For those of us who play Madden year after year, it’s always a lot easier to see the similarities when comparing the current game to last year’s entry rather than the differences. From familiar game mechanics to legacy animations, there’s a reason why some people choose to buy the game every other year rather than making it an annual purchase. But as usual, Madden 20 is a game where incremental strides have been made in certain areas, some that are immediately more noticeable than others, while other aspects of the game remain in a holding pattern. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at where things have been improved the most in Madden 20 and where things could still use some more improvement.
It may sound silly to say, but it’s easy to forget how integral something simple like running is to the game of football. While the Real Player Motion that was instituted last year did an adequate enough job of differentiating the speed of players at various positions, it was also hampered by some unnatural movements and general stiffness that could kill immersion and realism at times. Thankfully, running is much smoother in Madden 20, making it more fun and intuitive to hit those holes with your running back and string together skill moves like jukes, spins and stiff arms to make defenders miss in one-on-one encounters in the open field.
Pass Trajectories & Variety
Just as altering a fundamental component of the game like running can make a world of difference on the field, the same goes for something as critical to football as how the ball travels through the air. There was always something a little flat and unrealistic about how passes reached their targets, and it only takes seeing the more dynamic approach in Madden 20 to magnify how lacking the air game had been in the past. It actually feels like it matters more now when deciding if you want to throw a lob, touch or bullet pass — with all of them having certain circumstances where they’ll be the ideal choice to best get the ball to your desired receiver. When you also consider that you can alter these throws by placing them high or low for a receiver, you start to see how your choices can influence the result of the play in a number of ways. On the other hand, elite quarterbacks also display more accuracy this year, so you’ll see a lot more errant throws come out of the hands of lesser quarterbacks.
It seems as if every year Madden continues to make strides in having man coverage become a more viable option to use on defense in the game, but this might be the first-ever Madden where man coverage seems to almost be even be more effective than zone coverage at the moment (more on that later). That doesn’t mean you can bring blitzes on every down and expect that no one in your secondary is going to blow their assignment and leave a man open, but you can at least depend on elite defenders holding their own regularly and locking down their mark. We’ve come a long way from the days not so long ago when you could just a run a corner route against man coverage and get an easy completion pretty much every time because of the defense’s obvious deficiencies.
Working in tandem with the improved man coverage is a noticeably more relentless pass rush that will force you get the ball out of the hands of your QB quicker or risk taking a sack. This is certainly in keeping with the direction of the real NFL, with many teams emphasizing quick throws to help combat pressure. It was easier in Madden 19 to sit comfortably in the pocket while your line gave you plenty of time to throw, even if the defense decided to send extra men after the QB. But blitzes will get home much quicker now, and considering how much pressure can now influence the accuracy of throws in Madden 20, they can play a crucial role in neutralizing offenses when called at the right time. Conversely, however, offensive lines are better now at handling simple four-man rushes, particularly if you leave extra guys in to block, so you’ll need to be able to recognize when defenses opt to drop more guys back in coverage and know when you can afford to be patient in waiting for routes to develop.
It’s been far too long that Madden has offered rather vanilla playbooks for every team, without providing enough of the team-specific formations and wrinkles that would allow you to better take advantage of the strengths (and weaknesses) of a team’s particular personnel. But Madden 20 really allows you to dig deep into playbooks and get more creative with how you attack defenses. That starts with the introduction of RPOs (run-pass option plays) to Madden, which may take some time to master but can be deadly once you learn to make the right reads. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg really; in particular, I’ve spent a lot of time using the Cardinals’ exciting new Air Raid offense and there’s seemingly no end to the ways you can keep defenses off balance, from jet sweeps with wide receivers (or fake jet sweeps where you give it to a running back instead), keeper options for rookie QB Kyler Murray and elaborate misdirection plays to better isolate running back David Johnson in space.
X-Factors & Superstar Abilities
While I can’t entirely commit to exactly how the new X-Factors and Superstar abilities are being employed in Madden 20, the one worthwhile thing that they have certainly achieved at least is finally separating the great players from the rest of the pack. When players with X-Factors and Superstar abilities are on the field, you need to always be aware and account for their presence as they can take over a game if you’re not careful, whether on offense or defense. Unfortunately, the component of this addition where these elite players are able to get “in the zone” through certain achievements is still a little too gimmicky and “arcade-like” for my tastes, as I don’t think this concept is all that representative of how things work on the field in real life, but it’s usually not too difficult to get someone “out of the zone” either.
What Needs Improvement
Zone Coverage & Defender Awareness
It’s hard to say what’s more frustrating: when your players aren’t in the right place to defend against a pass, or when they are in the right place but then fail to make a play on a ball that practically whizzes right past their face. In the past, how well defenders played their assigned zones in coverage had been something that was typically tuned in patches throughout the game’s life cycle so it’s likely that it will be improved sometime in the near future, but as of right now, guys have some serious lapses in judgment at times in sticking to their receivers in various zone schemes. This is only exacerbated by that aforementioned lack of ball awareness, which sees passes that could be knocked down or even intercepted routinely sail uncontested into the arms of their intended receivers while you scream in frustration at how your defender just stood there and watched it happen without the slightest bit of concern.
Blocking Logic & Line Play
Even though the running game has been improved and feels a lot more fun now largely because of how your blockers are able to open up holes for your back, there are still instances where those linemen make questionable choices about who to block; it’s even more distressing when they choose to block no one at all. This becomes especially apparent on downfield blocks, often occurring when that one key block on a corner or safety could be all you need to spring you for a TD, but instead your lineman decides to pull up short or wheels back to block someone you’ve already passed who is no longer even remotely a danger to you. Meanwhile, little has been done to address the stagnant state of line play to make it more dynamic and rewarding as a defender, as it continues to be the same button-mashing proposition void of any discernible skill or anything resembling the complex nuances that go into blocking and trying to shed those blocks.
It would be impossible to discuss the shortcomings of Madden 20 without touching on the glacial pace at which franchise continues to see improvements. Yes, they still offer the chance to play online franchises at a time when such things are becoming an endangered species, but the mode gets such little attention every year that it’s hard for it to feel like anything other than an afterthought. Remember that this is the same game that thought showing your coach in his office should constitute a large part of its upgrades to franchise mode last year. Now we get scenarios within your franchise as a new addition, but these lose their luster and start repeating too quickly to be anything all that substantial. The mode’s in need of more than just a new coat of paint or small tweaks to its existing framework at this point; it needs an overhaul.