Thanks to COVID-19, there is a bit of uncertainty in the air when it comes to wondering if we will actually see NFL games played this year. With that in mind, EA’s annual football game Madden NFL 21 will have a more significant role in delivering football fanatics their pigskin action. But does this year’s iteration of the popular football video game franchise give the quality fans have come to expect?
I’m gonna keep it a buck, it’s been a while since a Madden game has pulled me in, and I was hoping that Madden NFL 21 would be that game to lure back into the franchise that I once loved as a kid going into my teen years. The game’s marginal improvements failed to keep me excited about the football video game franchise, and the new game modes did little to keep me playing. Sadly this is also the case with this year’s game.
Just by looking at the game, you come to appreciate how good it looks from the crisp animations, detailed player models, and the true-to-life stadiums, but that’s when you’re when looking at them from afar while zoomed out. Once you get in close, that’s when things get a bit underwhelming. The players and coach’s faces are lifeless, and the crowd, despite playing on a powerful console like Xbox One S, looks like the cardboard cutouts Major League Baseball teams are using to fill seats in the empty stadiums while they play.
What’s really disappointing is how EA fails to bring the fantastic presentation that the NFL has come to be known for on Sunday and Monday to the game. Before EA gobbled up the NFL license, Visual Concepts NFL 2K franchise had that department in the bag and became a favorite among football video game players because of it. In Madden NFL 21, there is no extensive pre-game show detailing all of the in-depth-stats we would typically see before a football game. The halftime show is just a stat board with some narration from Jonathan Coachman and, don’t even bother asking about a post-game show.
As far as actual gameplay, there are improvements in that department. The new “Skill Stick” makes playing offense even more fun by allowing the players to pull over juke moves, spins precise. Running the ball is better than ever thanks to how fluid the “Skill Stick” feels when pulling off evasive actions to avoid defenders, and following blocks is even better than ever. Remember when players would just run you over all the time? That is a thing of the past due to the running lanes being slimmer and having to follow blocks more precisely.
On defense, playing as a defensive lineman and putting pressure on the quarterback is much more fun thanks to the new Pass Rush ability system that features new moves to help you get around offensive linemen. Defensive backs are now more aggressive than ever when it comes to snatching interceptions, and it can become annoying, especially when playing on more challenging levels. You almost have to laugh watching them recover so quickly after they get beat by a receiver only to break up the play. Linebackers who were absolutely menaces in Madden NFL 20 have been nerfed, making it much harder to play the position in the game.
X-Factor and Superstar abilities, which were debut in Madden NFL 20 and quickly became a fan favorite, are back with some new additions. Superstar abilities are unique attributes that individual superstars have that make them stand out from other players. For example, Closer, allows that player to come in the second half of a game already in the zone. As for X-Factor abilities, think of it being a superpower for NFL players. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes has the “Bazooka” X-Factor, which adds 15 yards to a player’s maximum throwing distance, up to 80 years, as if Mahomes needs any more advantages.
Now its time to get into the game modes.
Face of The Franchise: Rise To Fame
Madden NFL 21’s story-driven mode is very disappointing. Plagued by a bad story and choices feature that really doesn’t affect anything, the experience gets old really fast. Your created character starts off as a backup QB to Tommy Matthews, who is voiced by X-Men: Apocalypse actor Ty Sheridan, who quickly becomes a pain in the ass every time he makes an appearance. For whatever reason, the story revolves around Mattews heart condition and whether you want to be a good teammate and support him or capitalize on the situation.
You eventually get a shot to be a high school football standout, a star in college, and make your way to the Rookie Combine and NFL Draft. One pleasant treat Face of The Franchise grants is you the ability to play with college teams.
The experience is merely cosmetic because your performance really doesn’t affect what happens in your career next. Once you get drafted, the story doesn’t;t end and you can continue to play the mode to acquire points for The Yard.
Speaking of The Yard, it is easily the best thing about Madden NFL 21. The fun new mode brings backyard football to the game and is a fast-paced, action-packed experience. The 6v6 mode, which can easily be compared to NFL Blitz or NFL Street, features NFL superstars taking on each other in a backyard football game setting.
There are no quarters, no time limit, the field is 80-yards, and with each side getting only three offensive possessions to score. Kickers are non-existent, and each team begins on its own 20-yard line.
Players can hike the ball to any player on your squad and throw the ball multiple times while behind the line of scrimmage. The idea of the game is to run up the score on your opponent as much as possible, and you can do that by getting interceptions, which equals one-point. Touchdowns can also be worth more based on things like how many behind passes you did behind the line of scrimmage before the touchdown throw. The whole point of the mode is to grind, level up, and acquire as much loot as possible so you can purchase yourself funky looking football threads.
While The Yard is fun, a lack of a franchise structure or league format hampers it. BUT, it’s still fun competing with random people online and is a welcomed distraction to the other glaring issues that plague Madden NFL 21.
Madden Ultimate Team & Franchise Mode
Both of these modes are very forgettable. Madden Ultimate Team, which will have you open random packs of cards that contain NFL players of past and present and will put them on your team, is bogged down with microtransactions. Franchise Mode, which is Madden’s most popular game modes, is screaming for an update, but for whatever reason, EA won’t fix it opting to leave it as is despite the many complaints about it.
Despite enjoying the hell out The Yard, there is just not enough for me to rave about this game. It just feels that since EA has no direct competition, they have taken their foot off the gas with Madden, which is considered the crown jewel of the game studio. Being that it’s the only NFL licensed simulation football game, I expect Madden NFL 21 to still sell well and fans to “tolerate” it till next year. Hopefully, EA will take the criticism that is undoubtedly going to come from long-time Madden players and use it to bring the video game franchise back to the quality we have to go to love and expect. Unfortunately, Madden NFL 21 is not it, but I will say they are onto something with The Yard, which is the game’s most significant bright spot.
Photo: EA Sports / Madden NFL 21