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Madden NFL 19

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Sports
Release Date: Aug. 10, 2018


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Xbox One Review - 'Madden NFL 19'

by Redmond Carolipio on Aug. 20, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

EA Sports Madden NFL 19 is the latest installer in the football franchise, set to deliver more game-changing control to players than ever before.

Buy Madden NFL 19

The annual release of the newest Madden seems to have become less a celebrated holiday and more like an accepted, ritualized popular culture event, like how people go bonkers when the newest season of their favorite show drops on Netflix: You're familiar with what's happened in the past, you generally know what you're getting in terms of entertainment, and you're going to do almost everything in your power to pour what's left of your free time into experiencing it. That might actually sound like what you do with every big game, but Madden has always had the built-in advantage of being about football. It has that perpetual Americana zeitgeist you really can't get in many other places, at least not like this.

Madden NFL 19 certainly feels like a binge-worthy show going in, with cover athlete Antonio Brown (wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers) getting a title montage that showcases his palette of skills over a variety of cinematic action shots, all while Christon Gray's "Stop Me" plays in the background. It's a contrast to the treatment last year's cover athlete, Tom Brady (legendary quarterback for the New England Patriots) got. Brady was shown in plenty of dramatic shots, but he had crowd noise and commentary as his soundtrack. His intro felt like a movie. AB's intro feels more like a music video, which actually fits right in with the vibe here.

Like its many chapters before it, Madden 19 comes packed with the requisite modes of exhibition, franchise, Madden Ultimate Team, etc. But the most strangely intriguing addition to the Madden universe in the past couple of seasons is "Longshot," an actual story mode that blends cinematic storytelling with snippets of controller-influenced football action. It's back for a second season here, putting players back into the lives of undrafted NFL hopeful Devin Wade and his star-crossed bestie, Colt Cruise. Season 2 finds Devin trying to catch on with the Dallas Cowboys, while Colt has latched on to a fledgling singing career while trying to stay perpetually ready for a call from an NFL team.

I won't detail the parallel stories here in full, but the energy of this edition of Longshot felt very different from the first. The first season was sprinkled with some predictable cheese, combined a variety of (sometimes) hokey or annoying minigames, solid mocap acting and a few true tests of football acumen. Season 2 felt like a mutated mix of pseudo "Friday Night Lights" drama, some ill-fitting goofball humor (Rob Schneider is the GM of the Cowboys, for God's sake) and occasional trips into football purgatory.

Naturally, Longshot asks you to play some actual football, taking Devin or Colt through a variety of scenarios (a tryout for Colt, game-time situations for Devin), but the playing conditions for those scenarios were terribly inconsistent. For some reason, whenever Colt was reliving his high-school memories and I was put in control of his high-school team, I had full control of whoever had the ball. But whenever I was in Devin's shoes, control left my hands the moment the ball left Devin's right arm, so I was at the mercy of seeing my computer-controlled teammates run poorly in the open field or even fumble.

Couple this with the fact that in certain situations (like crucial drives), I only had three downs to accomplish my goal. The moment I reached fourth down, I'd get the message to "please try again" and have to start my drive over again. Imagine if your task is to score and you only make it to fourth and inches on the goal line? Sorry, you have to redo it. You do this enough, and you understand the whole "football purgatory" thing. There are some genuinely fun (if not predictable) story moments here, but it got to the point where every football sequence with Devin started with me internally groaning.

Thank goodness for the regular football action, which overall feels sharper and more fluid than in past editions. Much of that has to do with the interweaving of what EA calls "real player motion," which in layman's terms just means everyone is supposed to move with better flow and realism – more football nuance, in a sense. I found this best reflected in the running game, which can serve as a football lesson in what tailbacks in the NFL have to look for when it comes to reading blocks, determining running alleys, examining various schemes and situations.  The bigger runs come when you stop looking for holes to run through at the line and start reading the linebackers and safeties looking to plug that hole. Then you can get used to using a catalogue of moves, like jukes, spins and other twitchy move sets.

My favorite move to utilize is timed "hesitation" movement (flick the right stick back or pull the left trigger), in which the runner just stops for a half-step, giving his blockers even more time to set up. This is a specialty of another star, LeVeon Bell, who sometimes looks like he's waiting in line at Starbucks or surveying food court options when he gets the ball, only to burst through an opening in the defense at the last possible second. The fact the game gives you the tools to run like him opens up a lot of fun, on-the-run possibilities. The passing game works relatively the same, though on harder modes, it's best to master the ability to high-point the ball to your bigger, taller receivers (hold LB when you throw) or throw low on plays across the middle so the receiver doesn't get killed (hold LT when you throw).

It's just as fun to sling it around in arcade mode, but the simulation style gives you a chance to enjoy football's more arcane arts. One of the most fun and obvious additions is scoring and flipping the right stick in a direction to choose your TD celebration:  with your team, a simple spike, an actual solo mini-dance, or a "signature" celebration.  All that said, there are still bugs to work out that have already been chronicled by the internet. In my experience, there were occasionally odd, phantom camera angles that showed me nothing, players sort of haphazardly jogging around out of position or trying to run into the wall after a touchdown. Perhaps I need to throw better balls, but it also seems like the annoying habit of linebackers and other defenders using an apparent 50-inch vertical to bat down balls occasionally returns.

Oh, and … it's time to change the cinematics when you win the Super Bowl in Franchise mode. It's been the same for the past several seasons. In fact, the Madden player-creation system probably needs an overhaul at some point, especially since choosing faces for your player also means choosing different head sizes, and some of the faces lead to players with very tiny and disproportionate heads. Speaking of the franchise mode, I found myself enjoying the subtle parts of the presentation, like seeing mini-sequences of the coach in his office doing office things, like conversing on the phone, look at stuff on the computer, perusing whatever kind of "football stuff" is on his desk and then shaking his head. I found "scheme fit" to be a pretty useful tool when it came to scouting players during the season, so I didn't have to burn scouting points on players I think might fit my philosophies. It also gives you an engaging element to think about if you're one of those e-coaches who want to "shake things up" for the sake of your favorite team. You can also scroll around what kind of schemes are available as a coach and find out what percentage of your current players would mesh with that system. Another solid addition is the draft class creator, so you can leave it up to the community to create and customize real-life draft prospects instead of the weirdly named and generic ones the game churns out every year.

If it's team-building you're looking for, a retooled Madden Ultimate Team also returns to the franchise. I only dabble slightly in the martial art of card collecting when it comes to this mode, which lets you assemble your own playable rosters from an assortment of current and past players. It's sort of the avatar for virtual fantasy football, and new players might find the package of customization options overwhelming, if they're not spending chunk of time upgrading their rosters. I found myself intrigued by the weekly Solo Challenges, which are goals that require only me. The better and more I do, the more stuff I get to mess around with my virtual fantasy team.

If you're looking for something that massively overhauls the Madden experience, you're probably not going to find it in Madden NFL 19. Instead, I see it as a generally solid dose of improvements and consistency, with an emphasis on tightening up the on-field product for better, more natural football action. It's got me looking forward to binging the next season, at the very least.

Score: 8.0/10

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