Madden 24 Review: Excels on the Field but Stumbles Elsewhere

The running joke within the Madden community for years now has been how often reviewers will label the newest installment in the series as “something to build on” or “a step in the right direction.” The truth is though that each game usually does make incremental progress towards becoming the football simulation it purports to be. My own review of Madden 23 attempted to underscore this in noting how fitting it is that football is a game of inches after all.

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In what has been described as a “make or break year,” Madden 24 certainly fits into that same pattern, showing significant gains in some respects but not without the usual glitches and signs of neglect in other areas. There’s a stale whiff of familiarity that permeates throughout the game, suggesting that rather than trying to continue to build on its creaky foundation year after year, it may instead be time to start an overhaul.

The good news is that the biggest improvements in Madden 24 are felt on the field, where many of the frustrating kinks plaguing gameplay have been ironed out to have the action unfolding more smoothly by and large. From offensive lines that showcase better logic when opening up holes in the run game to defenses that will fiercely patrol their assigned zones, there are fewer moments where you’re left scratching your head at what a player was thinking.

But in a year when franchise mode was calling out to be considered a priority by EA Tiburon, the updates here are relatively minor and its shaky framework returns largely intact. Meanwhile, Madden Ultimate Team appears to cater even more than usual to those who are willing to spend money on packs in order to compete while leaving the casual offline player out in the cold.

Madden 24 Review

What I Like

Player Models And Animations

Continuing Madden‘s grand tradition of slapping fancy names on fairly rudimentary innovations (anyone remember LocoMotion or even last year’s FieldSense that returns here?), the new Sapien technology introduces revamped player models that generally allow for the kind of differentiation between positions that you’d expect. The physiques of players definitely tend to look more realistic in the heat of a game rather than in the menus, where everyone seems to resemble some funhouse mirror version of themselves. It’s also peculiar how you can create a coach or player of substantial size and yet the weight you have assigned them is never really represented accurately in their avatar.

The interactions between these updated player models produce a wider array of animations, most of which make sense contextually during a play, including some new dynamic ones to go with others that have seemingly been around for ages. This is especially evident in tackling, where there aren’t quite as many instances of players defying physics when the force of their strength and momentum crash into each other. That’s not to say you won’t still see some strange collisions from time to time, particularly at the the ends of plays when ball-carriers are swarmed by gang tackles or when limbs jumble together afterwards as players rise to their feet.

Madden 24

The Running Game

Racking up yards on the ground takes a nice step forward in Madden 24 and that hinges, as you might expect, on offensive line play. Blockers are better at getting a hat on a hat with their assignments to open up small creases and the occasional gaping hole for your running back to slip through. You’ll even see blockers start a running play by double teaming a defensive tackle before quickly getting off that block and scampering downfield to throw DBs around like rag dolls in the second level of defenders for a potentially big play. Some outside runs that were to be avoided at all costs in the past because of faulty offensive line logic have finally become viable weapons to keep your opponent from clogging up the middle. The slower speed of Madden 24 limits the number of plays that feel as if they’re over before they started — like they could in the past when the defense got an initial push into the backfield.

The same praise can’t quite be bestowed upon pass protection though, which might have taken baby steps forward in picking up blitzes (it helps that pass rushers don’t seem as unstoppable), but it’s not uncommon to see those same annoying plays from last year where a blocker won’t even so much as lay a finger on the defender directly across from him as he heads towards the quarterback. In this department, it almost feels like both the defensive line and offensive line have sort of gone the wrong direction to an extent. Dominant pass rushers don’t feel as dominant as they should (and struggle to contain the QBs on contains) because when the offensive line picks up their man, elite defenders don’t get enough push. But when the defensive line does win, it usually feels more due to a missed block than a “win” by the defender.

Also, just to be clear, one of the single worst things about Madden gameplay (and has been for years) is the lack of a pocket that is formed during pass plays. It is a fundamental issue that needs to be fixed at some point because many issues elsewhere stem from the lack of a realistic pocket forming.

Opponent And Teammate AI

madden nfl 24 trial

A key reason why games versus the CPU in Madden 24 are more immersive than last year is that the AI behaves in a way that’s at least somewhat human. Their QBs are no longer quite as robotic as they could be in the past about methodically picking apart defenses, even on the highest All-Madden difficulty. They instead will display greater variance from game to game, with the elite passers routinely showcasing pinpoint accuracy and sound decision-making against you while lesser QBs are prone to errant and dumb throws that yield interceptions. CPU running backs (and even quarterbacks for that matter) will tear through holes in your defense and aren’t afraid to bust out ankle-breaking spins and jukes to elude your tackles and maximize yardage.

The AI advancements are also apparent on defense, where superior players in coverage are better at staying in the back pocket of receivers. While this could make it harder for you to move the ball on offense versus the CPU, it actually will serve to help you in online games because there aren’t quite as many exploits players can use to confuse your AI-controlled defenders. Coaches on CPU teams don’t behave as idiotically in key situations of the game either, navigating the murky waters of when to call timeouts or go for it on 4th down with savvy decisions the majority of the time.

You only wish some of that intelligence translated to the coach’s suggestions section of your play-calling, as you’ll see the same lack of variety in their choices as there’s been since the feature was first introduced. Receivers and running backs can also still show a lack of awareness when they get hung up on linemen as they go out to run a pass route, which is a legacy issue that’s been in the game for a long time now.

