With an earlier release date than normal, Madden season has begun a little sooner for fans of the historic football gaming franchise.
The leadership situation on the development team is in a transitional state. Thus, there are a few legitimate concerns about this year’s finished product and the series moving forward. The game goes live for Xbox One EA Access subscribers late on Wednesday, and there are already a number of fans getting a taste of this year’s release.
What should you expect from this year’s game? There are some areas that are the equivalent to a fly route that turns into touchdowns. Others are akin to infuriating five-yard penalties that stop a drive cold. If you’ve played Madden for years, you know what I mean.
Visuals…The Good Parts
I’ve thought about this next sentence for the past 4 days because I didn’t want to sound like a prisoner of the moment. After further review, I feel confident in saying: Madden NFL 19 is the best-looking sports video game I’ve ever played.
Let me put that into proper perspective. I’m talking purely about the visuals as it pertains to the overall look of the players, equipment, stadiums, grass, lighting, etc. I’m telling you, the players and objects in this game are rendered so nicely, it’s hard not to recognize the quality. You can take almost any screenshot, zoomed in or out, and marvel at the level of detail in almost every aspect of this virtual world.
I’m more than 15 games in and I’m still taking the time to stare at the reflection in the helmets. Even the cutscenes, overlays (though there could be more from a statistical standpoint) and monoliths look good. The art team and whoever is responsible for the visual quality of this year’s version of Madden deserves a round of applause because those men and women did an amazing job.
This is easily the best example of what the Frostbite Engine has done for an EA Sports title.
Animations…The Good Parts
There are some nice new animations in the game. The dropped passes look a lot better than they did before. Also, the tackles are impacting, especially the ones involving three or more players.
This version of Madden captures a nice balance between hard and fun-to-watch hits and the safer, softer tackles that we saw in recent versions of the game.
Some of the interception and fumble recovery animations are incredibly smooth. I had one memorable fumble recovery on the sidelines. A linebacker in zone coverage put a solid hit on a receiver just as he was trying to run out of bounds. The ball popped in the air, and my safety ran over, caught it in the air with a seamless animation and headed the other way with the ball.
It was a satisfying play, not only because my defense created a takeaway, but more importantly, I could see exactly what happened during the instant replay. That’s the way it should be in a sports video game. Quite a few of the virtual athletes have their moments in the game, but running backs look the smoothest in action in Madden 19.
The jump cuts, hesitations, and spins will likely cause the most oohs and ahhs from fans.
The Positive Effects of Real-Player Motion
RPM can be felt in Madden a little more than in FIFA 18. Quite honestly, I wasn’t a big believer in the technology until EA UFC 3 was released, and then I started to pay attention to what the possibilities could be with the feature.
It’s not something that should be described as a gamechanger in Madden 19, but you can feel the weight and speed of players more definitively. That’s a good foundation.
Stick to the Numbers
The ratings seem to matter more in this year’s game than in other versions. You can feel the difference between elite players and average to below-average guys, and that’s not just at the skill positions. Offensive lineman and pass rushers who aren’t especially good will pale in comparison to the top guys.
When building a team in CFM and MUT Draft, you’ll need to be aware of your impact players and the positions they play.
MUT is Strong
Ultimate Team continues to be one of the strongest–if not the strongest area of the game this year. Solo Battles brings a favorable offline element to the mode. Players will pit their teams against random lineups plucked from user’s collections with varying difficulties and rewards. While the gameplay is technically offline, Solo Battles still has an online component. There are 14 tiers of rewards in the mode with 13 total games each week.
The objective is to win the game and score as many points as possible. It’s a fun new wrinkle to the MUT system. It may need some further development, as was the case with MUT Squads last year. This year, MUT Squads against the A.I. and MUT player upgrades round out the newest additions to Ultimate Team.
In MUT Squads against the AI, you and friends have an opportunity to play for rewards and upgrades against CPU opponents in challenges.
Aside from providing a way to earn unique content, this new angle on co-op play gives you and your teammates a chance to practice against an opponent. Co-op Madden is more challenging than just about any other sports video game, but when things come together, it can be fun.
EA has finally given fans the ability to create their own draft classes for Connected Franchise Mode. This is perhaps one of the most overdue additions on the current sports gaming landscape. I’m happy to confirm that the feature is as solid and in-depth as was originally advertised.
This should help to add longevity to the overall CFM experience.
Player Development and Scheme Fit in CFM
This aspect of the game might go unnoticed by fans who won’t take the time to recognize the substance and what it can do for CFM. The entire player development, scheme fit system works really well in Madden 19. Not every player develops or regresses at the same pace, and the game does a good job accounting for those factors. Training players seems a little more relevant this year too.
Player performance can be impacted by how well a guy fits into his coach’s scheme. If you take the time to learn the kinds of players you need to make your system successful and then target players who fit the bill in free agency. trades and the draft, you’ll see how it all comes together.
This was a good addition to the game’s feature set.
Longshot…The Good Parts
Devin Wade and Colt Cruise are back for Longshot 2: Homecoming. The voice acting is really strong again this year, and Rob Schneider’s character is hilarious. More to come on this mode a little later on, though.
