It is that time of year again as football fans eagerly await the release of their sole choice for NFL bliss on console and PC. This year feels a bit different though as the folks at EA Sports in charge of the Madden 22 franchise mode have promised big changes, so that of course that plays into this Madden 22 review. Fans have waited a very long time to hear that sort of promise from EA, so I spent a lot of time in franchise mode for this review, but fear not, I’ll cover much more than just that, so let’s dig into things here.
Madden 22 Review – What I Like
A lot of the improvements in Madden 22 are the type that can be felt and seen. Sometimes EA sort of tries to tell us “XYZ” has been improved, but then you pick up the sticks and it doesn’t really seem different. But what I see and feel on the field this year that is improved comes in the form of better player movement and additional animations that were added to create a more authentic look and feel.
Player momentum has also seen a tangible upgrade as weight, ability, and direction now play a larger part in how tackling or blocking sequences play out. The ability to cut on a dime in an unrealistic fashion has been greatly reduced, and in my experience, the running game feels as good as it has in years.
The momentum improvements to the players have the biggest impact on the field, especially during short-yardage situations such as goal line and fourth-down scenarios. The momentum and player weight also shine during tackling sequences when bigger and stronger players make more of an impact than more agile players. The animations go a long way in making me feel like I was watching players replicate how they move and perform when I watch on TV or sit in a stadium.
That said, I did see some animation quirks, such as ball carriers tackling the defender, running backs switching uniforms mid-carry (no, really), and players running straight past my return man, through the wall, and out of the stadium without ever losing a step.
Now, a lot of those things have been reduced since the patch was dropped — PS, it’s no fun reviewing a sports game that drops a large patch right before launch — but reduced does not mean eliminated. Even with some of the odd animations and glitches, Madden 22 looks visually appealing and consistently representative of what we see on Sundays.
This mode has always been and will always be my “go-to” mode when it comes to the Madden series or any other football series for that matter.
Football lends itself extremely well to the idea of running a franchise because the seasons are only 17 games (plus playoffs if applicable), and the draft and rookies can have an instant impact in year one.
As has been well documented, fans have grown tired of seeing the same options, the lack of immersion, and seeing their favorite mode treated as a castoff. Surprisingly though, EA’s Clint Oldenburg revealed that over 80 percent of Madden players partake in franchise mode, and the company has made it a priority starting last year to make it a focus for the foreseeable future.
So here we are in what amounts to year two of this overhaul, and I like where things are headed. The new additions of franchise staff and skill trees, weekly strategy, new season engine, and an improved franchise hub are felt. And when that overhauled scouting system is delivered in September, that should be another very important upgrade.
The team also went further and implemented the highly touted Dynamic Gameday feature that was promised to see teams play as they do in real life, momentum swings that can alter the way each team plays, and an AI that is smarter and more intuitive when it comes to decision making on the field.
All of this sounds great if it is — wait for it — implemented correctly. Thankfully, most of it has been integrated correctly and it works more or less how it seems to have been designed.
That said, some of the new additions have less of an impact than what I was anticipating. For example, a filled out momentum meter is supposed to allow certain players to take over the game in ways that we see happen often in real life. For me, the momentum meter feels a bit gimmicky, and it has impacted my approach to the game very little. I often found myself forgetting it was even part of the equation. That’s not to say that you can’t feel the momentum swinging in-game as it is tangible, but it feels more like a new visual toy that’s there to show you something that has sort of been in Madden already under the hood.
As I mentioned, the game also features a new skill tree for your coaching staff. This will feel familiar to fans of NCAA Football 14. The more goals you accomplish throughout a game and season, the more points you acquire, and those points can be spent to unlock new abilities and discounts on certain items and options found within franchise mode.
This works well, but please take note that there are no shortcuts, and the grind is real to unlock a lot of these options. In fact, the more desirable attributes and unlocks will be difficult to unlock until later in the season or even in year two, and that is what I was hoping for.
