The wait was long and the information was sparse, but months after confirming a “free” Madden 21 “enhanced” upgrade was on the way, we finally got next-gen Madden 21. Was this upgrade worth the wait? Well, let’s chat about that in our Madden 21 next-gen review because it’s not a simple question to answer.
There are layers to the question of “being worth the wait” or not, and I think it’s way more complex than just finding out if Madden 21 is the miracle answer to the issues that so many in the community have at this juncture
I have been lucky enough to have played Madden since its inception on the Apple II, written multiple reviews about the game, and this year was involved in the showing of next-gen Madden about two weeks before it became available for public consumption.
I have seen the best of Madden and the worst, but I’ve argued with folks on both ends of that spectrum and kept an open mind. At the end of the day, my only hope was being able to see this franchise start to trend upward again with the next generation of gaming squarely upon us.
If you’re interested in my initial review of Madden 21 on the PS4 and Xbox One X, here it is.
For this discussion, we are only going to focus on the enhanced version(s) and what new things it brings to the table — much like we did with our FIFA 21 next-gen review.
What I Like – Madden 21 Next-Gen Review
Movement And Interaction
This is where M21 absolutely shined for me. The new foot planting and player movement, while not perfect, is a solid upgrade for next gen. It’s a big enough change that it is hard to go back and play the previous-gen versions of the game. Like, really hard. I know not everyone loves the change to the player movement, but I’m very much in the “pro” camp on this one.
There is a real weight to the players when you take control of an individual, and while it feels like we say that almost every year, this is just different. This had such a big impact on my ability to make cuts with a runner and made the overall experience much better than the archaic movement of the last generation.
The movement is fluid and natural looking and adds immensely to the concept of thinking ahead, whether it’s me controlling the player or watching an AI-controlled player.
The in-game player movement also takes place at a slower pace, and while some have also complained about that, I welcome it. It allows statistically-driven animations to play out in a more realistic fashion in front of my eyes.
There is a level of discourse to be had here in terms of finding a “perfect” balance for everyone. Maybe that means altering “game speed” based on the game mode where maybe “simulation” stays at this speed but “competitive” goes to a higher speed setting, but I’m not sure yet that’s the solution. We could also maybe just focus on the moves with the stick feeling more explosive to differentiate power players from speed players more. Either way, the point is I like the core movement and would prefer ways to make “explosive” movements feel better without splitting the user base into a “competitive” and “simulation” buckets.
Now, this is a tricky subject for many as we are all playing on different systems with different TV setups. So, I can only speak to my experience, and that experience was impressive to see in 4K on my TV. The stadiums looked vibrant and expansive, the crowds looked detailed and full, and the uniforms and helmets popped off the screen with an added level of detail and depth. The visuals become even more impressive as you pause and zoom in to see the details of the player’s facial details and skin textures.
Not all is wonderful in the land of visuals as some of the player scans look a bit off. There are also some lighting issues, and some uniforms appear to be a bit off in detail and color.
Sideline Depth And Weather
The sideline depth may seem like an afterthought to many, but for me, it adds to the authenticity of the overall game, and the improvements are welcomed. As I mentioned in my preview, M21 now offers up a sideline in-game that looks a bit more realistic with actual players being represented, and items such as training tables and Gatorade stations being around.
While it isn’t as deep or detailed as I had hoped, it is noticeable, and my hope is they continue with this development as it really does add to the game’s authenticity.
The new weather system is another welcomed, but somewhat flawed addition. While the effects of the snow and rain look good overall, the rain looks better than the snow due to how it makes the jerseys look all wet. Still, these weather effects have no new tangible impacts on the gameplay at all. In the press conference, they did mention that moving forward the goal is to implement a system that looks great and will impact the game as well.
But, yes, watching players and coaches become saturated with rain over time is nice, and so I just hope to see that sort of real-time build-up start to carry into other aspects of the weather now.
There is still work to be done here with both the sidelines and the weather, but new additions are welcomed, and let’s hope these both continue to receive the attention they deserve when future Madden titles drop.
