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June 2024

EA Sports Madden NFL 22

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: Aug. 20, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Madden NFL 22'

by Redmond Carolipio on Aug. 20, 2021 @ 11:00 p.m. PDT

From the newly refreshed Franchise, Dynamic Gameday powered by Next Gen Stats, and Home Field Advantage, Madden NFL 22 is the new standard in sports gaming.

Buy Madden NFL 22

I feel like we've been waiting for the Madden franchise to make "the leap" since the release of the PS4. Looking back, while still fun, it hasn't really done that. Last season's burst of adrenalized euphoria at playing something — anything — that resembled football with fans while enduring the thick fog of a generational pandemic has now subsided, and it's time for the longtime football institution to be scrutinized under the next-gen lens.

Madden NFL 22 had a chance to truly plant the franchise's flag in the middle of a very crowded field of excellent sports experiences. Unfortunately, that flag doesn't fly high enough. Instead of a leap forward on the PS5, this once again feels like the pitter-patter of baby-step improvements that even when added up, won't help Madden separate from other sports games or even from the ghosts that have haunted the series for years. This didn't bother me as much as others. But after spending the whole of the pandemic inside and immersing face-first in other sports titles and witnessing their completeness and growth, they do now.

Some of what plagued my Madden 22 experience was laid bare in Face of the Franchise, its football equivalent of a single-player campaign, where you guide your created player into and through their journey as a pro athlete. The reception and execution of this mode has been mixed, to put it kindly, as the narrative in this feature in years past has danced between logistically cluttered and unbelievable and needlessly dramatic, hokey and implausible. Like other similar campaign modes in other sports game, it's a doorway into most of the game's core facets and newest features.

Madden 22's edition of Face of the Franchise returns to giving players the ability to choose a position to play other than quarterback. You can play as a wide receiver, running back or even a linebacker. Think of them as selecting your warrior class in an RPG. When you pick a position, you then get to select what type of player you want to be within that position. For example, selecting to play as a running back leads to your choice of playing as a "shadow," who focuses on being fast and elusive; a "juggernaut," who runs people over; or a "double agent," who is good at running out of the backfield and catching the ball as a receiver.

Adding to all this selection goodness is the fact that you can craft and customize different builds for your player avatar; you can make agile, balanced and bruiser builds with loadouts that can be used for Face of the Franchise and another game mode known as The Yard. Conceptually, I dug the options, but cluttered menus and displays meant I also got easily confused with all of the juggling and tweaking of builds while trying out different positions. One can get deep into tweaking a "bruiser" build and forget to switch out of it when wanting to play as an agile slot receiver, forcing one to quit and readjust. (I may or may not have done this a few times.) After all of this, you get to choose which college your player went to, guaranteeing that you're going to play some college ball at some point during this narrative exercise.

This year's story within Face of the Franchise is thankfully stripped of much of the overly wrought melodrama: There's no frenemy chasing you to college, you don't have to engage in a stupid reality-show contest to prove that you can throw, there's no college coach who wants to bench you to "give the other guy a look" after you throw for 400 yards and 4 TDS (I love Robert Patrick, but his character in Madden '21 was the worst example of the hardass college coach ever). It's a relatively straight-up journey of a dude who is likely to be a first-round draft pick. His only drama is what real-life draft picks have to deal with, such as picking which events to go to, press, and performing well at workouts.

One of the things that bugged me about Face of the Franchise were … bugs. The audio wouldn't match the subtitles. Visual glitches during a charity game led to the appearance of extra symbiotic feet growing out of players' legs as they ran around.

There are also things that made my football-nerd brain melt. During my pro debut, the graphic showing the list of people in my team's draft class showed that another dude and I were picked in the same round, with the same pick. I've watched football a long time — you can't pick two people with one pick, guys. That's not a thing that happens. Also, if I'm a quarterback who gets picked, why on earth would a team pick another one in the first round? This happened when my dude got picked by the Jaguars at No. 1 … but in the world of Madden 22, I also got picked at the same time, by the same team, as Trevor Lawrence, the real-life No. 1 pick of this past NFL draft. What? Compounding this is the commentators saying, "We get our first look at Trevor Lawrence," before the season opener, when my created player is clearly the starter.

Face of the Franchise also felt narratively (and graphically) disjointed. One the on hand, I'd get an acted cinema screen for a scenario, and then the next scene featured the classic look of people standing still, lips and mouths moving to signify speech, Disney-animatronic gesturing, but only text to serve as the conversation — except sometimes audio would jump in. Consider this juxtaposed with the FIFA or NBA 2K experiences, especially in 2K, which had an acted-out cinematic screen for at least a dozen different situations.

