Madden NFL 20 Review

Ok, let’s get straight to the point – Madden NFL 20 is, as is so often the case with a new Madden release, the best Madden has ever been. An array of minor tweaks to the gameplay, a host of slight improvements to the already incredible presentation and what appears to be endless MUT content combine to make this a better game than the 2019 vintage. Is it an essential purchase for those who already own Madden NFL 19? No…..but also yes.  No in so much that the changes don’t make for a notably different experience, and yes because, well, if you’re  fan of the NFL, it’s always yes.

It can’t be helped can it? Whether it be FIFA, NHL or Madden, fans will moan until they are blue in the face – at the lack of changes, at the changes made, at the emphasis on Madden Ultimate Team, on the cost of the game, on the cost of new packs……..bitching and moaning as they edge their hands ever closer to their wallets before invariably buying the game for the umpteenth year in a row. It’s a vicious cycle for all involved, but one that is ultimately driven by money, and one unlikely to end anytime soon.

We can all have a moan about MUT, but I’m sure you have seen the figures by now – last year, 28% of EA’s revenues came from Ultimate Team purchases. 28%! Why wouldn’t EA keep going to the well? We can all criticise the games’ clear emphasis on MUT at the cost of other modes that have seen very little love, but the fact of the matter is, MUT is big business, one that gamers are obviously happy to pump huge amounts of money in to.

In fairness to EA, MUT is totally playable if you don’t want to spend any money, and honestly, if you are willing to spend the time to build your team, there is an almost embarrassment of content to get through. There is already a mountain of events available at launch, but with daily challenges and additional content sure to come throughput the year, you will never be short of stuff to do. Sadly, as is always the case, while the ability to build your team without coin is possible, it will leave you at a huge disadvantage when competing against those willing to spend the reddies to build their superstar team quick sharp.

Whatever your views on MUT might be though, the biggest problem with EA’s money maker is its adverse effect on the rest of the game. Yes, there’s still a ton to do here, but for the most part, it’s not moved on much from last year with the majority of resources clearly geared towards keeping players hooked on EA’s cash cow. In fairness, Face of the Franchise is a solid take on the career mode, but beyond the addition of scenarios, doesn’t do much new, and above all else, doesn’t actually last all that long. Franchise Mode remains an absolute time sink, but there have been no changes of note and, despite being popular with fans, remains criminally overlooked by EA. Again, it works just fine, but if you’ve played last year’s edition, Madden NFL 20’s take is all but identical and won’t offer anything new beyond the updated rosters.

As for the gameplay – well, that’s a different problem altogether. Stuck in a yearly cycle, do EA Tiburon try to reinvent the wheel during its lightning-paced development cycle? Seems unlikely. Besides, they don’t want to upset the fickle fans who, if you listen to the noise online, appear to want more changes but then criticise the majority that are made. Either way, what inevitably happens is that an array of minor improvements will be made alongside one stand out edition that can go on the back of the box.

This year’s big change, while likely to prove controversial, comes in the form of X-factors and superstar abilities. These abilities don’t change the fundamental gameplay which remains largely similar to last year’s release, but these abilities do at least change how you are likely to approach that core gameplay. It has been done elsewhere, but by building up tiered superstar abilities during the game, it gives players the opportunity to make the most of their star players by hitting certain targets while out on the field. Combine those with unique X-factor abilities, and what you have is a system than fundamentally changes the way that you play the game. Some will argue that it removes the purity of player stats and skills, but honestly, it really does give players more character and individuality out on the field. It’s something that all of EA’s sports games have suffered from in the past, and these systems go a long way towards delivering that sense of player distinction that has so often been lacking from their games. Whether these abilities will work in the long run remains to be seen, but with counter abilities on defence able to limit the effectiveness of the more flash offensive abilities, early signs suggest that it’s a relatively balanced system.

As for the other improvements, while limited, they are all for the best – the genre-leading presentation is even better this year with improved lighting and fantastically brutal audio adding to the TV quality presentation. Sure, FIFA looks great, but because of the comparatively limited breadth of NFL teams, stadiums and players, EA are obviously able to put more effort in to ensuring that every team, player and stadium is recreated as realistically as possible, thus ensuring that the game doesn’t suffer from the same uneven presentation found in the likes of FIFA. It looked amazing last year and it looks even better this year.

The same is true on the field – the game invariably feels very similar to Madden 19, but the slightly nerfed throwing ensures that a more cultured approach is required on offence with QBs needing to be set before they can successfully unleash a long bomb down the field. The running game feels more robust too and actually represents a relatively major step up from last year’s equivalent. There are still problems of course, but the more niggly issues are likely to be ironed out via patches with the others proving to be largely legacy issues that have apparently become part of the series’ DNA. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch, but beyond the fact that the fundamental gameplay remains unsurprisingly similar, Madden NFL 20 still delivers a great game of virtual football.

It lacks genuine innovation and the increased emphasis on Madden Ultimate Team is definitely concerning, but beyond the brutal development cycle and disappointing but totally understandable business decisions, this remains a largely fantastic interpretation of America’s most popular sport. The gameplay, thanks to a more refined throwing game, slicker running and utterly brutal sounding tackles makes this the best Madden has been for quite some time. The presentation remains best in class, and the content, while uneven, is all but never ending. Fans will have their issues (they always do), but at its core, this is another fantastic entry in to sport’s longest running video game franchise.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Madden NFL 20 Review
  • Gameplay - 8/10
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  • Graphics - 8/10
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  • Sound - 8/10
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  • Replay Value - 8/10
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User Review
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Overall
8/10

Summary

Fans will have their issues (they always do), but at its core, this is another fantastic entry in to sport’s longest running video game franchise.