It’s that time of year again. A new NFL season is upon us, and with it comes a brand new entry to EA’s long-running football franchise. Take a close look at Madden NFL 20 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Madden NFL 20 Details
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Modes: Single player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Streamlining the action
Sports simulations are always among my favourite genre, ever since I unpacked Ice Hockey with my new NES console circa 1987. Over the past 30+ odd years I have witnessed the gamut of home screen menus, with most of them becoming a convoluted mess of choices and branching options as more and more game modes are crammed in. It’s in this regard that Madden NFL 20 impresses me right out of the gate.
The home menu screen in Madden NFL 20 is clean, simple, and effective. It’s a testament to the principles of minimalism, and easily among the best of any recent sports title. I want EA Sports to know just what a success it really is, and truly hope I see more of its tenets across more of their titles.
There are four—yes, just four—main tabs on the home screen. These represent the four primary game modes in Exhibition, Franchise, QB1, and MUT. Each has a subset of modes that logically fit into each category, but overall it makes the title screen sleek and easy to maneuver.
For some it may seem odd for me to go into such gushing detail over the menu screen. Gameplay is king, so who cares about how you get there? Don’t worry, I’ll get to the gameplay posthaste, however I stand by my assessment nonetheless. It’s easy to gloss over menu presentation, but as someone who plays nearly every major sports release in a calendar year, I can truly appreciate the attention to detail, and with Madden NFL 20 I give EA kudos for it.
Face of the Franchise: QB1
QB1 is Madden NFL 20‘s new game mode. It essentially takes the place of “Longshot”, the story-based mode told over the previous two years of Madden. In QB1 you’ll create a custom character (at the QB position only, naturally), and guide them through the final two games of the college playoffs and into the NFL, at which point the cutscenes end, but you may carry them on through a franchise mode career.
In other words, QB1 is ultimately the blending of two previous modes—a “Longshot”-style story mode, and a player-creation career mode. QB1 is, in theory, a great idea. However in execution it comes across as a bit of a watered-down hybrid.
The “story” segment of QB1 is extremely short, and takes only one brief sitting of about two hours before the cutscenes, choices, and game situations exhaust themselves. At this point you’ll begin an NFL career, however QB1 will still have (albeit limited) implications in the form of text messages with rivals and teammates that can earn you XP rewards.
Great custom player mode, or poor story mode?
I find QB1 mode to be hit or miss, depending purely on how you approach it. On the plus side, QB1 can add a bit more excitement to the traditional concept of player creation. It gives your player a backstory and creates a bit more immersion as you enter the league. The text messaging rivalries and back-and-forth banter also create a bit more drama and intrigue on the field.
However, this is all dependent on playing the only position available in QB1 mode—QB. So naturally if you prefer any other position, you won’t gain the benefit of QB1’s lead-in excitement.
Conversely, as a stand-in story mode following in the footsteps of “Longshot”, QB1 really isn’t much to write home about. It’s short, the stakes are much lower, and none of your choices really affect the outcome either way, save for your player’s strengths and stats on the field. So in essence, QB1 isn’t a deep or dynamic story, but it is a really entertaining way to start a custom player career—provided you don’t mind being shoehorned into the QB position.
The other big addition to Madden NFL 20 this year comes in the form of Superstar X-Factors. In a bid to make superstar players feel more like—well—superstars, EA has created a new system for boosting the NFL’s biggest names.
First off, a number of players for each team who have been identified as “superstars” have been granted one or more select “superstar abilities”. Superstar abilities are generally situation-based abilities that affect the probability of a specific player making a positive play. For example, Patriots WR Julian Edelman possesses the superstar ability “Slot-O-Matic”, where he excels at route running and contested catches when running routes from a slot receiver position.
Superstar X-Factor Zone Abilities
On top of regular superstar abilities, 50 elite pros in Madden NFL 20 have been granted an additional “zone ability”. Zone abilities activate when certain in-game challenges are met, and give the player an even bigger advantage on the field.
For example, cover athlete Patrick Mahomes has the zone ability “Bazooka”, which activates upon completing a TBD amount of long passes. Completing this requirement puts Mahomes “in the zone”, activating “Bazooka” and allowing him to throw even further down field. Being sacked or throwing an interception will conversely knock Mahomes out of “the zone”.
Superstar X-Factor abilities are a fun way to add some depth to the game. They certainly achieve their goal of making the best players truly feel like the best players. In particular however I like how Superstar X-Factors play into the long game in franchise mode. It’s fun to draft rookies or sign free agents and see which gain superstar abilities and blossom into future legacies.
Overall however I wouldn’t say that these abilities really change the way I play. Most often unless I’m directly controlling a player who is in the zone pre-snap, it’s difficult to remember or even really feel concern over what abilities might be in play. In a sense perhaps they simply happen organically, and that’s fine by me, even if it doesn’t really affect my strategy in the end.
Madden NFL 20 adds a few new features to its solid core of gameplay
The two biggest additions to Madden NFL 20 come in the form of QB1 mode and Superstar X-Factors. QB1 mode works really well as a fun introduction to legacy player creation, but it’s also essentially a watered-down hybrid of two pre-existing modes. Superstar X-Factors are a neat addition too, although they don’t shake up the game unless you choose to really focus your gameplay around them.
Still, the core gameplay in Madden NFL 20 is strong, and I certainly am continuing to enjoy a new season of NFL action. Players shouldn’t expect this year’s entry to break the mold, but if they are simply hoping to find the same level of quality as Madden has offered over the past few years with a few new options and a sleek menu design, Madden NFL 20 does not disappoint.
+ QB1 adds drama and excitement to player creation at QB position
+ Solid core gameplay
+ Streamlined, user-friendly menu screens
– QB1 is fairly shallow as a story mode
– Not as much overall innovation in comparison to previous years
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF MADDEN NFL 20
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5