I also didn't appreciate having to play a Yard game as part of my journey because it felt like I was blatantly being force-fed a mode that didn't really fit with the tone: "Here, a week before the draft, play crazy six-on-six iron-man football in full pads against the NFL's elite! What could go wrong?" Other weird things that happened during several of my Face of the Franchise journeys were being stuck on the "resume/quit" screen after said Yard charity game, which meant I had to play it again and hope it worked. I also started a passing drill with no receivers, so I threw incompletions against air for a hot minute until I had to start the game over. At least during a flashback sequence, I got to play in a couple of college football games, even though there were dudes with my exact jersey number playing on offense with me. Yes, in college, people can have the same jersey number, but not on the same side of the ball. Also, when one of the college players would score, commentary would often say a completely different name. These all might sound like small things, but these are small things that other games in other sports manage to nail, and they add up to a distracting package.

At least the football is still solid enough to remain the core reason that Madden manages to endure. When it comes to the act of actually playing football on an NFL field, Madden 22 has its best chances to shine. EA has added a ton of new animations, but they are hard to notice when your focus is on tracking the flight of the ball, finding receivers, or trying to burst through running lanes. Most of the time, the animations subtly get absorbed into a playing experience that most fans have known for more than a decade.

That said, I did appreciate the flow of pass protection — the pocket seemed to form and move just a touch more organically than in years past. Tackling looks a little more fluid, but there were some glitches in the games I played, where sometimes players actually seemed to teleport right next to my ball carrier for the tackle. Also, you'll still get treated to the odd fall more than a few times per game. Running the football showed newer animations, which made running someone like Derrick Henry of the Titans 20 to 25 times in a game quite fun. A personal favorite of mine is when a fast player breaks out into the open field and shifts into a dead-sprint, haul-ass animation instead of simply leaning forward and moving faster. When you are gone in Madden 22, you look gone. It's a satisfying thing to see when you take it to the house — it's just not enough.

The big-ticket feature for next-gen for Madden 22 has been "dynamic gameday," which fuses the concepts of momentum, atmosphere and metrics into the experience. Some of this works. There's a double-sided momentum meter at the top of the screen that fills up on either side, depending on which big plays happen for which team. Reminiscent of the takeover meter in NBA 2K, filling up the momentum meter triggers a perk for a team, especially the home team. Receivers might drop passes a little more, defenses could be a little more compromised, and play art for routes could be screwed up. It's a cool element that adds an extra wrinkle to each game when you notice it.

As far as atmosphere goes, all that amounted to were extra shots of a more-realistic crowd and different camera angles and presentation of teams coming out of the tunnel, or lead-up commentary on the story of the game. Again, cool, but it's a surface improvement. Some stadiums have their fans perform signature chants (like "J-E-T-S"), but they sound oddly muffled and a little off. The use of next-gen stats adds some dope graphics and numbers to game-breaking plays. On a long run, I saw that my tailback ran about 21 mph to the end zone. Next-gen is also supposed to influence play-calling and tendencies for AI-controlled teams, and from what I saw, it simply gave me more information I could use. I haven't yet experienced a moment that signals, "My God, the game has figured me out!"

You also get plenty of stats to look at in Franchise mode, another facet of Madden that's in need of some updating. Many of the newer adjustments feel cosmetic and surface-level. The strongest new tweak of the mode has been the addition of a staff management feature, where you can boost the skills of members of your coaching staff through a skill tree, along with hiring and firing. There are new week-to-week scenarios you deal with, such as the occasional press conference when you discuss that week's opponent. There's more emphasis on the preparation of game plans, which can offer a variety of boosts, either to plays or whole position groups. Bigger changes to the scouting of college players during the season are supposed to come in a later patch, so for now, Franchise mode feels incomplete.

Another area of the game that's missing a few pieces involves making players in the creation center, which feels like it hasn't been touched in a long time. I feel like I've been looking at the same choice of assorted preset faces and skin tones for years, even though there are a few new ones sprinkled in. It's especially strange when juxtaposed with the intricate and varied creation system for your Face of the Franchise avatar, where you can adjust everything from exact thigh size to jawline. Also, we live in a world where one can build a baseball swing from the ground up and there are more than 100 animations to craft a player's jumpshot, but there's barely a dozen ways for a created quarterback in Madden to throw a football? That doesn't really sit well with me; creating characters should be a richer experience, and the more options one has provides more chances for a player to take ownership of their creation. The lack of options makes the franchise seem a few steps behind everyone else.

I always find a message within the selection of the Madden cover athlete, and in the picks of Tom Brady (arguably the greatest quarterback of all time) and Patrick Mahomes (arguably the most naturally gifted QB of all time), the message felt like a dual nod to Madden's age and enduring legacy as well as the promise of a bright future. However, even with the new stuff, I can't shake the sense of sameness in the experience of Madden NFL 22. The love of football keeps me playing, but there were no moments that made me think, "OK, we are in the next generation." That holds the series back while other games have passed it by. It looks like another year where "the leap" will have to wait — if it ever comes at all.

Score: 6.1/10

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