MADDEN NFL 19
Old man of gridiron manages a fumble-free performance
Five years into any console cycle, annual sports games tend to drift into a 8/10 comfort zone. Developers realise an injection of freshness is necessary to tempt fans into dropping 50 quid on their new game, but become tentative about making wholesale changes that alienate existing season ticket holders. Madden 19 is a prototypical example of this: a sports sim in sublime form, yet devoid of anything truly groundbreaking. The big hook is something EA calls Real Player Motion. Supposedly only possible in the Frostbite engine, it sees players moving in a more lifelike way, with subtle variations in speed, and smart details such as your running back leaning on a lineman as he looks to push through gaps. It’s largely an improvement, but comes with quirks such as receivers sometimes failing to keep their feet in bounds, and hit-stick tackles lacking the oomph that made them so satisfying in the past.
Where this action sings most beautifully is in franchise mode. A Madden monster during the noughties, it endured some barren years following the switch to PS4 but is finally back to its best. Much of that is because – occasional physics foibles aside – the on-pitch action is so strong, throwing up end-to-end shootouts, nervy defensive battles, and last-gasp wins throughout a 16-game season. And key refinements off the field keep you locked in for the long haul.
Jonathan Coachman’s interjections lend a TV-style authenticity to proceedings, as does the ticker providing scores from around the league. More important is what occurs outside of gameday; for instance, the new option to edit or import draft classes, meaning you can choose authentic college prospects for the first time since NCAA Football 2013’s demise. The draft itself is much improved, with a clearer interface that broadcasts every selection on a theatre-like stage.
Yet franchise isn’t this game’s best feature. That accolade goes to Longshot: Homecoming, a story mode which expands upon Madden 18’s tale of fictional hopefuls Devin Wade and Colt Cruise. The removal of last year’s dialogue choices is a surprise, but it’s compensated for with a heartwarming tale boasting myriad grown-up themes: a deaf quarterback, the loss of childhood innocence, even death. There’s humour in there too, and the only sucker punch is its brevity; I completed it in one five-hour sitting, yet could happily have lingered in Mathis, Texas for double that time.
Throw in the omnipresent Ultimate Team and returning options of live rosters and weekly commentary updates, and Madden 19 is a compelling package. It’s unlikely to offer true innovation for the remainder of this console generation – but that doesn’t detract from its status as a gridiron Hall Of Famer.
“A SUBLIME SPORTS SIM, YET DEVOID OF ANYTHING TRULY GROUNDBREAKING.”
Boasting two exceptional modes in franchise and Longshot, it mightn’t have the cult following of its PS2 years, but this is as good as EA’s veteran NFL series has ever been. Ben Wilson
Facial likenesses are impressive – though players’ helmets mean it’s often difficult to notice.
FORMAT PS4 ETA OUT NOW PUB EA DEV EA TIBURON