Madden games have become a yearly tradition but, at the same time, have grown a bit stale among avid sports gamers. Madden NFL 21 hopes taking things to The Yard literally in a new game mode will bring much-needed new energy to the game.
Last week EA gave us our first look at The Yard in regards to how it works on the mobile iteration of the video game, and now its time to see the console and PC version of the new game mode. Hip-Hop Wired was able to get hands-on with the new game mode in a virtual preview led by The Yard’s developer JP Kalloway, and honestly, it was entertaining to play.
So again, what is The Yard? Well, it’s a new way for players to enjoy Madden but taking the complexity of professional football out of the game and swapping it for the fun style of play we all experienced as kids when playing backyard football. When you hop into The Yard, laterals are legal, double-passes can happen, and yes, even the 1-Mississippi count is there. Speaking on his brainchild, Kalloway stated:
“Our first experiences with football are usually in the backyard. The playground is also home to many of the fondest of football memories; where end zones are the end of a parking lot or a tree line, and Mississippi isn’t just a place, but a rule. These feelings, and the fun they represent, live on past the backyard in flag football, 7-on-7 drills, and improvisation of downtime during practice.”
“The Yard is built to make that feeling a reality in Madden. Where you can pick up a ball, be anyone, line up anywhere, and play both sides of the ball. The rules and goals may change depending on where you play, but the game is always the same – how can you keep the play going and create amazing moments.”
So how does it play?
Well, before you get on the field, you have to create your avatar, which will be the “center of the experience” as Kalloway states. The Yard introduces Madden’s most expansive create-a-player feature yet allowing you to go into great detail when making a virtual version of yourself. You will be able to customize everything on avatar from your hairstyle down to if you want your player to have a gut, yes you can give your custom character a belly. But, what makes your avatar stand out from the rest is the on-field drip you can acquire through playing, and you can tell the team worked very hard on this aspect of The Yard, we will get into more detail about that in a second. Sadly there isn’t face-scanning technology like NBA 2K uses via its mobile app to really make you feel like you’re a part of the game, but Kalloway did reveal its something they did consider using and could be in a future Madden game.
Now that your avatar has been created, it’s time to choose a prototype to model your player after. Prototypes are based on NFL stars past and present and will determine your avatar’s playstyle giving you many ways to play the game. Prototypes are comprised of three main components:
- X-Factor: Each Prototype comes with a unique X-Factor that cannot be changed and feature unique unlocks.
- Abilities: You will be granted a few at the start but can obtain more by leveling up your Prototype or by playing Face of the Franchise: Rise to Fame. Each Prototype can slot two abilities.
- Skill Points: These are also earned by leveling up the Prototype that you have currently equipped.
At launch, Kalloway revealed there will be a couple of Prototypes available per position. Now that we are speaking about positions, this is an excellent time to point out The Yard will introduce ironman football to Madden, meaning the players will play both offense and defense. Before you hit the field, you will be asked what positions you want your player to play, and it’s broken down in a unique way.
- Quaterback + Safey: Calls Offensive Plays
- Center + Middle Linebacker: Calls Defensive Plays
- Left WR + Right CB
- Right WR + Left CB
- Slot WR + Slot CB
- Halfback + Outside Linebacker: Head Coach
Now just because you choose a particular position doesn’t mean you have to play that way. Being that you have the freedom to choose what prototype you want to rock with before the game, it allows you to strategize ahead of time.
So yeah, you will see players like Kirk Cousins on defense strange enough but don’t believe for a second that will hurt your squad because their stats in that department have been slightly buffed up, so the concept works. Now that you have your player set and ready to go, the game will randomly draft your team for you based on location when you play against the CPU.
The Yard will also support squad play allowing one to three players to join up. Unlike regular 11 v 11 rules, The Yard introduces unique 6 v 6 competitions with a unique set of rules. Each avatar will be assigned a player to control along with their created baller.
Once on the field, the action begins on the 40-yard line there is no kicking in The Yard. The idea is to basically run-up on the score on your opponent. That is achieved by not just scoring touchdowns, but also making it as flashy as possible. TDs still are worth six points, but you can add to that by utilizing either laterals or the double-pass, which adds an additional two bonus points. If you score on a play that is longer than 40 yards, you will get one bonus point. Extra points following a successful score are up to you as well. You can either go for one, two, or three, based on how far you are from the goal-line. Again, placekickers are frowned upon in The Yard.
A good defense is also rewarded, specifically interceptions, which will give you one bonus point for successfully taking the ball away from the offense. Fumbles, unfortunately, are not worth anything due to the frequent nature of them happening on the field.
Now we know The Yard does focus on backyard football, but that’s not where the action will take place. The Yard will take players on a world tour to four unique locations available at launch, and they are:
- Miami Port – a portside environment where you will take on some of South Florida’s best.
- Lambeau Tailgate – This venue outside of Lambeau Field will introduce you to Packers
stars and NFC North rivals.
- F.O.B. Nico – a Forward Operating Base in an undisclosed location, this location is filled
with NFL Combine stars who found the dog in them.
- Brandenburg Football Festival – A field situated in front of Berlin’s famed Brandenburg Gate. This festival brings the NFL’s Pro Bowl stars to Europe in some of the hardest challenges The Yard has to offer.
As previously mentioned, each location will have feature players unique to the locale, and players will be able to earn gear specifically available to that field. Kalloway didn’t get in specifics but did state we can expect more locations to come to The Yard.
Speaking of gear, that’s where The Yard truly stands out from the other modes. At launch, there will be 2,000 unique pieces of on-field swag available for players to earn and lace their avatars with which help make those double-passes, lateral plays, and ankle-breaking moments even flashier. There are multiple ways to obtain the gear, either by earning cred as you play or by leveling up your Prototype, which has its own specific equipment or completing challenges at the venues. Also, players can look forward to a level ranking path that will unlock gear unique to that season.
With our brief hands-on experience with The Yard, we walked away quite impressed with the new game mode. It brought a new sense of fun and competition to the game. During one game session, the match came down to an interception, and our team lost 8 to 7, but it felt high-stakes as we tried to secure the win on our last set of downs. There is no play clock, and each team gets a certain amount of offensive possessions, so you have to make the most of them.
We can definitely see this mode becoming a favorite among Madden players quickly. Now, if you’re worried about The Yard replacing the Superstar K.O. game mode, it won’t, JP Kalloway confirmed the mode that featured Hip-Hop artists Snoop Dogg, The Migos, Lil Yachty, and DJ Khaled will return to Madden NFL 21.
Keep it locked to Hip-Hop Wired for a full review of Madden NFL 21 coming soon until then peep the trailer for The Yard below.
Photo: EA Sports / Madden NFL 21