Electronic Arts’ Madden series has long been one of the company’s best-sellers, released back in 1988 as John Madden Football for the Commodore 64. In the 30 years since, the franchise has evolved into the premiere (read: only) football simulation available today – even if it’s marred by a few bugs.
When Madden NFL 19 is first booted up, the player is presented with four options: Exhibition, Franchise Mode, Madden Ultimate Team, and Longshot. Exhibition is the easiest to explain – jump into a game, either vs. the computer or a real person (either in couch co-op play or online), and take control of your favourite NFL franchise on your way to gridiron victory. It’s standard stuff, and is the real ‘meat and potatoes’ of the game.
The other three modes, however, are the real attractions of the game – Madden Ultimate Team, or MUT, involves a virtual trading card game where you can buy, sell, and win players to build your team at every position (yes, even the offensive linemen). It’s a huge money maker for the Madden franchise every single year, as they roll out new cards on a regular basis – with the recent Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony, for example, newly minted HoFers Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Brian Urlacher, and Ray Lewis are all available for purchase. The mode also brings some new challenges, ranging from authoring comebacks to changing history by replaying the final minutes of the Super Bowl (if the Eagles don’t force that fumble, do the Patriots win their sixth championship? You decide!).
Franchise Mode is another popular draw of the series, allowing gamers to take control of a single player, coach, or owner, and altering the history of a single franchise for as many seasons as they wish to play (I played my Cleveland Browns QB for 15 seasons without simulating a single game before I got bored). While the player option is a pretty narrow scope, selecting a coach allows you to manage the roster in terms of drafting, signing, and trading players, trading draft picks, managing the depth chart, and calling up players from the practice squad, to name a few activities. Playing as an owner allows for moving the franchise to another city, building a new stadium, changing the price of concessions (as someone who has suffered high concession prices in real life, I’m more than willing to throw my digital customers a bone), etc.
It’s in Franchise Mode where the game suffers the most, in terms of bugs. The game is so polished when it comes to presentation, that pretty much any issue is a glaring one, and there are a number of them here. For example, when a player scores a touchdown, the game attempts to emulate a real broadcast where they replay the highlight from a number of different angles. However, the game is bugged in a way that causes the highlight to start while it’s off-screen, so that when the gamer actually sees it, it ends up focusing on an empty field. It’s a jarring visual oddity – there are a few others, including players getting tossed about like ragdolls once plays are over, but Madden has been plagued by them for so long it’s almost a part of the game.
Overall, the most disappointing component of Madden NFL 19 is Longshot: Homecoming, the game’s single-player campaign. Introduced in Madden NFL 18, Longshot initially followed the adventures of former high school star QB Devin Wade and his childhood friend Colt Cruise as they attempt to break into the NFL via the game show, Longshot. This year’s iteration sees their adventure continue as they struggle with the realities of being on the fringe, and unfortunately, it’s just…not very good. The narrative is disjointed, often overstuffed with scenes that only play at being emotional or funny – it’s like watching a bad television show, except you can’t turn it off.
The worst part is that the player is ostensibly engaging with this to actually play football, albeit through the lens of Devin or Colt, and Longshot: Homecoming actively rips you away from playing the game in favour of watching soap opera-esque cutscenes. No joke – at one point, I was away from playing football for so long, my controller turned off to conserve battery power. They even removed some of the more fun parts of last year’s offering in conversation prompts, a la Telltale or Mass Effect. While they did add some ‘real world’ elements – the hosts of NFL Network’s own ‘Good Morning Football’ filmed a few segments that were sprinkled into the gameplay – overall, Longshot: Homecoming is probably four hours of your life better spent doing something else.
By contrast, the best major change was some more tweaking of the movement system, otherwise known as Real Player Motion. It may not be the most inspiring name, but it does actually add another layer when moving with the football. Running in the open field, making cuts or jukes to lose a defender, even just moving the football to another hand, it all feels more fluid. It almost feels ‘heavier’, somehow, as though the additions have made the players a little weightier, more ‘real’.
Another pleasant addition was the ability to create and import custom draft classes – this may sound like a minor change, but given that the game is largely a roster update every year, this allows for enterprising users to create college players to their specifications and share them with the community. Given that other games (the NBA 2K series comes immediately to mind) have had this feature for a number of years, it’s about time Madden caught up.
Despite these welcome changes, the game as a whole is largely more of the same, complete with bugs at most stages (players getting balls stuck in their frames, AI-controlled players not running the plays properly, cutscenes dropping audio, etc.). Regardless, ‘Madden NFL 19’ is ultimately the best way to get your fix in before the season starts, especially if you’re a football addict like myself.
The NFL season kicks off on Thursday, September 6th, between the Atlanta Falcons and the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Madden NFL 19 is currently available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Okay, Cool was provided with an Xbox One code for review purposes.
You can catch Sho on Twitter at @SNSAlli if you have any questions about Madden NFL 19. Or, you know, you just need a friend. He’s very accommodating that way.