Madden NFL 24 reminds me of the Marvin Lewis-coached Bengals. Lewis led Cincinnati’s football team to the most wins of any coach in the history of the franchise, and they made the playoffs seven times during his tenure, including a stretch where they made the playoffs for five straight years. They never won any of those playoff games, though. Not one. Some of the losses were close. Some were heartbreakers that the Bengals gave away. Lewis’ teams were almost always good, or at least decent, but they were never good enough – and after a while it became clear that they never would be. Three years after his departure the Bengals would play in the Super Bowl, led by a new head coach in Zac Taylor and the recently drafted Joe Burrow. It’s amazing how quickly things can change in the NFL when organizations decide to try something new.
Like Lewis’ Bengals, Madden NFL 24 is good, or at least decent, but never quite good enough to make it feel like a winning year for this series. After something of a soft reboot last year, Madden NFL 24 is focused mostly on refinement, while attempting to address several sore spots among fans in what has been widely referred to as a “make or break year.” And while several notable improvements have been made, it still feels like what the series has been known for in recent years: a great on-field experience desperately searching for a way to make everything else work. Unfortunately, while can see flashes of greatness and the play is usually passable, it’s hard to shake the feeling that things won’t get meaningfully better until somebody at EA gives EA Tiburon the time and money to make some serious, meaningful changes.
Let’s start with the good stuff. One of the biggest improvements is to FieldSENSE, where the existing Hit Everything system has been combined with new animations that take player size and strength into account. EA Tiburon claims it has added or adjusted more than 1,700 tackle animations, and I believe it, because the new animations look fantastic. There are new contested-catch animations, wrap-up tackles, and my personal favorite, scoops, where large defensive players will pick up offensive players by the legs before slamming them back down to the field. Football is a violent sport, and the new animations depict that in ways that feel realistic. When a big hit happens on the field you feel it, just like you do when you see it during a game – just, you know, without the weird guilt about whether you should enjoy watching it or not.
This year also brings improvements to the Skill-Based Passing system, adding new animations that better represent the scenarios players are in when catching passes. My favorites are the new diving catches, which look spectacular and make those seemingly out-of-reach balls more likely to be caught. It also means Madden NFL 24 is better at tracking player momentum, so hitting your receivers at the right point in their routes is more important – they need to have enough time to turn upfield or juke defenders. These are great changes; you get fewer of those “Oh, come on! You could have caught that!” moments, and plays just look and feel more authentic when you see them executed.
As an added bonus, more improvisational QBs – like cover star Josh Allen and everyone’s favorite Kermit the Frog impersonator, Patrick Mahomes – are more likely to use jumping and diving passes to make plays when the situation calls for it. Combine all of this with the redone player skeletons and player models that (almost, sorry Cam Heyward) always look like they’re stepped off the gridiron and onto your TV screen, and Madden NFL 24 is easily the best-looking and best-animated the series has ever been. It’s a genuinely impressive accomplishment, and it feels like you’re always on the verge of seeing something incredibly cool go down – just like the real NFL.
This year’s edition also refines post-play reactions from players, and once again, they look excellent. You’ll see them do kamehamehas, recreate the Spider-Man pointing meme, cheer, hang their heads, the whole nine yards. I’ve put nearly 40 hours into Madden NFL 24 since its release, and I’m still seeing new reactions. Refs are even back on the field this year (after being bizarrely absent for the last few) and we’ve got both male and female officials this time. Yes, there’s the odd janky animation when players collide, but they’re pretty rare. Madden NFL 24 absolutely nails the on-field presentation.
EA has also made noticeable improvements to the AI, with the biggest probably being to AI blocking. Part of this is because of the expansion of the FieldSENSE animation system, which is being applied to blockers for the first time. Now, blockers are differentiated from one another and will make better decisions when blocking. That means more double-teams, more chip blocking, and more working together to push the pile, which in turn means a better experience in the run and passing game. This is one of those inside baseball (football?), under-the-hood changes that new and more casual players probably won’t notice, but if playing previous Madden games has ever had you screaming “why would you do that?” at your offensive line like I have, it’s an immediate improvement.
It’s just one of the many revamps to Madden’s AI across the board. Another place you’re likely to notice it is against the AI quarterbacks, who will use more audibles and hot routes and play more like their real-life counterparts. That means that players like Patrick Mahomes are more likely to dial up big, highlight-reel-worthy plays in stressful situations, running QBs like Lamar Jackson will try to escape the pocket under pressure, and more cautious quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins will check the ball down. But it’s not just quarterbacks: run defenders will recognize if you call the same play several times and hit their gaps more quickly, secondaries will play short crosses and slants more aggressively and responsively, and running backs are better at finding holes, using cutback lanes, and navigating space.
All of this adds up to a Madden where AI players are simultaneously much smarter, but also more capable of making plausible mistakes if that’s what their real-world counterparts would do. You’re more likely to see clutch big players, goal line stands, breakout runs, and everything in between. It makes for a more exciting, more realistic game, and the best on-field experience I’ve had with Madden in several years. Note, though, these upgrades are almost all tied to the PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC versions. If you’re playing on last-generation consoles, you’re out of luck.