If you happen to watch the video that EA released about how the route running now is depicted in real-time on the field, then you have a much better understanding of why I like this. The video basically describes how the new animation system utilizes real-life stats to help drive the player to not only perform on the field as they do in real life but to do so in a fluid method that better represents the movement and ability of each player.
You can also see it in action a bit here in this OS user clip from TheBleedingRed21:
Early discussion about player movement in #Madden21 next gen. OS peeps seem to like it, but competitive crowd less so. Probably a middle ground between moves working better but keeping weight to general movement. Foot planting via OS user BleedingRed21: https://t.co/ab80fhVJQG
— Operation Sports (@OperationSports) December 4, 2020
When you see how a player now runs certain routes in M21 next gen with an overlapped video of how they did so last generation on the PS4 and Xbox One, it’s almost disturbing to see what we used to have to accept as realistic.
Once again, M21 is still a video game, but I would classify this innovative technology as a game changer, especially moving forward with future iterations.
Haptic Controller Feedback
This is another favorite improvement of mine, and for me, a drastic one. For PlayStation 5 owners, you are lucky enough to feel the game of M21 through your controller in a way that no one has ever experienced.
Whether you are running with a speedy running back or wide receiver or trying to complete a scoop and score with a massive defensive lineman, the weight and athletic ability can be felt directly through the controller.
The pressure-sensitive triggers remind you immediately that not all players in the NFL are created equal, and when you add in fatigue the situation dictates how easy it is to take advantage of a player’s athletic ability or delivers the feeling of stumbling towards the goal line with a dump truck.
The DualSense controller also delivers the ability to hear game sounds through its speaker system, including QB audibles, the play clock ticking down and the rumble of the action that is taking place on the screen. It delivers a very immersive experience, and sadly, one that can only be enjoyed on the PS5.
I am going to keep this short and simple. Has the QB play been drastically improved? No. It has been improved though, and enough for me to take notice. The motion of the QB has changed for the better and the accuracy is seemingly more realistic — and this applies to the AI as well.
I witnessed even the best quarterbacks in the game throw passes that were led a bit too much, a bit too far behind, or just short or over the intended receiver’s head. Again, none of these are drastic improvements, but it’s important to recognize it and my hope is it keeps trending positively — and isn’t ruined with one of EA’s infamous patches to appease certain types of players.
As with many of the improvements there is room for growth, but when we look at the lack of details on the previous generation of consoles and we see these types of improvement with just the free upgrade or enhancement, it gives me hope.
Lastly, the QB “lead” feature also seems to work much better now. This means the ability to throw some back-shoulder passes and lead receivers into space is much more intuitive now and opens up some new passing lanes that do not exist on current gen.
What I Don’t Like – Madden 21 Next-Gen Review
There is a contingency of people who love the new art style and presentation that coincides with both last-gen and next-gen versions of Madden 21. I am not one of them.
While there have been some small improvements to the stadium and team introductions with the enhanced version of M21, it still feels more like an intro to a WWE segment, or a DC or Marvel movie. I get it, it’s a video game that is trying to appease a community that is cross-generational, and trying to achieve that is never an easy accomplishment. It just feels like we could swing back a little towards what we see on TV during game day and stray a bit further from a Michael Bay movie.
We also did get the introduction of “Next-Gen Stats” replays here as well, but otherwise, there’s not a whole lot of new presentation elements to be found. The new replays are sharp and the graphical overlays pop, but again, I wish they were a little more “broadcast” style in terms of camera angles and such than what we get here.
Defensive Secondary Issues (Both Man And Zone)
This is by far the top issue right now.
The secondary was a point of emphasis during the reveal press conference, and while I have seen some moments of improvement, it is evident that there is still a lot more room to get better here. The utilization of Next-Gen Stats supposedly now powers the reactions of the secondary, and real-time stats and abilities were supposed to shine through. On some level that does happen with some slider tweaks (i.e. great corners stand out more), but it’s not great right now.
Man play is easier to beat than on current gen — in part because leading receivers is easier now too — and it just seems like the offense has some built-in advantages.The irony of this is that completion percentages themselves are in a better place on next gen than they were on current gen because they have been consistently lower now (again, especially in games versus the AI).
