|Release Date||August 16th, 2021|
Last year, I was very underwhelmed by Madden NFL 21. It really seemed like after all the years of dominance this series had that there just wasn’t much left to do. It was a solid game and it delivered on the game of football as good as any game ever has but it didn’t feel like much of an improvement over its predecessor. It really seemed like a series that was resting on its laurels more than trying to push the envelope. This year EA Tiburon sought out to right those wrongs a little bit and create some more prominent changes to the only football sim on the market.
I think one of the changes that I’ve been most excited to see as we dive into this new generation of consoles is how the presentation of sports games, not just Madden, will make a jump. Luckily, this year Madden has added the new Gameday Atmosphere to make every game feel like what you’d see on a Sunday afternoon with new animations and remastered fan recordings. The players on the field, the fans, and the people on the sidelines will all react to the momentum of the game. There are even Gameday Conditions which are environmental factors like weather, quality of the turf, rivalry games, and even the fanbase that could either be to your benefit or demise. An example of this would be increased ball flight in the high altitude of Denver.
It goes far beyond the cosmetic presentation though as there are team-specific M-Factors that give your team the edge in their home stadium. For example, opposing kickers will have a terrible time with the wind in Chicago and the Vikings will have a bit of a speed boost in Minnesota during the “SKOL” chant. I’ve long wished that the fans could affect the outcome of a game the way that they do in real sports and Madden has really nailed that in a simple, yet effective way. There are also basic M-Factors as you start to gain momentum that can show up in any stadium. Some of these include “Lockdown” which gives your team improved coverage and “Shook” which distorts the play art for the opposing team. It really livens up rivalries and gives a different feel to every game you play.
Next Gen Stats make the broadcast package sizzle, it really feels like you’re watching a game on TV. After a particularly important sack, a visualization came up and told me that it took only 6.5 seconds to take down the quarterback. It’s not just a visual impact that you’re seeing with Next Gen Stats as they have incorporated it into the AI. Madden 22 uses the NFL’s Next Gen Stats data for Star-Driven AI. Each game feels a bit different as each team plays differently and each star player plays differently independent of each other. I played a game against the Panthers where they just seemed to be all over me in the pocket at a moment’s notice where other teams would give me some room to breathe. A host of new animations make everything feel a lot more realistic and not as robotic as it once was. This is especially apparent when it comes to 50/50 balls due to the dynamic reactions between receivers and defensive backs. I even threw a few just to see just how different those reactions would be every time and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s just an overall more natural feel all over the field and the gameplay really shines because of it.
These improvements to the AI translate to Franchise Mode as well. There are now weekly strategies players can use to exploit another team’s weaknesses. Next Gen Stats will give you a breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent on both sides of the ball to allow you to choose a game plan that suits that particular week. You might want to focus on containing a hot quarterback one week while the next you may want to exploit the running game against a team that has some holes on the defensive line. The coolest part about all of this is that you can change up your approach at halftime if something isn’t working. Of course, you’ll have to manage your players’ injuries and fatigue as part of this weekly strategy. Don’t push them too hard or you might have an untimely injury to deal with.
Your coaches all have their own skill trees. Staff points can be earned by completing gameday and long-term goals. Staff can be improved in multiple areas like decreasing injury recovery time. If you choose to play AS a head coach, there are storylines throughout the season. It’s mostly just a way to improve your players with dynamic goals as there isn’t much in the way of a narrative. Scouting in Franchise is unchanged at the moment but Tiburon expects to launch a new scouting system for free in September to assign national and regional scouts which sounds something like what the NHL series has done the last few years.
Face of the Franchise is similar to last year with the ability to play as a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, or linebacker. After a few years of the same story of going through college and then the draft, I’ve grown pretty tired of it. It really feels like I’ve played the same thing for the last 3 or 4 years now. The new class-based system is a nice change and so is the ability to work towards unlocking X-Factors but it doesn’t make me want to play this mode over any of the other modes Madden has to offer. The Yard returns with some new fields including Hawaii and a ranked mode but it’s relatively the same. I didn’t find it had much depth last year and I don’t feel any different this year. I applaud Tiburon for trying something new with it last year but to not improve on it in any real way is kind of sad. Progress, rewards, and gear are shared across The Yard and Face of the Franchise so I guess there’s that. Ultimate Team is almost the exact same as well but that’s already a mode with tons of ways to play so I’m not as concerned with that.
I came into Madden NFL 22 thinking that it was more of the same but EA Tiburon has really dialed in on some of the intricacies of football. This year’s game was one of the most refined versions I’ve played in some times and all the presentation and gameplay tweaks on top of the Franchise improvements make this one an easy upgrade for me.
|Franchise gets some much-needed additions||Face of the Franchise/The Yard are dull|
|Gameday Momentum is a game-changer|
|Teams and stars truly feel varied|