During the next couple weeks leading up to the launches of the PS5 and Xbox Series X, we’ll be talking about next-gen sports games and also looking back at sports game launches from generations past. The first thing we’ll be doing is looking at individual sports games as they made the leap from one generation to the next. In this particular instance, we’re going to be looking at sports game launches starting with when they made the jump to the HD era, which means the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation.
With all the scuttlebutt surrounding whether or not Madden 21 will even be a launch title on the upcoming next-gen consoles, it feels right to start there by following back through the two eras of HD Madden.
Madden 06 On The Xbox 360
Phil has a wonderful write-up about the last two generational leaps, and he does a great job summing up why Madden 06 was so bad on the Xbox 360. I don’t need to rehash all the ways the Xbox 360 version of the game was a mistake, but I do want to remind folks that the Xbox 360 had a year head start on the PS3. So when the HD era started, we had one console not two. This made it feel like a false start of sorts for next-gen gaming and it made the launch of a lot of sports games at that point feel a year early.
I would say this generation does not quite feel like a false start because we have both consoles launching at the same time, but this year still feels uniquely strange with COVID and everything else going on right now. There’s also more questions than answers as it relates to next-gen Madden 21, so that makes it feel like Madden 06 in some regards as well.
When the leap from the PS2 to Xbox 360 happened, Madden lost player editing, franchise mode depth, Superstar mode depth, commentary and the great gameplay of the PS2/Xbox era as EA transitioned to a “new” gameplay engine. The short-lived QB Vision Cone was also (mostly) tossed away even after it had just been introduced. (For the record, I think it’s time we start to give the Vision Cone some more retroactive love. There’s still nothing in Madden today that acts as a way to “look off” coverage or provide a better way to give QBs who see the whole field some more credit for their vision.)
I also don’t want to just speed by Madden 06 on the PS2/Xbox. It’s worth stating one more time how good the Madden games were at the time on those consoles. Madden 06 had the new Vision Cone, Truck Stick and Precision Passing (ball placement) on the gameplay side of things. Then with the features, you had the new Superstar mode (it was weird in some ways because you could choose any position, including being an offensive lineman who really did next to nothing but hunt for pancake blocks), on top of the same in-depth Owner mode.
Ironically, these “last-gen” Madden games would continue to be great (and full of depth) for at least a couple more seasons. In fact, I could argue Madden 08 on the PS2 was still one of the best Maddens of all time, even though EA had clearly moved its focus to the 360 and PS3 by that point.
That being said, we have no reason to believe the upcoming Madden 21 on PS5/Xbox Series X is going to be bereft of features. It seems like any changes to fix franchise mode will be in both generations of games. We’re not getting some totally new engine here, and so it feels like the leap here is more in line with the jump from the PS3/Xbox 360 to PS4/Xbox One.
Madden NFL 25 On Xbox One And PS4
When I looked back at the trailers that came with the reveal of next-gen Madden games, the IGNITE trailer for Madden 25 was the trailer that gave off similar vibes to the ones we got back in June for PS5/Xbox Series X. I could appreciate the graphical updates on display, but I also doubted some of them. On top of that, we still got a “trailer” that did not really show how the game would actually look when it had to revert to a gameplay camera. (However, take note that Madden looks — and maybe even plays best — in the broadcast view.) When the “real” Madden 25 was revealed, it was still a noticeable step up in the graphical department, but it didn’t feel like a huge next-gen leap. For all the faults of the PS2 to 360 jump, going to HD alone made that feel like a monumental jump in the graphics department.
On the gameplay front, Madden 25 on the 360/PS3 was adequate but still not reaching the heights of the PS2 era. When we made the leap to the next-gen version, the gameplay did feel improved but not next-gen special or anything. The running game had been tuned up and the offensive line showed some promise with some real pockets being formed, but this was not a new engine — even if EA tried to play it off as one.
The other big thing to track was if all the features would make it from one generation to the next. In essence, they did. The one caveat was that you could not import NCAA Football draft classes anymore since there was no next-gen NCAA Football as of yet. However, Connected Franchise had been a big selling point that year because it was the “return” of Owner mode in a sense — again, lost back with the last generational changeover — while also being in a new framework for the normal franchise mode. The fact that the Madden series did not lose any depth was a clear difference between the Xbox 360 launch and the PS4/Xbox One launch.
What To Expect From Next-Gen Madden 21?
Look, I think your guess is still as good as ours considering how little information we have about Madden 21 on the PS5 and Xbox Series X. However, I think looking to Madden 25 for guidance — rather than Madden 06 — is a safe bet for what’s to come. The graphical improvements will be noticeable but not earth shattering. The features will all carry from last generation to this generation. And we’ll get some useful gameplay updates but not ones that prove the need for more powerful hardware as of yet.
What do you expect from next-gen Madden 21 at this point?