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Madden NFL 24

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: Aug. 18, 2023


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PS5 Review - 'Madden NFL 24'

by Redmond Carolipio on Aug. 29, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Madden NFL 24 returns with new gameplay depth that delivers more control and realism, as well as bringing back Superstar Mode and mini-Games.

Do you remember when the yearly Madden release felt like an event? I do.

I'm a football fan and game lover of a certain age, but my fondest memories of an annual Madden back in the '90s and early 2000s included actual emotions, borne out of the anticipation of what new features would be coming. It felt like Christmas in the late summer or early fall. It probably wasn't healthy.

What stuff, younger me wondered, would EA put in there to bring me closer to representing my favorite sport? New plays? Amazing. Numbers on the jerseys? Outstanding. A passing cone? Screw it, I suck at it, but why not? Better visuals? Can't wait. I carried that energy with me every year as I followed the franchise into adulthood and the professional world, when I got to occasionally cover games. Covering a Madden release even took me to the Rose Bowl, where I got to meet (or at least occupy the same space of) some of the game's giants, like Marshall Faulk, Marcus Allen, Warren Sapp and — here we go, Steelers — Rod Woodson, who hated my hat at the time, but talked to me for a minute anyway. Good guy, Rod Woodson.

For the most part back then, my excitement was justified and rewarded. Madden wasn't just the best football game, but it also helped set the tone of what a sports game and franchise is supposed to look and feel like — something that grows with, innovates and celebrates the game it represents while also keeping the finger on the pulse of sports culture.

That was more than a decade ago. Fast-forward to the present day, when I dove into Madden 24 for a few dozen hours. It's ... fine. It's there. It stirs up very little, and that's sad to think about. Many of the things I can point to in this game are the same things I can point to in the last version, and the game before that and the game before that. The things that Madden 24 introduces, refines and does well are buried under a comedy of odd technical missteps and this overwhelming sense that other parts of the overall package just felt woefully — comically — out-of-touch, well behind what other sports games are doing. Looking at it from a critical and artistic standpoint, I felt like Madden 24 was another example of trying to use a couple of buckets to stop a ship from sinking.

I dabbled in Madden Ultimate Team, which I never really got into. I'm not trying to be ironic or snarky or edgy; I've just never been compelled to build my own fantasy team the way the last few Maddens want people to do it. One thing I did notice was the strangely slow response time for the menus; it was slow enough to wonder if my PS5 was acting up or if my internet connection was faltering. I just want to play football, friends, so that's where I typically invest my energy: observing the on-field product and, this season, exploring the rebooted Superstar mode.

The Superstar mode is the game's equivalent of a single-player career/story campaign and can be a microcosm of everything I found wrong while I was playing: Some good ideas, a solid start that makes you think, "Oh, we're onto something" — and then things sort of fall off. It's like the unfinished horse drawing meme. I enjoyed the refined character-creation aspect of Superstar, where I got to create my avatar and adjust everything from facial structure to skin tone to facial hair and overall build. I could even get down to the leg size, so if you want to make your player a total Quadfather like Saquon Barkley or A.J. Dillon, you do you.

One thing I don't understand is why this stuff isn't in the actual "creation center" of the game if you just want to create a player. Instead, you have a gallery of occasionally goofy faces and a strange inability to alter physiques. Every time I'd adjust, exit the screen to do something else (like adjust gear) and then return to the build screen, the sliders would be reset.

Back to Superstar. I also appreciated that I didn't get some drawn-out, hokey or implausible bullshit like Longshot, or the time when my fictional player had to deal with an odd frenemy who followed me to college or a coach who "wasn't sure" I was the guy even after throwing for 500 yards and four touchdowns. Sports games as a whole need to stop with that crap. (Yes, I know I probably complained about this in a previous Madden review, but rehashing things is kind of a theme here, correct?)

Superstar puts you in the cleats of a player called Cap (your created avatar), and it's a straightforward path: To boost your draft status, you can execute a variety of minigames at the combine, like running the 40, doing agility drills or, for quarterbacks, testing the arm by nailing a variety of throws. I found that to be fun. I even got a chance to get "interviewed" at the combine, but instead of the real-life quirky psychological questions players get at this thing, I got a line of football trivia questions.

After getting drafted, you get the cameos from football legends, like "Coach Prime" Deion Sanders. Your early steps are chronicled in short video "casts" featuring the trio of ex-ballers Ryan Clark, Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor. In real life, they are the hosts of The Pivot, an outstanding podcast that features interviews with honest and occasionally raw energy. Unfortunately in Madden 24, we get the watered-down version of these gentlemen; it sounds like most of the stuff they say came out of a trope factory and was handed to them by someone who knows they're on a podcast, but hasn't really listened to them at all. Once again, the theme shows itself: a good idea, but one that doesn't go nearly far enough.