Animations…The Bad Parts
In some ways, Madden 19 is a victim of its own beauty. The game looks so good in still shots, slow motion, and most live action that when you see poor animations, they look even worse because it’s happening with such accurately rendered models.
Some of the things I saw during my review period might be eliminated with a Day 1 patch, but I have to report what I saw in my time with the game. There were some incidents of frame skipping, and some really strange things occurring after injuries.
On one play, Ty Montgomery got injured and somehow he got stuck in the hurdle animation. He hilariously hurdled his way off the field. He didn’t come back, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the way he was supposed to exit the game.
There’s also a pretty significant issue on punt returns. The CPU returner will sometimes touch the ball and leave it for your coverage team to recover. That led to a TD and possession deep in the CPU’s territory on separate occasions.
Again, this is another area of the game that could be patched soon.
Real-Player Motion…The Bad Parts
As I mentioned earlier, RPM can be felt in the game, only it’s not always good. It takes some getting used to as the locomotion of the players–especially ball carriers–can be herky-jerky. Sometimes it feels as if the movement system creates an extra step or motion that seemed to cost me in a few instances as I tried to hit a hole.
This is something that I might get a better handle on after more reps, but chances are I’ll still feel as though it could be tuned.
Low Situational A.I.
Sideline player A.I. is still an issue for what seems like the 15th consecutive version. On one play, I called an out route for Larry Fitzgerald. I threw a bullet pass to him immediately out of his break, and he just kept running clean out of bounds and off the screen entirely. The next day it seemed this issue had been resolved, but receivers still aren’t respecting the sidelines or making a reasonable effort to stay in bounds.
It’s pretty frustrating we’re still seeing this issue after so many years.
The CPU’s playcalling at the end of the half and game is worst than Darrell Bevell’s in Super Bowl 49. The CPU will throw the ball in obvious run situations, and I’m not talking about taking reasonable gambles; I’m talking decisions that just go against the fabric of the NFL and good football.
CFM Still Needs Some Work
The addition of created draft classes, player development and offensive and defensive schemes is nice, but CFM is still a ways behind NBA 2K‘s MyLeague and MyGM, and even MLB The Show‘s franchise mode. For starters, the injury presentation is still lacking.
We’re still getting a full diagnosis of injuries within the game the injury took place. That’s not at all realistic. Can we get a virtual MRI that at least forces you to wait until the end of your game to find out the details?
Also, the off-ball injuries are still phantom events with no visual representation. Because of the way they take place, they are more irritating than immersive. These are essentially randomized injuries that the system alerts you to during games. If you go back and watch the replay, you’ll see, the player shows no sign of injury at all.
Injuries also seemed to happen at a relatively high rate in at least of one of my CFMs. I started one with the Chicago Bears and I lost two players for the season within the first few weeks of the regular season, and at least one player for multiple games in every contest.
I was happy to see that didn’t happen as much in the first 3 weeks of my second CFM. I used a fantasy draft for that one because I wanted to see what the game felt like playing with better players than my Bears have at their disposal. I’m still not sure if the injury rate is too high, at least on default settings, but this is something you can tweak in the sliders. However, I don’t think you should have to do that. The injury settings should be on the most realistic level as a default.
Stat tracking still has some problems, and this may be one of the more egregious issues. Mostly because it’s been a problem of sorts for a few years now. Some sacks still aren’t recorded or even called out correctly by the commentators. The first time it happened, I thought I was mistaken. Thankfully, I was capturing the footage and confirmed on multiple that not only did a player not get credit for the sack a few times, play-by-play commentator Brandon Gaudin called out the wrong guy in his dialog.
The commentary is still OK, but this is the first year I’ve started to feel as though Gaudin and Charles Davis’ lines are getting redundant. It’s not the basic lines, it’s the longer spiels that sometimes don’t quite match the sequence on the screen. I think it’s important to keep the longer stories fresh because those are the ones that are the most memorable. The moment Davis says, “I used to have a teammate who used to say, I hate experienced quarterbacks,” I’m turned off because I heard this same speech a million times in Madden 18.
It’s not ideal to duplicate such a recognizable soliloquy.
I suppose there is something to be said for effort, but the new halftime show feels undercooked. It’s as if they wanted to show highlights from other games, but ran into some issues and decided to leave the bland stats and scores on the screen with the cool 3-D map. Jonathan Coachman replaces Larry Ridley as the voice of the halftime show, but it doesn’t really impact the presentation’s effectiveness.
Longshot Gets a Little Long and Cheesy
While the story is well written again this year, and voice acting is still strong, things get a little cheesy about ¾ of the way through. I won’t give any spoilers, but if you play through the entire mode, you might see what I mean. It starts to feel like an after-school special from the 80s or 90s.
This section of the story could have been made about 20-30 minutes shorter, and that would have added a little more value. Sometimes less is more.
This year, Madden doesn’t break any new ground or fix all or most of the nagging issues that have impeded the series in the past. However, it does deliver an absolutely stunning visual experience, decent gameplay and enough options to keep most fans occupied.
Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One (version tested), PC
Release Date: August 10, 2018 (EA Access begins on Aug. 2 and early access for pre-orders starts on Aug. 7)
Disclaimer: Free review code was provided for coverage purposes