Progressive fatigue is also a new feature. It is one that has had an immediate impact on franchises from day one. As the head coach, you have to decide how hard to push your players throughout the week of practice. Push them too hard and fatigue will set in over the course of the season, or even result in a weekly injury. Give them too much rest and their skills and production will start to suffer.
The new additions definitely help boost the authenticity of franchise mode, and while there is still a ways to go with new additions that need to happen, this year feels like a new start — and that’s a relief.
If you’re a fan of football in general (like me), then your love probably goes beyond just the field itself. While the action on the field will always take precedent, the roar of the crowd, the halftime show, the tailgating, the fan camaraderie, and the pageantry of each weekend plays a large part in what made me fall in love with the sport in the first place.
The developers at EA have finally made the in-game presentation a priority, and while the strides made this year aren’t genre-defining, they are — you guessed it — a step in the right direction.
So, what’s different this year? For starters, during any franchise or exhibition game, you now notice a lot more cutscenes of the crowds, and some of these scenes capture what EA describes as superfans. You know, the people who wear cheese on their heads, paint their faces, or come dressed as if they’re playing in the game.
Along with the new dynamic crowd scenes to make the stadium feel more vibrant and alive, the presentation package also includes some wonderful new scenes from outside the stadiums.
Play a game at Soldier Field, and you will see the magnificent skyline of Chicago playing a supporting actor role in the background. Play at the Saints’ iconic Superdome, and you will get a glance outside of the dome with the surrounding city showing it’s alive, which is quite impressive at night. Each team has its own unique shot of familiarity, and while some are more impressive and detailed than others, they all add that feeling of next-level presentation.
Some of the upgrades also go beyond what is seen in and out of each stadium, such as the revamped graphics package for the Next-Gen Stats overlay(s), or deeper commentary that now includes more game and player-specific chat, and a slightly upgraded halftime show.
The upgrades and additions are welcomed and help the game move past a presentation style that has either felt gimmicky or stale.
There is still a lot that can be added here, such as a deeper halftime show, refs on the field, in-game highlights of other games taking place, and hopefully one day the return of the Sam Spence NFL catalog, or at the very least, the ability to add our own music.
The presentation is a nice upgrade for a one-year development cycle, and let’s hope it remains a priority again for the next few iterations until we hopefully have a fully integrated broadcast package.
Madden 22 Review – What I Don’t Like
Face Of The Franchise
If you have played any of the recent Madden titles, then you are all too familiar with the “MyPlayer” type mode that sees you take the role of an upcoming talent before directing his path to the NFL.
That mode is back in Madden 22 with Face of the Franchise, and if you have played this mode before, this year’s version will feel eerily similar in most respects.
Face of the Franchise allows you to choose a position, choose your strengths, and decide what type of skills will allow your player to shine. I chose quarterback as it gave me the best option to have an instant impact both at the college and pro level.
As many of you know, your character starts out as a five-star high school recruit, and the game allows you to choose from a list of colleges that want you. This list is the same as seen in Madden 21, but still, you have high-caliber schools to pick from in the form of Clemson, Oklahoma, LSU, and others.
I have always enjoyed the collegiate aspect of this mode, but even then, it feels a bit tacked on and contrived, and the enjoyment comes from the fact that we as digital football fans were stripped away from any true collegiate experience with the removal of the NCAA Football series.
I played through the entire mode well into my NFL career, and for me, Face of the Franchise feels mundane and tedious to get through at this point. My biggest issue is it focuses on a story mode that really has no density to it and felt like I was just along for the ride. (Also, I am doing my best to keep details out of this as to not ruin the experience for others.)
My list of issues doesn’t stop there, as I chose to be a QB and was drafted by, of all teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars. The same team that suffered through a horrendous 2020 campaign to have the right to select former Clemson standout, Trevor Lawrence, as their star QB of the future.
Now, given no real background of what has taken place, it makes zero sense that the same team who just drafted Lawrence and Etienne in the first round of last year’s draft would draft me as QB in the first round. So, either the brain-trust of Khan, Baalke, and Meyer down in Jacksonville has some extremely bad information about Lawrence it is not willing to reveal, or this makes no sense in the world of NFL football.
