allows players to reverse the process, which should allow you to pick and choose your cards freely as you play throughout the (very long) year of MUT.
While MUT may have a shiny new coat of paint on it, many issues in the mode still persist. The concept of purchasing packs with coins or real-life currency is still heavily pushed, so unless you plan on putting forth actual money, prepare for a heavy grind if you want to stack up a truly incredible team. Of course, this has been going on in MUT since its inception, so any seasoned player will already be used to this. All issues aside, it is nice to see the developers continue to try and make it easier for “grinders” (players who put no money into the mode) to be able to compete, and that is commendable in and of itself.
Perhaps the biggest addition to the Madden series in a long time, the Longshot story mode receives a sequel in Madden NFL 19. Longshot: Homecoming continues the story of quarterback Devin Wade and his best friend Colt Cruise, this time in how they both deal with the realities of sticking on an NFL team and the struggles to make one, respectively. While last year’s mode was a breath of fresh air for the video game series, Longshot: Homecoming feels more like a tacked-on addition then a true sequel. Unlike last year’s version, Homecoming often fails to deliver on the high stakes drama that made the original story so fun. In the original Longshot, players would make choices that would truly impact how the story and plot would unfold.
In Homecoming, it feels more like you’re simply watching a movie then actually having a say in what occurs. There’s plenty of moments throughout the story where, after performing well, coaches will still berate you in the cutscenes. These moments don’t just take you out of the experience but they also don’t make any logical sense. Despite those glaring problems, Homecoming still offers enough to give football fans a decent story about what it takes to make it in the league, which is maybe all we can ask for.
Whereas Madden NFL 18 took fans to the fast lane of improvement, Madden NFL 19 seems to have brought the series back to cruising speed. There may not be any massive overhauls in how players interact with things, but changes to Madden Ultimate Team and new additions to the Franchise mode will give old players tons of new enough things to explore that it won’t matter much. Although the follow-up to Longshot wasn’t what many hoped it would be, it still shows that EA Tiburon is willing to take the chances needed to keep things fresh. Despite its flaws, Madden NFL 19 is another fun release for the football franchise.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Madden NFL 19 for Xbox One provided by EA Sports.