Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Madden NFL 24 review: Inching forward

Another August means another Madden game, and Madden NFL 24 has arrived just prior to the start of the real-world NFL season. This year’s boasted improvements include crossplay, changes to Franchise mode, and some updated animations. While it’s certainly a step up from last year’s game, Madden NFL 24 still feels like just another Madden game.

Moving the chains

Let’s start with the positive. This year, Madden has finally added cross-play support. It’s been a long-requested feature from the community, and the football simulator is now on par with most popular multiplayer games of today. It’s nice to not worry about what platform my friends or family members own the game on, and it’s pretty simple to set up a Play Now match across systems. It even includes the PC version, which is more than I can say about another annualized sports sim.

As with every year, EA Sports has boasted the suite of new animations in Madden NFL 24, promising the most authentic experience today. Most of these new animations are focused on the way receivers and defenders respond to contact immediately after the throw. There are a plethora of new knockout animations that flow seamlessly from the point of the reception, and it felt like great defenders actually had a chance to make a play on the ball, even once it had touched the receivers hands.

There are also a bunch of new tackle animations, including one in which the defender scoops the ball carrier completely off the ground and slams them into the earth. It’s pretty gnarly and made my heart drop when I watched it happen to Lamar Jackson for the first time. The community was rightfully concerned after EA Sports showcased the iconic Patrick Mahomes diving throw in the trailers, worsening those concerns when it was confirmed that the animation wouldn’t be exclusive to the Chiefs star QB. Luckily, it’s an incredibly rare maneuver to pull off, and I didn’t see it a single time during my time with the game. No need to worry about it being the meta for the next year.

Kickoff

Franchise mode has arguably suffered the worst from Madden’s annual model, seeing little iteration year-over-year. In 24, EA Sports has added a couple of new features and quality-of-life features. This includes the long-awaited return of mini-games. You can perform DB battles, RB drills, QB skill accuracy tests and more. Your score in the mini-game determines how much experience your player will gain. My friends and I actually discovered that the mini-games can sometimes reward your player with a Dev upgrade.

Franchise mode has also doubled its trade slots to six, allowing more flexibility when trying to negotiate. Team relocation has added more than a dozen cities, including Canton and Tokyo, but the fact that you still can’t customize your logo, branding, or uniforms makes this an underwhelming option. Everything else in Franchise mode is par for the course with what you expect from modern Madden games.

The ultimate problem

It’s painfully clear that Madden Ultimate Team is the franchise’s premier mode, in the fact that it generates a decent crop of money for EA. The team-building mode is once again cool in concept, but awful in just about every other way. The game is constantly pushing you to either grind countless hours just to pick up a few decent players, or crack that wallet open and take a trip to microtransaction city. You’re even treated to a full-screen prompt to launch Ultimate Team every time you open the game, because they really want to sink their claws into you.

I did notice that MUT Draft has made its return, no longer requiring any sort of Ultimate Team progression in order to access. For the uninitiated, MUT Draft is a mode within Ultimate Team that lets you draft a temporary squad through 22 rounds and then take them to battle against the CPU, online opponent, or friend. The rewards aren’t anything to write about, but it’s a fun way to enjoy the MUT formula without making the mode a part time job or splitting my income with EA.

You are not a superstar

I’m grateful that Superstar, Madden NFL 24’s narrative career mode, scales back the narrative and lets you get to the actual gameplay faster. You can go through the combine, get a draft grade, and get drafted based on your performance. That much is neat. I even had a decent time just progressing through a season with my team and fighting to win a Super Bowl.

For some reason, however, EA is determined to keep this mode intertwined with Showdown, a mode that sees your player going against other players online in a more arcade-style match. I’m fine with the idea of being able to take my player online, but Superstar mode is constantly giving me rewards and ability upgrades that are exclusive to that mode. It’s incredibly deflating to put on my best performance of the season, and then be rewarded with gear that I can’t even wear in this mode.

For another consecutive year, Superstar mode omits one of the standard Madden camera angles. Why? Why am I forced to play with these awful camera options that make it harder to see the field and make informed decisions as a QB? I imagine it’s supposed to make the experience more immersive, but why not give players the option?

Coming up short

That speaks to a greater overall issue in Madden NFL 24, it’s just a poor user experience from top to bottom. Despite being on improved hardware, there’s a brief load on literally everything. Entering a new mode, opening your schedule, adjusting your line-up, it’s all so slow. I tried to give MUT a honest try, but it was painful just trying to navigate the layers of menus and submenus.

Madden NFL 24 also carries over a handful of bugs and visual glitches that were present not only last Madden, but the game that came before it. Bugs like the one where both teams appear frozen on the field during the cinematic view between plays, or where the camera isn’t showing the players despite them being at the line of scrimmage. It feels like such a slap in the face to the player and makes a strong argument that this franchise is long overdue for a reckoning. The real Madden heads out there will likely find Madden NFL 24 tolerable, but as a die-hard football fan, it sucks that we’re still doomed to this annual mediocrity.

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