On top of the man coverage, zone coverage is where the deficiencies really seem to be popping up, and it’s not just tied to one specific zone coverage. What’s worse is that the zone issues aren’t consistent enough to me to point at this or that and say “fix this” to help everything else. Sometimes it’s logic, sometimes it’s the player’s lack of reaction, and sometimes it’s awareness after the fact.
EA is looking into this, but my initial take is I don’t know if this is really an “easy” fix. Part of next gen’s movement means that “usering” was nerfed a healthy amount, and so issues that already existed on current gen are more pronounced in some ways on next gen now because you can’t hide them with a good user. In theory, that’s not bad because most of us also didn’t like a user being able to cover three different sorts of routes on the same play due to unrealistic closing speed, but it also now means the AI needs to get on another level.
In other words, if I call the right coverage and bait my opponent into something, I want to get that payoff more than I am right now. I don’t want “psychic” DBs or anything, and blown coverages should still exist because they’re a part of football, but what’s happening here isn’t falling into the proper results buckets.
Beyond that, I need to be able to trust my AI teammates. If they are just abandoning their coverage assignments randomly, then how can I trust my play calls and not feel like I have to rely on usering?
Depth Of Enhancements
— Operation Sports (@OperationSports) December 3, 2020
While I loved the new player movement, route running and controller feedback, some of the enhancements weren’t quite as aesthetically pleasing or as deep as others. I expected more depth and focus on the sidelines, wanted more from the secondary, and the presentation style needs to focus on a more realistic approach.
In my preview of the upgraded version of Madden 21, I spoke about franchise mode, and while there will be two more upgrades before the transition to next year’s title, they will not be next-gen specific. At this stage, most fans and EA developers understand the staleness that has permeated franchise mode, and while CFM can still provide a fun experience, a strong focus on additions and upgrades need to take place starting with Madden 22.
Bugs And Glitches
I have seen some amazing animations with M21 on both my PS5 and Xbox Series X, but I have also seen enough “wonkiness” for me to mention it.
Players getting crushed and standing still with no reaction. Players tripping and falling for no apparent reason. Players running through each other. Linemen standing there and doing nothing after the ball has been snapped. No, none of these things happen constantly, but they happen enough to warrant a mention. And when you include the secondary issues and the odd lighting issue, it’s not a “me” issue, it’s a “them” issue.
The upgraded version of next-gen Madden 21 is a pretty big step in the right direction and really helps create a solid foundation to build upon for future versions. I had lost interest in playing Madden 21 on the current-gen systems, and I gave myself two weeks to play the enhanced version to push past the honeymoon phase. What I found was a renewed interest in Madden, which was surprising but welcomed. So much so, in fact, that I have found myself deep into year two of my franchise and am still looking forward to year three.
That’s the good, and there is plenty of it. Sadly, the good doesn’t negate the negative that is still there in this franchise. As mentioned, there are still issues within the title that need to be addressed for much of the community to start to embrace Madden again — namely, pass coverage. In addition, not everything received the attention it deserves (namely franchise mode), and it’s why this is a “free” upgrade rather than being pushed as a full-on new game like NBA 2K21 next gen.
I’ve listed the improvements and the areas that still require some love and attention, and I could continue on forever with breaking down the good and bad of the Madden franchise. My point is it’s now up to the developers, and more importantly, the ones at EA who make these decisions to keep building on what they have delivered here. Next-gen movement is a good thing. Next-gen routes are a good thing. A “nerfed” user does not inherently need to be considered a bad thing.
There’s going to be arguments within the community about where gameplay should go, and obviously everyone should be heard, but it’s also time for the developers and stakeholders at EA decide what type of game they want to make. Madden 21 can be the base for a good “simulation” football game on the field. But will EA focus on fixing AI and invest in it in the future, or will the developers revert to trying to make the user more “powerful” rather than actually create that next-gen AI?
In short, Madden is never as bad or as good as what forums or social media will have you believe, and they should never be used as the barometer. There have been some substantial improvements made with the generational leap, specifically on the gameplay front, and now it’s up to EA to keep this train rolling.