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Madden 21 review

Madden 21 goes long for some big plays, but often fumbles

Madden 21
(Image: © EA)

Our Verdict

On the gridiron, this is the tightest Madden yet and a great buy if you’re just looking to play football with your friends. As a complete experience though, practically all of the extra game modes come with built-in flaws.

For

  • Defending is more realistic
  • Running is more fluid
  • The Yard has potential

Against

  • Franchise mode neglected again
  • FOTF continues to struggle
  • Looks exactly like Madden 20
Review Information

Time Played: 18 hours

Platform: PS4

The Madden series doesn’t have any major competitors in the American football sim market, but even if it did, Madden 21’s gameplay means it would still be the king. 

On the field, it’s the cleanest Madden experience to date, especially when you’re launching a perfect spiral from Patrick Mahomes downfield for Tyreek Hill to spin away from defenders. But every single one of the game modes - basic Exhibition aside - comes weighed down with too many problems for this to truly be great. 

Madden 21 price and release date

  • What is it? The latest instalment in the Madden NFL series
  • Release date? August 28, 2020
  • What can I play it on? PS4, Xbox One, and PC, with Stadia, PS5 and Xbox Series X coming soon
  • Price? Standard edition is $59.99 USD, £54.99 UK, AU$99.95 

Leave it all on the field

Madden 21

(Image credit: EA)
  • At the most basic level, Madden 21 is great
  • The gameplay woes of the past have been ironed out
  • It’s a pity the modes didn’t get this level of attention

Madden 21 is a football game first and foremost, and in that regard, it is stellar. While complaints about recent entries have primarily focused on the series' game modes, the actual play itself could be picked apart too, with over-powered interceptions, huge weighting on defender pace to control the game, and clunkiness around running plays. All of those issues disappear in Madden 21.

There’s more X-Factors and abilities in the latest Madden entry, but it’s at a much more basic level where the real improvements have been made. The defenders are more realistic and, combined with a few smaller tweaks to offensive play, that makes for a much more rounded and far less frustrating experience. Commentary lines are reused, and players seem to hang in the air unnaturally if they’re about to fumble, but they’re minor quibbles.

If you just want a game that lets you send OBJ long, Madden 21 is it. It clears four stars, maybe four and half stars. It’s a slightly cleaner version than Madden 20 and will be great for getting your friends around to earn some bragging rights. It’s once you start looking for Madden to be a more rounded experience that it falls apart though, and unfortunately it does so very quickly.

Another Franchise fumble

Madden 21

(Image credit: EA)

  • It feels like Madden doesn’t care about the fan favorite Franchise mode
  • More energy goes into Face of the Franchise, but it’s woefully misspent
  • MUT is the star player on this team, and Madden knows it

Outside of simply playing football, there are three ‘core’ modes in Madden 21: Franchise mode, Face of The Franchise mode, and Madden Ultimate Team. Franchise mode itself is difficult to review, because it’s the same as it has been since Madden 19. Exactly the same, right down to the aesthetics, the Super Bowl celebration footage, and the way you make progress and control your team. So, it’s great, and will likely continue to be a popular mode in this instalment, but it’s difficult to give credit to Madden 21 when the game itself adds nothing.

"Franchise mode itself is difficult to review, because it’s the same as it has been since Madden 19. Exactly the same."

Face of the Franchise is another core mode, one which puts you in the shoes of a high schooler who gradually makes his way to the NFL, and hopefully even the Hall of Fame with hands weighed down by Super Bowl rings. The obvious comparison is to Madden’s cousin, FIFA, and its storymode The Journey. However, it feels like Madden is more inspired by NBA 2K’s narrative, and if that’s the case it falls short dramatically.

Face of the Franchise is a guilty pleasure of a mode, with CW Network levels of drama constantly in play. Your friend/rival has a congenital heart defect, a secret he tells you within minutes of meeting you; that’s the level of melodrama here. This rival is played by Tye Sheridan of X-Men and Ready Player One fame, but ‘played’ is too strong an adjective for what he brings. 

All of his lines feel like they were mumbled down the phone at 6am. The worst part is, this treacle-soaked drama could actually be a great mode if the end goal wasn't the NFL. If Face was all about high school drama between two rising football stars, it could be fantastic and unique, but it moves to the NFL too quickly and gets lazy. One game, after throwing for 4 TDs (including one 34 yarder), the player character was benched, because the story dictated he’d had a bad game.

Madden Ultimate Team works well enough, has a lot of bells and whistles, and obviously benefits from better on field mechanics, but it still is just Exhibition with loot boxes. Like Franchise mode, how you felt about MUT last year will be reflected this year.

Could the rookies be rising stars?

Madden 21

(Image credit: EA)
  • The Yard is one of the most refreshing changes in years
  • But it still feels held back by a lack of bravery
  • Newer ideas could come to fruition for Madden 22

It isn’t all gloom and doom on the game mode front. Although there’s nothing to fix the issues above, there’s definitely potential in the other game modes, but these point to big improvements for Madden 22 rather than providing them for Madden 21.

"The Yard gives Madden an opportunity to be more free flowing and frenetic, but it just doesn’t take it."

The Yard is the new arrival this year, a version of backyard football likely inspired by NBA 2K’s MyPark or FIFA’s Volta and, with some fine tuning, it could really freshen things up. Madden has always basically been ‘FIFA with geometry’, and while the more tactical, make specific plays approach isn’t that friendly to newcomers, it is very accurate to top level football, and so it’s hard to criticise it. The Yard gives Madden an opportunity to be more free flowing and frenetic, but it just doesn’t take it.

Basketball and soccer are both already very fast games, so their street versions take that pace into overdrive. Football is much more sluggish and stop-start, but that doesn’t need to continue in the street version of the game. Unfortunately, it does. The Yard is much more energetic than Exhibition, but still goes for pre-set plays with mini breaks between each Down, rather than something with lightning pace, multiple turnovers, and more of an escape from regular Madden. NFL Street, it ain’t.

Verdict

Madden 21

(Image credit: EA)

Madden 21 is like catching the team’s star player out partying until 5am on Super Bowl eve, then still watching him be the MVP in the game. On the field, it’s glorious, and finally fixes a lot of Madden’s issues. But off the field, when you take a look at the game modes, they feel empty, neglected and lazy. Worth getting for a better version of Madden 20’s football, but the rest of the game can’t justify the price tag.

However, the focus on Positive Play and eradicating discrimination and abuse online in all of the menu screens is a nice touch, and hopefully will lead to some follow through on actions throughout the season.

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