With the Madden 20 closed beta — which was open over the weekend to those fortunate enough to gain access — having come and gone, it’s now time to take stock of how it was playing ahead of the game’s release on August 2. As is often the case with these things, there are some aspects of the game that are worthy of praise and others that would earn something less than praise. With that in mind, here’s what I felt was hot and what I felt was decidedly not in my short time with Madden 20.
Player Movement & Awareness
Perhaps the most pronounced difference between Madden 19 and Madden 20 is how much more natural and fluid players move on the field. In trying to introduce more realistic running styles for players of different shapes and sizes to last year’s game, it was apparent the developers had maybe taken a step in the right direction but there were some kinks that still needed to be ironed out.
This year, they’ve definitely made real strides in having players not only feel less clunky and awkward in how they run, but also in making them seem a little smarter. They have done this by removing many of the frustrating instances where your runner would lurch or stumble clumsily in a direction that made them seem like they’ve never even played football (or run) before.
The smoother movements are especially felt in the running game, where it’s much easier and more fun than ever to slip in between small creases without getting caught up on blockers before using a well-timed juke in the open field to break a big play.
The improved awareness also extends to the sidelines, where receivers have typically shown little regard for the boundaries when trying to catch passes in the flats. They now seem to be able to stop on a dime a little better near the sideline, allowing you to catch a pass and then turn it up-field for some extra yards.
Sure to be one of the more contentious aspects of Madden 20, the pass rush in the closed beta was effective enough to show that it will have a much greater impact on the game than last year, or perhaps in any Madden game ever.
Recognizing that the best way to slow down an offense is by getting to the quarterback, elite pass rushers will routinely push past their blocker in a matter of a few seconds now and give you very little time to find an open receiver. With football moving more and more towards quarterbacks needing to have quicker releases to combat the relentless rush, that trend looks to have now made its way to Madden with this kind of stifling pressure.
Making matters even worse for offenses, the increased intensity of the pass rush won’t only lead to more sacks if you can’t get the ball out on time, it will also affect the accuracy of your passes. If you try to get rid of the ball with a defender bearing down on you, be prepared to risk making an errant throw that could very well end up being intercepted.
Improved Passing Controls & WR/DB Battles
There are some key changes to passing in Madden 20 that are really so common sense that it’s kind of perplexing as to why they weren’t implemented a long time ago. For way too long, pump fakes have been a conundrum in the game; there was a way to utilize them but it was hardly practical. Now by simply making it so you can double tap a receiver icon to execute a pump fake, it makes it a viable option, not only in getting defenders to bite on routes with double moves, but also as a safeguard should you instantly have regrets about making a throw.
To allow for the pump fake mechanic to use double tap, there have been corresponding changes to how to throw the different types of passes that are a bit of a throwback to how things used to be with Madden passing. This means you now throw a lob pass by tapping a receiver icon, a bullet pass by holding down the receiver icon and a touch pass by holding the button for a length of time somewhere in between those two. I’m still not sure why this method can’t allow for a wider array of pass trajectories based on how long you hold down the button, but this update has provided enough of a change in those trajectories to greatly impact the passing game.
For any of its faults in the passing game, Madden 19 did showcase defenders displaying greater ferocity in trying to tear the ball away from receivers and that’s only been pushed further in Madden 20. It’s harder than ever now to throw into traffic with how quickly defensive backs will react to play the ball and try to separate the receiver from it. On the other hand, at least linebackers can no longer cover as much ground as they did in the past with the superhuman abilities they’d display leaping for balls in Madden 19, so it’s consequently a bit easier to throw over the middle now.
The expansion of playbooks in Madden 20 has inevitably led to the NFL’s hottest play, the run-pass option (or RPO), finally making its way into the game. In fact, there are three different kinds of RPOs to be found and over 200 specific RPO plays, making it a staple in some capacity of pretty much every team.
It does take a little time to get accustomed to the different nuances and execution of these RPOs. If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself unsure about whether the ball is going to end up being handed off to the running back or staying in the hands of the QB for the first little while, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty fun to be able to hold your decision of whether to run or pass until the last possible moment.
The one thing to be careful about on these plays is your timing because you have linemen who will be run blocking on the play. So if you wait too long before passing, they can and will be called for an illegal man downfield penalty.
