The NFL Pre-Season is upon us, and with that comes of course another edition of Madden.
What Is It?
Last year’s edition brought us new QB controls set to change the series, and it also introduced the impressive single player story, Longshot. As is the case with most of the games in the franchise, some ideas got thrown out, while others have been given more of an emphasis, so let’s delve into what makes Madden NFL 19 actually worth caring about.
Why Should I Care?
EA Sports is touting “real player motion” with this year’s edition of Madden, which they say gives players the ability to push blockers for extra yards as well as put on the moves to have more big plays upfield.
As a veteran Madden player who isn’t shy when it comes to playing with competitive rules, I’m going to say that’s all fluff. All Madden games feel different once you get into them, and Madden NFL 19 isn’t any different. The problem is the only noticeable difference with “real player motion” is that it’s taking a few too many frames working on the animation than actually taking it upfield. Because of this, in the games I’ve played, big gains are limited to catching the ball with no real shot for a run after the catch and these all become even more apparent when you switch to a faster game speed. All the time spent on making these moves look good is extra time for a good defense to catch up to you, and that’s happened more than a few times while playing the game.
In fact, the so-called improvements they made in player motion just sound like another way of saying they’ve emphasized the game’s precision modifier, a mechanic that allows you to use different moves on the fly with the ball in your hands when not sprinting. I’m convinced this is the case because not once have I heard the term “precision modifier” said or used in the game.
This brings me to yet another “big feature” that got removed–precision passing. The fact that this got taken out was a good thing because it slowed down the action and it was borderline useless. Thankfully, one of the features that made Madden 18 a joy to play, pass trajectory, is back. High and low passes are controlled with the left trigger buttons as you throw the football, and also making a return are the aggressive, RAC, and possession catches–all of which are still a joy to be witnessed when the receptions are made. You still feel like you have total control of your quarterback when the line doesn’t break down, and that’s all you can ask for when on offense.
So in all, the actual football part of Madden is as solid as ever. Now, Longshot Homecoming is another story depending on what you were expecting.
Last year’s single player campaign enjoyed a heck of a debut last year telling the story of estranged college quarterback sensation Devin Wade (J.R. Lemon) and his high school buddy and go-to wide receiver Colt Cruise (Scott Porter) as they tried to make their way into the pros as stars of Longshot, a reality TV show that awards hopefuls with a shot at making an NFL roster. From dealing with his father’s death, a crappy TV show director, and learning the ins and outs of playing quarterback in the NFL, Devin Wade’s journey was an experience well worth having.
This year, the story mode sort focuses on both characters versus primarily favoring Wade on his journey over Cruise’s last year. This time around, Cruise was cut from the team that drafted him, and his one-hit wonder song “Longshot” is no longer at the top of the charts. He’s just sort of become a guy at a crossroads, wondering whether he should continue to play football or find something else to do with his time, and family issues force him to go back to his hometown to retrace his steps to discover another passion that’s closer to the NFL than he thinks. In the meantime, Devin Wade signs with the Dallas Cowboys in hopes of backing up Dak Prescott but has to deal with tough as nails quarterbacks coach Earl Coates (Ron Cephas Jones) watching Wade’s every move as he tries to make in the league.
While my review last year sort of panned Longshot because of inconsistencies with the story’s dialog choices, it’s a little disappointing that there are almost none of these dialog choices to speak of in Longshot Homecoming. I only recall two or three instances where I actually made a decision, and the only time there was any actual gameplay happening was during actual football–whether it’s with going back to the high school years or proceeding with Wade’s attempt at making it into the NFL. And aside from a seven-on-seven scrimmage, there aren’t any minigames to speak of–which might be a blessing to some because there were a couple last year, namely the precision passing game vs. Dan Marino, that were downright awful.
Since there aren’t that many dialog choices to begin with, players for the most part will just have to watch the story unfold, and the reality is the story has more than its share of cringey scenes. Before getting there, it’s worth mentioning that Lemon and Porter do an excellent job reprising the roles of Devin Wade and Colt Cruise, and Ron Cephas Jones of Luke Cage and This Is Us fame lights it up with a heck of a performance as Coach Coates as well. But then you have Rob Schneider, who I absolutely love, playing Cowboys General Manager Donnie Marks who likes to use water bottles to illustrate his reasoning for signing Wade. That’s about as insane as it gets.
And because of this, I’m sure a lot of my peers in games media will say the story mode is crap, but to me, it’s one of those “it’s so bad, it’s good” situations. Yes, there’s a lot of seemingly random things happening in the game’s main story that might make you facepalm, but there’s this weird charm to it that makes the experience enjoyable. The insane situations like the Houston Texans luring legendary coach Bill Cowher out of retirement and trading for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and title game cover athlete Antonio Brown add to the insanity, and all this is so much fun that I really have to give the writers some credit for this lunacy.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Now if you’re like me and you’ve been buying Madden every year since 2001, you’re probably wondering about the series mainstays that keep people coming back, namely Franchise mode and Madden Ultimate Team. Nothing new happened with Franchise worth mentioning, and as far as MUT goes–aside from three-on-three online action (which is just awkward to play) and the rank-driven solo battles, there also isn’t much to say about it which probably should be a good thing to Madden‘s particularly competitive community.
Lastly, the EA Sports presentation in Madden NFL 19 is about as shiny as you’d expect and we’re given another year of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis calling the games at the broadcast booth. As great as they’ve been, we’ve had a couple years of them and while they do record new stuff every week during the season, a lot of the commentary is starting to feel tired and expected, which begs the question… why isn’t there more than one announce team yet? Once again, I’m going to have to bring up NBA 2K as the example for ideal sports broadcast presentation in video games. As much as I hate the latest iteration of NBA 2K, 2K Sports has been absolutely nailing presentation for a while, and it’s baffling that EA Sports hasn’t matched them yet, even with the WWE’s Jonathan Coachman handling the pregame and halftime hosting duties.
If you’re on the fence about grabbing Madden 19 and you haven’t touched a Madden in a while, it’s an easy recommendation. If you get the game every year but wonder if it’s worth the $60, it’ll be best the assess your situation by identifying what it is you play Madden for. If you’re just simulating the franchise, no. If you’re just playing MUT, well, you have to. And if you’re just trying to play Longshot, maybe wait for a price drop. The bottom line is Madden NFL 19 is basically Madden NFL 18 without all the meaningless fluff–everything that makes Madden NFL 19 great is the stuff that should remain in the series for years to come.