As someone who lives across the pond, I’m not as fanatic about American Football as many Americans are. That being said, I’m a great admirer of the sport. Especially the tactical aspect, which is far greater than I first realised. Considering the time zone difference, often my best way to experience the sport is through the Madden video game series. So, it fell to me to check out the latest yearly release of the Madden franchise with Madden NFL 21.
Like many other games that release on a yearly schedule, Madden is not immune to criticism that the game doesn’t evolve enough from year to year. EA recently extended their license deal with the NFL until 2026 so this could be their last entry on last gen consoles before the PS5 and Xbox Series X. There were some rumblings over rival 2K getting their own license with the NFL but EA have the exclusive rights to make simulation American football games, which is the classification used for photorealistic football games featuring licensed team names and real players.
So, then, does Madden NFL 21 represent the pinnacle Madden experience on the Xbox One and PS4? Well, yes and no. Visually, Madden NFL 21 is the most impressive entry in the series to date. Though, that’s to be expected considering it’s the newest. But, it does show that EA has put work into making the game look better and better. Animations are also realistic and impressive but it does admittedly seem like the series is in need of the improvements of the next gen consoles to really reach new heights.
Visuals aside, things become a little concerning when you realise there’s a fair few relics leftover from previous games. None more so than the moments where the Madden NFL 20 logo is still present in the game. Unfortunately, that is the case with a few yearly franchises but admittedly it is a low point for the newest Madden NFL 21.
Thankfully, when you’re in a game, Madden NFL 21 is excellent. It has to be said that EA have really perfected this element of the game. Admittedly, my skill level isn’t the highest, certainly not as high in other games such as FIFA but Madden NFL 21 does a great job at being accessible for players of all skill levels. Difficulty can be adjusted at any time which will allow you to gradually up the difficult as you hone your skills.
Regardless of the difficulty you play on, Madden NFL 21 feels and plays great. Animations look great, button prompts are responsive and plays run smoothly. Even just playing in Exhibition matches is a joy due to how well-executed the fundamentals are.
Of course, Madden NFL 21 also features a plethora of additional game modes. Notably, it brings the all-new game mode, The Yard. The Yard is a brand-new backyard football-inspired mode in Madden NFL 21 where wild gameplay moments, house rules, and a fearless attitude are the name of the game. The Yard pits two teams of six on the field with each team controlled by either one, two, or three users. Players control their one-of-a-kind avatar plus the NFL superstars who team up with them on the field.
The traditional story mode in Madden NFL 21 comes under the banner Face of the Franchise: Rise to Fame. Here, you can create a player and shape your career from High School all the way to the NFL Hall of Fame. This career mode takes you through every momentous stage in a player’s life. You start off playing in relative obscurity in High School. Then, in College, you must pick from multiple colleges vying for your signature.
Eventually, you’ll make it to the NFL and here is where your career will have numerous twists and turns as you navigate the many obstacles of the NFL where you will be able to live out NFL storylines ripped from the headlines. As a bonus, the career mode features Snoop Dogg, playing himself… need I say more?
Whilst Franchise mode is excellent, it seems to be more of the same. Over the last few entries, this career mode has not been re-worked very much so I have to admit it has become somewhat stale.
EA sports titles are well-known for the Ultimate Team mode and Madden is no different. Madden NFL 21 brings with it a brand-new season of fresh Ultimate Team content and competitive team building. But, really, it’s more of the same. This time, however, you’ll receive even more rewards by testing your skills in H2H Seasons, MUT Draft, or MUT Squads. Along with a variety of enhancements in MUT, one of the biggest additions is Ability Caps, which adds a new layer to team building allowing youth customize how you want your team to perform on the field.
On the whole, Madden NFL 21 is an impressive title. Unfortunately, there’s a general consensus that EA have become, for lack of a better word, lazy. Most modes are more of the same with no real substantial upgrades. The Yard, however, is a welcome breath of fresh air. For now, it seems Madden has hit a ceiling on current generation consoles. But, there’s enough good here to make me excited for how the series will evolve on the upcoming PS5 and Xbox Series X.