Perhaps the biggest question to me with the Madden 20 beta is if the developers knew that franchise mode was so similar to last year’s mode and they hadn’t done all that much to improve it, then why bother showcasing franchise mode to people at all? It would be understandable if they were excited about giving people a sneak peek at the significant upgrades or even just some substantial cosmetic changes, but it can’t help but be disappointing then to find that nearly everything looks and feels exactly the same.
Of course, last year it seemed like the biggest alteration was the novelty of seeing your coach or owner sitting in his office (at a desk, no less! How exciting!), so perhaps it was a little naive to expect too drastic an overhaul to a franchise mode that’s received only minor tweaks in recent years. However, it would at least be nice to feel like you’re playing a different game instead of the same one from last year.
It’s appreciated how the developers continually try to make the complicated process of selecting a play a little easier for those who aren’t too eager to browse through an overwhelming number of formations to find their best option, and this year they have gone one step further. By having separate sections for run or pass suggestions, they provide specific selections in situations based on your own preference for whether you want to keep the ball on the ground or put it in the air.
It’s a great idea in concept but it’s been bungled a little bit in execution. Plagued by the same issues that have habitually hampered playcall suggestions, there simply is not enough variety offered in the suggestions. While you do seem to be suggested the same passing plays over and over again — despite there being plenty of other options that could be shuffled in occasionally — the bigger issues are in the running play suggestions.
On one third down where I needed seven yards, I was suggested plenty of passing plays but there were only two rushing suggestions. On a third and very long play, there were precisely zero rushing options under suggestions. Now I understand that running the ball probably is not the best option in either of these situations, but here’s a great universal concept for playcalling suggestions: just offer three, or four or even five pages of options for passes and runs, regardless of the situation. Is this somehow harder to accomplish than it appears to be?
The movement of the players on the field may be improved in Madden 20, but one thing that hasn’t changed as much as I would like is the familiar animations carried over from previous Madden titles that continue to regularly rear their ugly head.
The most egregious examples of animations that should have been scrapped long ago seem to occur during tackles, where there are some instances of collisions where the results would appear to defy the very laws of physics. Some are better than others, naturally, but there’s one particular tackling animation where a ball carrier can somehow manage to gain an additional three to four yards by how he falls forward that should have never made the migration to Madden 20 because it simply doesn’t resemble reality.
Perhaps I’m a tad simplistic in my knowledge of game development but can’t they simply remove this animation?
The introduction of Superstar X-Factors in Madden 20 to help differentiate the extraordinary players from the ordinary players was a bit of a double-edged sword from my experience with the closed beta.
On one hand, it makes sense that the truly game-changing athletes should perform that way on the field, and the marked difference between someone like Odell Beckham Jr. and a lesser receiver like Sterling Shepard is something that can really be felt in Madden 20, whether Beckham’s breaking free from coverage or successfully going up for a 50/50 ball against a defender.
On the other hand, players can activate their X-Factor and Superstar abilities only by successfully completing a number of objectives and getting “in the zone.” Wait, what? Read that sentence again and tell me if that sounds like a realistic representation of how players’ abilities actually work in football. I’m fairly certain that Odell Beckham is still Odell Beckham regardless of whether or not he’s caught the requisite number of balls to unlock some additional reserve of skill.
If that concept seems a little arcade-like, it’s even more troublesome when put into practice. In one game I played against the Rams, I had the misfortune of facing Aaron Donald when he’s “in the zone,” as proceeded to sack me six times in one half. Once he got rolling, Donald turned into a veritable superhero who could toss aside the poor guard assigned to block him in about a second on every single play, making it nearly impossible to have any time to throw the ball.
At this point, I’m not entirely sure I’m ever going to love this idea, but at the same time I’m willing to give it more of a chance to see if there’s a better balance that can be achieved.
The most pertinent question to ask in regards to the Madden 20 closed beta is, does the game reflect a more realistic and fun version of football than Madden 19? With the few days that I had to play the game, I would have to say that the answer to that question is a resounding yes. That said, however, there are also plenty of aspects of the game that could use some tweaking in order to improve the overall experience and, in other cases, there are things that will likely have to wait until next year once again to receive attention.