This year’s Madden is all about righting wrongs. It’s about making sure the past mistakes don’t happen again, turning losses into wins and ensuring that when quarterbacks start hobbling around, they stay down and don’t get back up to throw three touchdowns in the second half. And don’t even get me started on that holding call.
I’m still very bitter.
This year’s Madden is also about improving upon some solid on-field foundations, and attempting to make it the football game that fans deserve. Madden NFL 23 focussed on improving the action, and it seems that is once again the case in Madden NFL 24. Unfortunately, that means almost everything else has either been left untouched or removed altogether.
But let’s start with the positives. Madden NFL 24 introduces SAPIEN Technology – at least to Xbox Series X|S versions of the game – which, when combined with the improvements made to FieldSENSE makes for one of the best-looking and most realistic football games ever.
Whilst it is lingering in the realm of marketing buzzword creativity, SAPIEN actually brings a lot to the table. It has completely revamped player models and skeletons, giving a whole new level of fluidity to player animations. Coupled with the advancements to the already solid FieldSENSE tech and the gameday atmosphere on the pitch results in a very competent football game. Emphasis on “on the pitch”.
This extends to non-players as well, including coaches and referees, that have suddenly re-appeared on screen after an unexplained absence. And yes, this does include female coaches and referees.
However, this isn’t always immediately obvious on lower difficulties. Your running back can still charge through a defensive line being buffeted about but without being tackled. It still looks a little janky. On higher difficulties this is not an issue though as the AI will not be as lenient as to let you pass.
Players will still walk into each other in comedic fashion in-between plays though. No amount of FieldSENSE, SAPIEN or whatever buzzword comes next can seemingly prevent this from happening. But overall, actually playing a game of football in Madden NFL 24 feels great.
Then we get to the rest of the game which really lets Madden NFL 24 down. Firstly, it’s like the loading screens are running on a potato such is the speed – or lack thereof – of them. The speed in which menus operate has been a problem for a number of years for Madden, but this year it’s more noticeable. Sometimes it takes a few seconds to then catch up with a button input, and you’ll find yourself repeating inputs frequently.
Another headline feature has been the return of minigames into Franchise mode. Though look deeper into this and if one of your biggest updates is a returning feature, it gives some indication as to how stale development is on the Madden franchise.
The minigames are used between matches to level up your players. They range from the fun to the boring, but even over time they all begin to lose their enjoyment. That’s because these are now the only method of improving your player’s skills. Skipping them means you are missing out on levelling them up, so in essence you are forced to endure them time and time again.
Franchise mode had a major overhaul in recent years, so you can forgive that for not having anything else major added to it.
These minigames are also present in Superstar mode. This returning mode lacks the narrative punch of previous years with the likes of Face of the Franchise from before, instead being a more conventional mode. You choose your preferred position and then go through NFL Combine, Draft and then play through a traditional season aiming for the fabled Madden 99 rating. Choosing anything other than a quarterback position though will make this a much more frustrating mode than it needs to be.
It does feel a bit weird as it tries to add gamified elements into the general conversations had in the cutscenes. For example, your created player asking for extra skill points like they are some performance enhancing drug. Honestly, it’s a little awkward and could have probably just been omitted.
Showdown mode is also hidden away in the Superstar menu, utilising your same user generated character. This replaces the poorly received The Yard mode from previous entries for something that is virtually identical and also disappointing. Unsurprisingly though, it is also one of the areas where microtransactions are present. The other being the money-printing Madden Ultimate Team.
Of course Madden Ultimate Team is still here, but with barely anything new to report. It’s a fun enough mode as you complete challenges, but it remains very shallow. It feels more and more that Ultimate Team is for the die-hards; those that play it year in and year out, very infrequently touching the other modes. The more casual players who dip in and out of modes will build their teams, open a few packs, play a few challenges and then quickly find a more substantial mode to pour hours into.
The excellent on-field action in Madden NFL 24 is badly let down by the performance elsewhere. The menus are in desperate need of an update, and the shallow modes like Madden Ultimate Team and Superstar mode offer little in the way of variation. Even the return of the minigames quickly becomes stale through repetition. Which is a shame, because actually playing Madden is great. The animations and improved AI make it a much more enjoyable – and fairer – game.
Just be prepared to be disappointed in almost every other aspect.