Superstar Mode

The return of Superstar mode succeeds by keeping things simple and consolidating previous modes Face of the Franchise and The Yard under one larger umbrella. It abandons the needless cutscenes of an NBA 2K storyline in favor of a loose narrative that’s more in the vein of MLB The Show‘s Road To The Show. This translates to an average week leading up to a game featuring an occasional interaction with players or front office, an on-field mini-game drill here and there, and some text-based training choices. A surprising highlight is the mode’s initial combine to assess your created player’s skills heading into the draft. Tests like the 40-yard dash and bench press are challenging and nuanced enough to make for an Olympics-style mini-game of its own.

In Superstar Showdown, you can take your player’s abilities online in quick 3-on-3 games that scratch the same itch for ludicrous arcade action that The Yard previously fulfilled. As you rack up skill points by playing games either in Superstar Showdown or in games for your NFL team, you can improve your player’s attributes and focus on tailoring whatever strengths will serve you the best on both offense and defense.

You’re unfortunately slightly limited in your choice of position for your player in that you can’t be a lineman of any sort. The camera angle used during games can also still be a little distracting, particularly when trying to track passes out of your quarterback’s hand as a receiver or running back. While some may appreciate the freedom, it also doesn’t make a lot of sense from a realism perspective that you can call your own plays and it would be nice to have an option that sees coaches picking the plays for you.

What I Don’t Like

Franchise

After Madden 23‘s franchise mode suffered the kind off bugs that saw entire online leagues permanently deleted and affected users being offered a discount off Madden 24, there was every expectation that the mode might see some real attention this year. That hasn’t really turned out to be the case though, as the addition of more cities where you can relocate teams and extra trade slots when working deals do little to distract from the fact that the skeleton of the mode returns largely untouched. Even a welcome update like the ability to turn off the game’s overpowered and unrealistic momentum and homefield advantage mechanic has been marred by the fact that it wasn’t working at launch.

You can expect to quickly fall back into the usual tired cycle of handling weekly tasks like press conferences, locker room or front office interactions, and progression opportunities that are based on how you perform on the field. The development traits for players haven’t substantially changed, meaning that all players are still separated into just a handful of tiers (normal, star, superstar, or X-Factor) when it’s clear that the process in real life is a little more dynamic than that. The scouting system that was only introduced a few years back has now been around long enough to declare that’s it’s not really that much better than the previous system. The new training camp activities grow tiresome quickly and the return of mini-games during your team’s weekly training of players only serves as a reminder of why they were removed in the first place.

Rather than getting the full-scale upgrade that many were expecting after last year’s debacle, it’s disheartening to instead find that franchise improvements in Madden 24 amount to a few hollow changes that don’t meaningfully alter your experience.

MUT

There’s nothing that hasn’t already been said before about the most predatory tendencies of card-collecting modes that doesn’t apply to Madden Ultimate Team in Madden 24. To help in building your team, there’s a surprising lack of solo challenges available at launch that could be completed to unlock viable players. The mode’s field passes, where you can complete objectives to unlock tiers for rewards, include a competitive one that all but requires you to play against others online.

By continuously funneling you into online play in this manner, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll come up against plenty of players who have spent big money to assemble an elite squad. The diabolical gambit from EA’s perspective appears to be hoping that this will inspire you to head to the mode’s store yourself so you can spend some money as well to try to keep up with the Joneses of the MUT world. This is a far cry from the model of MLB The Show‘s comparable Diamond Dynasty mode where high-end cards are just as accessible to offline players willing to put in some effort versus the CPU.

Menus

To put it simply, the menus in Madden 24 are extremely slow and laggy, making the process of navigating through its various screens a time-consuming annoyance. This only calls to attention just how poorly laid out some of the menus are throughout the game too, often requiring you to push more buttons than should be needed to get where you want to go. It’s entirely possible a patch will alleviate this issue in the future, but it’s not exactly a great first impression at launch when the menus for a next-gen game feel as if they remain firmly entrenched in the last gen.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking to pick up Madden 24 for a casual game of football, you’ll be happy to find that the on-field product has never been quite this smooth and realistic. The new player models are far from perfect, but they produce animations that do a better job at adhering to the laws of physics when body parts are colliding at various speeds and angles. Games in any modes versus the CPU are more exciting than they’ve been in the past because the game’s AI has improved to the point where players will unleash their full array of skills against you and make smarter decisions based on the game’s situation. Superstar mode makes a welcome return that starts with a fun pre-draft combine before leading to a streamlined NFL career that succeeds by keeping things relatively simple.

For all the talk of franchise mode receiving attention in Madden 24 after being a complete disaster zone last year, there has not been the kind of innovative changes that fans hoped for and instead it leans more towards minor quality-of-life improvements. Madden Ultimate Team milks little enjoyment from collecting cards and building a team as competing online against others will likely require shelling out real money even more so than in the past because of the way the mode is designed. The game’s menus lag like crazy and that makes navigating through any of them a tedious experience.

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Author
Kevin Scott
Kevin Scott is a writer and video producer who's been contributing to Operation Sports since 2016. He's primarily been focused during this time on any and all video games related to football, baseball, basketball, hockey and golf. He lives in Toronto and still believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that someday the Leafs will finally win the Stanley Cup again.