Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY JOE COW­LEY jcow­ley@sun­ @JCow­leyHoops

My con­cern is that at some point, I’m go­ing to out­grow the “Mad­den” fran­chise — just age out one of th­ese years af­ter decades of play­ing EA Sports’ crown jewel.

That’s why this “Mad­den NFL 21” re­view is so con­flict­ing. Did the game miss on some huge op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­vance­ment this year, or have I, at 52, sim­ply be­come the guy telling you to get off my lawn?

Are the nu­mer­ous game glitches be­cause of a world­wide pan­demic that has con­fined most peo­ple to their homes for months, or was it just a lazy year for the game de­vel­op­ers?

So many unan­swered ques­tions, so much con­fu­sion.

First, the bad.

For most in the “Mad­den” com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially the lif­ers, the move­ment to make the Fran­chise Mode more au­then­tic and keep an old-school feel proved to be a fail. Tak­ing it a step fur­ther, if you buy the game solely to play Fran­chise Mode, just stick with “Mad­den 20” be­cause there are very few changes.

The other no­tice­able prob­lem with “Mad­den 21” is all the glitches. Wrong uni­forms, play­ers mor­ph­ing into each other, game crashes in cer­tain modes . . . it all has been on dis­play in the early ver­sion.

The good news is the game de­vel­op­ers re­al­ized the mis­takes that al­ready were shipped to the public and are quickly send­ing out in­stall patches to fix them. They also have said there will be updates and patches com­ing to im­prove the Fran­chise Mode ex­pe­ri­ence, so the early com­plaints are be­ing heard. Just how loudly re­mains to be seen. Fin­gers crossed.

As for the good parts, they do out­weigh the bad, es­pe­cially thanks to one new game mode called The Yard. Think “NFL Blitz” — last re­leased in 2012 — on steroids.

The Yard mostly ap­peals to a younger gen­er­a­tion that wants ar­cade-style hits and crazy rules, back­yard foot­ball­style. Any player can get the snap in this six-on-six setup, and mul­ti­ple passes are al­lowed on a sin­gle play.

What makes The Yard even more of an eye-grab­ber are the graphics for dif­fer­ent fields you can choose to play on, the new-look uni­forms and the abil­ity to col­lect coins to pur­chase new gear.

That’s the other key ad­di­tion to this year’s “Mad­den” that will at­tract a younger de­mo­graphic: at­tire that can be bought or col­lected. Bor­row­ing from “NBA 2K” and its Play­ground game mode, The Yard not only al­lows a crazy playstyle but also the abil­ity to level up and change your player’s look with cre­ative jer­seys, hel­mets, arm wraps — the whole she­bang. It’s like “Fort­nite” skins for foot­ball.

An­other plus in “Mad­den 21” is the con­tin­ued strong stick work. Game play is still smooth, whether you’re run­ning with the ball or scram­bling to find an open re­ceiver. The de­vel­op­ers even added some new tools for the de­fen­sive line­men to be more ef­fec­tive in de­feat­ing blocks and mak­ing life hell for op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs.

In the end, how­ever, this feels like a game that was re­leased be­fore it was quite fin­ished. That’s why this year’s grade is a C-plus, with the hope of it even­tu­ally be­com­ing a B-mi­nus as the mis­takes are cor­rected.

“Mad­den 21” is still the best foot­ball gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on the block . . . or, in this case, in The Yard. And it’s a yard I may un­for­tu­nately yell at you to get out of. ✶


One of the game’s high­lights this year is The Yard, a new mode with a back­yard-foot­ball feel that al­lows play­ers to choose from a va­ri­ety of fields and col­lect coins that can be used to buy at­tires and ac­ces­sories.

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