And then you get off the field, and that’s where things start to fall apart. The first place you’ll notice this is in the menus, which are some of the laggiest I’ve ever seen in a video game. It’s not a problem everywhere – the main menu tends to work pretty well – but get into Ultimate Team or Superstar and things take absolutely forever to load. Even exiting a mode and choosing another one can take several seconds, which seems like way too long for this kind of thing.
Madden NFL 24’s menus also have an input lag problem. Sometimes it takes several seconds for your selections to register… if they do at all. This means selecting the option you want multiple times, and in several cases, selecting something you don’t want by accident. This is a minor problem if you go into Ultimate Team when you wanted Franchise Mode, but it’s a real issue when it happens in-game and you call a play you didn’t mean to. It’s rarer when you’re on the field, but it does happen. Even if you’re just playing solo, it makes changing your lineup or opening packs in Ultimate Team a chore, and choosing your options in Superstar or Franchise mode take much longer than they should.
The problems persist when you finally get into the mode you want. One of the most touted additions to Madden NFL 24 is the return of minigames, which have been absent since Madden NFL 13. There are 26 minigames in total and they’re… fine. Some of them, like Rushing Attack, which charges you with taking control of a running back and scoring as many touchdowns as possible, are a lot of fun, and it’s easy to see why fans wanted it back. Others, like Backfield Survival, which adds obstacles on the field and asks you to run around the field for as long as possible without getting sacked, are goofy fun that help you build Stick skills. But a lot of them just feel pointless.
Yeah, Passing Skeleton will teach you how to quickly identify the open receiver, but since the best way to win is to build your multiplier by completing passes, it quickly devolves into just throwing short passes. Target Passing, on the other hand, teaches you absolutely nothing and is absolutely maddening (no pun intended). The goal is to use your receivers to line up your throws to break targets scattered across the field, but even with the precision pass mechanic added last year, it feels more like a crapshoot than a test of actual skill. Worse, many of them are just variants that do things like add more defenders or put you at a different place on the field. Cull the variants and you’re down to just 15 unique minigames, and several of them wear out their welcome very quickly.
The real problem is that these min-games are now how you build player skills in Franchise, Training Camp, and Superstar modes. That would be fine if you could do them once and then keep re-using your highest score, as you could with older training options, but you can’t. If you want the full benefits you’ll have to play them every time. By the time I finished Superstar, I could do the Passing Skeleton mini-game in my sleep. I never wanted to play it again, but since the other options to level up my created QB were variants of Target Passing, a mini-game I hated, I didn’t have much choice if I wanted to level up at a decent rate. It sucked.
Speaking of Superstar, it’s back as the replacement for Face of the Franchise and it’s also…fine. You can create a QB, HB, WR, LB, or CB, and guide them from the Combine – fairly generic mini-games you’ll play once and never see again – interview with teams, and get drafted. There’s a very simple storyline here, but nothing about it is as interesting as what Longshot or even Face of the Franchise did a few years ago.
The Combine is kind of fun, but it’s a one-off, and once you’re into the season it plays out as a fairly standard career mode where your character, the Madden Chosen One, tries to guide their franchise to the Super Bowl and earn the coveted Madden 99 Overall rating. It’s uninspired but fine, though it has its share of problems. Playing anything other than a QB means your career is often out of your control, and the whole thing is pretty generic.
The most interesting thing in Superstar is Superstar Showdown, which replaces The Yard. Here, you can take your avatar online and compete in 3v3 and 6v6 games in an arena. It’s a neat novelty, but like all but a few of the minigames, it wears off fairly quickly.
Other modes have seen updates, too. Franchise sees the return of Training Camp, which uses the minigames and lets you prep your team for the season. It’s a nice addition, but you only spend a little time in it each season. Otherwise, the additions are mostly quality-of-life changes – more trade slots, commissioner settings, coach talent trees, new relocation options, and so on – that don’t do much to address Franchise’s biggest problem: how barebones all of it feels due to the lack options enjoyed by the franchise modes in sports sims.
Beyond that, Madden NFL 24 is much like Madden always is. There’s Ultimate Team, of course, and the combination of challenges, online play, and team building can be fun even if you don’t open your wallet the way you’re pushed to, quick play, the Pro Bowl (which is buried in quick play and easily missed), Madden’s excellent Skill Trainer, and so on. If you’ve played Madden in the past few years, you’ve seen it all before.
And that’s Madden 24’s biggest flaw, really. Once you step off the field, it’s just plain dull. There’s a lot of good on-field additions this year, and the cross-platform implementation EA has added works wonderfully, as does the game’s netcode (I played a near-flawless game with someone on the other side of the US), but unless you’re in love with the act of playing Madden, there’s just not much here to reinvigorate it. Madden desperately, desperately needs a ground-up refresh, and you can tell EA Tiburon is trying, but the yearly nature of the series, and the sheer dominance of the money-printing Ultimate Team over everything else, means a lot of these changes are like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound, especially when the UI is this painful to navigate.
Go to Source
Author: jon Burgess