After all the hoopla of being drafted and playing your first game, you're stuck in repetitive player-locked hell, picking tasks to do every day and participating in the odd minigame and playing ball every week, all to help build your player's final form. There's little to no narrative investment further on; you're left to grind along. As you play games, there's a nod to the NBA 2K in-game performance grading system off to the upper right of the menu. However, it felt unreasonably harsh. In my first start at QB, I threw for more than 350 years and three TDS, no picks and got the win. That notched me a B. What?

If you've made it this far and read of all this, you might be wondering why the score is still where it is. That's out of respect for the game's depiction of the act of playing football, which can be good — when it's allowed to be.

We've been smacked over the head with the buzzword "FieldSense," which is basically a package of smaller improvements designed to make the on-field football look and feel better. This was introduced in the last game and showed some promise. If you're asking me if "FieldSense" does the job in Madden 24, the short answer is ... yes? There were definitely some notable improvements in the game's flow, especially when it came to how the offensive line handled blocking. In some ways, it's the best it's ever been, occasionally coming close to what the experience of finding a seam/hole/alley would be like for a running back.

The NFL is now a passing league, however, and the array of tweaks to the passing mechanics (like touch and accuracy) are necessary to counter the much-improved coverage techniques from the DBs I ran into, even on lower difficulty settings. At the highest settings, cover corners like Jaire Alexander or Sauce Gardner may as well be Elden Ring bosses on some possessions. Much was made about the addition of new throwing animations, but I saw that as window dressing. It's nice to see the occasional sidearm, baseball or diving throw, but we live in a world of other sports titles, where there are roughly 100 ways to shoot a jump shot or pitch a baseball. A few dozen throwing styles with nebulous names in the creation section doesn't really do it anymore.

Aesthetically, Madden 24 is far from ugly. The stadium experiences look great, and the players look good; the faces of some of the game's stars look impeccable. Even the coaches look greatly improved on the sidelines, but there are still some generic-as-hell player models on the sidelines doing canned animations. Even with this, there are too many bouts of odd glitchiness or ignorance of detail that slice away any threads of immersion. The new player skeletons help with the realism aspect of how people are tackled and how they fall, but there's still a latent unnaturalness to it all that's been there for years.

Speaking of details, the NFL is rife with characters and fan culture, and Madden used to be able to feature the energy of various crowds and players. Madden 24 only sort of does that. For instance, anyone who's watched an NFL game with Aaron Rodgers will hear his signature pre-snap cadence: "Green eighteeeeeeeeen, green-eighteen-set-hut." His voice (and that of other star QBs) is actually in the game, but only when you call an audible or snap the ball. It'd be nice to hear them, without prompting, calling pre-snap. If I'm using the Steelers, I should be able to hear a PA announcer say, "That's a Pittsburgh Steelers ..." and then the crowd yell, "FIRST DOWN." Again, we live in a world where I can play basketball with the Lakers and hear the PA announcer utter, "Laker grrrrrrrrrls" the same way he's been doing for a generation, but I can't a "Muuuuuuuth" from the Burgh when I toss one to our tight end? I don't think I'm being unfair — not in this day and age.

Then, you get some real tech gaffes, like the camera occasionally getting lost after someone scores a touchdown, so you just get a shot of a random part of the stadium or the flat crowd. The most popular tech gaffe deals with injuries, where you can see someone celebrating a big play or dancing with teammates (with the injury alert on the screen for that player), only to then see them suddenly trot into the locker room to address the injury. I'm sure the internet is either collecting, or already had a collection, of the weird stuff that still pops up with this game, and it's stuff that's been around for years.

Finally, I feel like the Madden attempt to replicate a TV-style broadcast needs to be blown up and rebuilt. I've always liked the commentary of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis, so that's not the problem. The issue is that the pre-game, halftime and postgame look and energy feel tacked-on and stale. Part of the football-watching American football experience is a dramatic cold open followed by some invested preamble by the broadcast team, or an actual desk of people talking. That's not what you see here. Can we get a decent sideline report? A song? Unique beginnings for Sunday and Thursday games? Can playing and winning the Super Bowl feel like winning the Super Bowl instead of the same sequence we've had for a few years? How about halftime? I'm not asking for Rihanna, but can I at least see Jonathan Coachman pointing to something or talking to someone? More than the game, a sport is a vibe, and the games representing the NBA, MLB and FIFA know it. Somewhere along the way, Madden lost it.

The toughest part about all this is that I'm probably not telling you stuff you don't know and that we (or I) will still play this, just because it's football. And right now, that's all it'll be. Nothing more.

Score: 5.0/10

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