Situations like these absolutely kill the immersion for me, and I’m afraid it will do the same for many others. In the end, the mode just felt like I was playing a series of cutscenes and involved in a story that I have seen play out repeatedly with this mode.
Thankfully, before rushing to get a review out first, I waited until the first patch dropped that was sent out to correct the secondary issues. I say thankfully because the words I had written before the patch were of the nature I have rarely used before in any review.
Now that the patch has dropped, I have seen some improvement, specifically in the cover 2 formation post-patch, but not all is perfect. There are still instances where I see my cornerback(s) and safety confused and slow to react, and occasionally just not understand their defensive responsibility altogether.
I wish I could say this was all due to low ratings, inconsistent play due to youth or inexperience, or bad playcalling on my part. The most transparent answer is that is due to poor programming or legitimately favoring the odds for the CPU.
I say this because I spent hours watching replays of how the CPU defense reacts, and if my defense played as aggressively and consistently as the CPU defense did, the secondary would be listed as something I liked during this review.
I appreciate that the development team was so quick to react and address the secondary issues, and the patch has helped. Hopefully, this is something they can continue to refine and correct before the actual season starts. I say this because playing defense in Madden 22, as I alluded to earlier, is something that has been an awful lot of fun when using the front seven.
Glitches And Bugs And Errors, Oh My!
From early access to the full-blown retail version of Madden 22, glitches can be found everywhere. From presentation to on-field gameplay, these little inconsistencies and bugs were prevalent throughout my time with the title.
From players switching uniforms in the middle of the play to offensive players with the ball trying to tackle the defender, warped logos, and final scores that aren’t indicative of the final score that took place.
I wish it ended there, but it doesn’t, as I also witnessed fans holding signs for opposing teams, fans dressed in t-shirts and shorts during snowstorms, and whole teams that just disappear from the screen as if the rapture had just taken place.
It’s not that Madden 22 has graphical issues. It’s just that the amount of bugs feels overwhelming at times. These are head-scratching issues that I am not sure can be fixed in one cycle by the process of patching.
I wouldn’t describe many of the bugs I experienced as game-breaking issues, but when added together, they start to take their toll on the overall on-field experience and greatly reduce the level of depth they were trying to create with the newly implemented Dynamic Gameday feature.
My love affair with Madden 22 felt, at times, more like a toxic relationship. I want to love it, and it wants to love me, but all we do is argue about who should have done the dishes.
Madden 22 has some issues this year, and clearly the development team is working as fast as it can to either mitigate or eradicate each of these issues. What is bothersome is that this title passed through quality control and the powers that be felt it was reasonable to release in this state.
What’s even worse is that I am addicted to the fun the game provides. Make no mistake, the addictive nature of Madden 22 is not stemming from some proverbial honeymoon phase. The title feels re-energized on the field with the new animations, player weight, and momentum. Because of these additions, the developers have taken a stale product and reinvigorated it with a long overdue shot of adrenaline.
True, a lot of the upgrades and improvements are not what many would consider “back of the box” key features. The improvements are more subtle with Madden 22 and what I would describe as “under the hood” tweaks, but I welcome that approach with open arms.
When the additional franchise upgrades drop in September, that will elevate the overall experience even more (I hope). Additions that will include new scouting options, positional scouting, scouting assignments, regional focus, and a dynamic “big board” that will see the best athletes’ power rankings go up and down as the scouting season progresses.
Madden 22 seems to be, again, the foundational building block for this new direction. On-field improvements, additional animations that look more realistic, stadiums that feel more alive, and gameplay that mimics how each team plays in real life can be attributed to this foundational transition.
My hope is that the developers iron out the issues for next year and continue down this path of straying away from new modes to continue to build and strengthen the core gameplay and bolster franchise mode with new additions.
Madden 22 is, simply put, a blast to play at times, but it comes with some issues that may take longer to iron out than a single patch can provide. I have come to terms with that, and thus Madden 22 feels like a title that will be in my rotation throughout the NFL season.