It’s nearly time for another season on NFL football, but for gamers kickoff is already at hand. This year players can tackle a brand new 6 v. 6 competitive mode in “The Yard”, partake in a brand new storyline with Face of the Franchise, and more. Madden NFL 21 is out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and will also be coming to next generation platforms down the line.
Madden NFL 21 Details
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PC, Stadia
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Modes: Single player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
What a rush
My favourite improvement to Madden NFL 21 over previous years comes in the form of an update to defensive mechanics. I’m never much of a fan of playing defense in the franchise. For the most part I like to stick to modes that let me control a single offensive player.
I’m definitely enjoying playing D more this year however, particularly when it comes to the pass rush. In Madden NFL 21 EA incorporates a new method of penetrating the defensive line revolving around movements with the right thumbstick. Bumping or rolling the stick in different directions will instigate a number of different pass rush moves such as spin, swim, bull rush, and more.
This is far superior to previous method such as quick-time button taps. I feel like I can not only pull these moves off, but it’s easy to recall and use different moves as they all tie to simple thumbstick movements. This makes it more fun that ever before to line up at DT or LB and try to beat your man for a sack or loss of yards.
Sad Face of the Franchise
Once again, “Face of the Franchise” mode allows players to guide their user creations in a narrative journey from high school to NFL glory. Unfortunately, this mode takes a huge dip in quality this year. Whereas Face of the Franchise has been my favourite part of Madden in recent years, this time around it’s a slog just to get through.
The production value seemingly takes a staggering hit. To make a loose comparison, if last year’s “Longshot” were a big budget studio production, this year it’s a mediocre film school assignment shot on Super 8. The cinematic elements of Face of the Franchise are rife with awkward pauses, flat dialogue, and recycled story beats that just don’t resonate given the astounding lack of polish.
The cast seems to do as well as they can given what they have to work with. Nonetheless the mode is devoid of anything resembling a shining performance. To put it bluntly, it’s painfully obvious that the amount of resources put into Madden NFL 21‘s story campaign is a fraction of previous efforts. It’s really a shame when Face of the Franchise is the only thing going for those looking for anything at all to supplement the same old franchise mode experience.
Tackling The Yard
On a brighter note, a new 6 v. 6 online mode makes its debut in the form of “The Yard”. Here players take their user creations to modest fields around the globe to compete pop-up games of football with backyard rules. The rules take on a playground approach with no kicks, matching possessions, allowances for multiple passes behind the line, and a pass rush system that falls just short of actually calling out “steamboats”.
The Yard is a fun spin on the game, and an interesting way to bring players together outside of more competitive online competition. The relaxed rules make for a bit more of a laid-back experience with the potential for exciting plays without any real heavy stakes.
Still, I wouldn’t consider The Yard a keystone mode or a pillar to build a new release around. It’s a fun distraction from the main game, but outside of some novel gameplay it mostly revolves around earning and collecting cosmetic gear to show off with your avatar creation.
Of course, while players can grind for currency to obtain new cosmetics, real money purchases are on the table as well. To this end, The Yard feels like it was probably conceived at least in part as another way to introduce more opportunities for micro-transactions into Madden NFL 21.
Same old song and dance
This leaves us with the core game modes of the Madden franchise, which unfortunately do not such much innovation this year. Franchise mode benefits from an increase in Superstar X-Factor abilities, and an expanding stable of celebration animations as well. Still, the overall experience remains largely the same. The layout of Franchise mode is so similar to Madden NFL 20 that it could be difficult to even tell the difference.
On top of this, I’m even encountering a few issues with performance. For example, significant drops in frame rate occur regularly during kicks. These are so staggering that they can actually throw off your timing entirely.
The first time around I assumed this was a fluke. By the tenth time though I was simply left in frustration and disbelief. Hopefully this is something that will see a patch ASAP.
And of course, Madden Ultimate Team is back again with a somewhat chaotic menu full of ways to grind and compete with your custom roster. As always, new challenges ease players in with tutorial lessons and generous early currency rewards. Nevertheless, it leads to a path where real progression is inevitably left to those will to invest either a painstaking amount of time, or a bit of real world currency in the form of micro-transactions.
Madden NFL 21 has a few nice additions, but drops the ball on Face of the Franchise
I’m definitely a fan of a few of the new features found in Madden NFL 21. For starters, the new pass rushing mechanic has me enjoying defense for the first time in ages. Furthermore, The Yard is a fun diversion from traditional football with a playground-style take on the game.
However, it’s very disappointing to see a steep decline in quality from Face of the Franchise. This was once my favourite part of the series, but this time around it’s lacking the effort and attention that this mode deserves. Pair this with a stagnant Franchise mode that’s indisputably similar to last year’s outing, and as a franchise player it’s difficult to feel as much excitement for my upcoming legacy run.
+ New mechanics on defense including pass-rushing system
+ The Yard is a fun and unique 6 v. 6 take on the sport
– Face of the Franchise takes a steep decline in quality
– Little innovation in core modes such as Franchise
– Staggering drops in frame rate during kicks
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF MADDEN NFL 21
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3/5