Release Date August 28, 2020
Genre Sports
Platforms PC/PS4/XBO
Developer EA Tiburon
Price $59.99 US
ESRB Rating Everyone
Players 1-6 Players

 

**A copy of this game was provided to FYIG by EA for review purposes**

Madden is a staple for many sports gamers every year. Each August, this game comes out and there are criticisms galore but most of the time, the game is enough of an upgrade that the majority are content with it. This year it’s a bit more difficult to gauge whether the game is worth the price of admission because the game just doesn’t seem to be much of a leap forward over Madden NFL 20 despite the addition of The Yard. So let’s dive into this one and see if we can find more reasons to pick it up.

Madden NFL 21 looks about as you’d expect with the visuals looking pretty stunning from afar. The menu in particular looks sharp and it’s really simple to get around with a lot of information on the screen at once. The character models, stadiums, and everyone on the field/sidelines look true to life as they should. The fans look a little rough around the edges still but most of the time you’re getting close-ups of the play so it’s to be expected and not really all that out of place amongst EA’s sports titles. I do wonder how after so many years that the fans can still look so cookie-cutter. I know you’re talking about tens of thousands of people but if MLB The Show can do it, Madden can as well.

Madden NFL 21 Review
That’s me!

I was underwhelmed by the presentation of the game as well. You’re not getting a lot of the stat blocks and replay cuts that you would see on TV which would seem to be pretty easy to implement. You don’t get any half-time show, it’s just a few replays and you’re back in the game. Why not show some highlights from other games or have a little bit of conversation about what’s going on in the game? There aren’t even interviews or anything, it’s just rushing you back to the action. With the power of these consoles and the number of years they’ve had to perfect this stuff, I just feel like there should be a bit more on the presentation side than we’ve received. Go look at ESPN NFL 2K5 from 16 years ago, that game had presentation nailed down.

The gameplay in Madden NFL 21 is where the game performs the best. There’s nothing like getting that spin off at the perfect moment to break away for an 80-yard rushing touchdown. The running game seems much improved with players making more defined cuts and plants that really allow you to slip through coverage if you time it right. I felt like you really needed to follow your blockers as well as possible, though, because it seemed like they would get through to you if they had any small piece of an opening. It’s just really fluid when using the skill stick to perform one move to another in quick succession. 

Madden NFL 21 Review
Snoop makes his way into another EA Sports title.

The defensive side of the ball was a bit harder to get used to this year. Defensive backs seem to be able to pick off a ton of balls you don’t expect them to. This is off-set by the fact that linebackers aren’t as superhuman this year and play a lot more realistically. If you know your plays, you can really start to get the opposing QB on his heels and clog up any rush attempts until the opponent starts getting creative. It definitely felt like the defensive side of the ball felt a lot more realistic, the opposing offense wasn’t getting a 1st down off a 3rd and 30 like they seemed to be doing on my every time last year. 

X-Factor and Superstar abilities make their return this year and I’m pretty happy about that considering they provide new dynamics all around the field. Special abilities enhance certain skills for a player like Quick Draw which will make a QB faster and more responsive to input while rolling out of the pocket. X-Factor abilities are more superhuman like R N Gun which has perfect accuracy while throwing on the run. I feel like this is kind of like a momentum system but in a more innovative way so I really like how they did this. The NHL series did something similar in the early 2000s with specific players being big hitters or having accurate shots so it’s nice to see a new take on that here in a football game.

Madden NFL 21 Review
The closest you’ll get to a new NCAA title.

Face of the Franchise returns this year with Rise to Fame. I was a fan of Longshot in years gone by but this FOTF stuff isn’t quite the same for some reason. It might just be the story no resonating with me but I’m not sure. It might also be that your decisions don’t mean a damn thing. You start off as the backup in high school to local legend Tommy Matthews and the push to take over his position after his health issue or support him and the team. It didn’t matter if I was trying to support him or not, Tommy still hated my guts at every turn. He’s one of the most unlikeable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in a video game. 

Like last year, you’ll get to play some NCAA games again not that it matters at all because you’ll get drafted no matter what. The story is the story, it doesn’t change no matter how well or poorly you do. You’ll even have the opportunity to switch to your favorite team and even switch positions if you want. The story continues even after you get to the NFL unlike last year and Tommy disappears completely which I liked but didn’t quite understand. 

The new addition to Madden NFL 21 is The Yard. This is a completely different experience from the normal game in that it’s a 6 v 6 game of football that’s a lot more relaxed on the rules. There are no quarters or time limits and the field is only 80 yards long here. Offensive possession starts on the 20-yard line (there are no kicks here) at 1st and 20. You can hike the ball to any players on your team and throw multiple times behind the line of scrimmage which can lead to some crazy plays. This is backyard football in a video game. There are even 3 point conversions if you line up at the 20-yard line. 

Madden NFL 21 Review
A glimpse of The Yard.

The only issue I had with The Yard was that there really isn’t any substance to it. There’s no league or anything, you’re just playing to play. Sure you can unlock some cosmetics to make your player look more like all the other bright and colourful people that populate this game mode but it all falls a little bit short with me. There are simply a few stadiums with different rulesets and that’s really it. It’s a shame to me because I feel this happens a lot with new game modes. These things need to be supported and given a purpose and we just don’t see that here. 

Madden Ultimate Team is back as expected and there’s an ad for microtransactions everywhere you turn. For someone who played a lot of Hockey Ultimate Team in the NHL series, I feel like Madden actually gives you a lot of opportunities to grab some decent players by performing challenges. You’ll still need to pay to compete online with any regularity but it’s nice to know you can grind it out too. The only really big change is with how abilities are capped. Now each ability has an Ability Point (AP) cost. Offense, defense, and special teams all have their own cap. I liked this simple change in terms of how you could modify your lineup better than the way it was before.

For all of you Franchise fans, I have some bad news. There are barely any changes. New Wild Card rounds, new rookie contracts, and new X-Factor abilities round out the list of changes. The focus is definitely not on this mode at all and that’s sad considering this mode should be the bread and butter of everything. Money talks and EA definitely focus on the modes that make money, MUT, and now, The Yard which also has microtransactions. 

Madden NFL 21 should have been the flagship game of the generation but, instead, it’s very much a rehash of the same game we received last year with very marginal updates. If you have Madden NFL 20, I don’t see much of a reason to update to this version. 

Pros Cons
The Yard is a great new idea The Yard lacks purpose
Gameplay is fantastic Franchise has barely been touched
  Face of the Franchise is too linear and unpolished