Going Through The Motions
By: Ryan Waldis Reviewed on: PC (Also available on PS4, XBOX ONE)
August was always a bittersweet month for me as I progressed through my childhood into my young adult phase. As soon as the calendar hit August, it meant that I only had one more month of summer vacation before another school year began. The late nights and freedom to choose what I wanted to do each day would soon be replaced by six-plus hour school days, endless homework and both going to bed and waking up earlier than I had been accustomed to throughout the summer. August also meant something else, though—the newest Madden would be out on the shelves before I knew it.
I was six years old when I received Madden 03 as a gift, and from that day I was hooked. Even though I didn’t understand all the intricacies of the game at the time, it was still a surreal feeling controlling the same stars I watched on TV each Sunday. For better or worse, I haven’t missed an iteration of the game since, and some of my favorite memories growing up were simply playing the newest version of Madden with my best friends.
While the franchise has faced some vitriol over the past several years, EA’s hope is that Madden 19 will set a new precedent with some key additions such as Real Player Motion, enhanced visuals, and the most in-depth franchise mode since the XBOX/PS2 days. With very little competition in the football video game market, EA has been accused of coasting by each year when it comes to their landmark football title due to the aforementioned lack of competition. Is that the case this year?
From a purely graphical standpoint, Madden 19 is the most beautiful iteration of the series to date… for the most part. In the second year of utilizing the Frostbite engine, clear improvements have been made from year one. While player renders and models still aren’t on the level of what the NBA 2K team produces each year, they are more detailed and realistic than ever before. There’s an argument to be made that (especially in a football game) you’ll rarely see an up-close look at the extremely detailed faces of the players, but it doesn’t take away from the work that was done by the development team. Having said that, there are several face renders that are wildly inaccurate; while this should be addressed in the first Player Likeness update, it’s upsetting that an issue like this is even apparent in a video game where one of the primary selling points is that it’s “extremely similar to what you see on Sunday.”
photo courtesy of EA
Stadium interiors and exteriors have also been given a noticeable face-lift, and the Madden team has managed to harness the power of the Frostbite engine to produce more realistic lighting and shadow effects within the stadiums. Having said that, the lighting and shadows within certain stadiums could benefit from some major fine-tuning. A 4:25 game at AT&T Stadium in real life, for example, often produces breathtaking views due to the light being filtered in through the windows, but those same views are nowhere to be found in Madden. The crowds (understandably) haven’t changed much from a visual standpoint, and the sidelines are still woefully modeled. The players are seemingly lifeless, and both the players and the coaches produce the same handful of generic animations that were in Madden 25, which was released five years ago.
Madden 19’s gameplay is also the best it has ever been, whether vocal critics want to admit it or not… when it actually works. The addition of Real Player Motion (also known as Locomotion) makes the game feel and play more realistically than ever. There’s a bigger learning curve with Madden 19 than many previous Madden releases (especially when it comes to the run game), but after a few exhibition games it becomes easier to understand what moves work best in certain situations and what moves do not. It’s no longer ideal to simply hold the sprint button and hope for the best; rather, the new Locomotion system allows you to make extremely sharp and realistic cuts, jukes, and spins if you aren’t using the sprint function. You can still attempt those moves while running full speed, but they might not be as successful, and you’ll lose some momentum in the process.
Two other additions to the ground game—Hit the Hole and Push the Pile—have also made rushing the rock more enjoyable than before. When you watch an NFL running back on Sunday, you’ll often see him make split-second direction changes to slide through the gap that his offensive linemen just created. Whereas in prior Maddens advancing through the hole was difficult, in Madden 19 you simply need to flick the right analog stick in the direction of the gap, and your back will seamlessly glide through. Ball carriers can also push blockers in front of them and attempt to gain extra yards instead of having to run around the blockers like before.
Animations still aren’t perfect and at times can break the immersion of your game, but they’ve been greatly improved from Madden 18 for what it’s worth. That’s not necessarily praise for Madden 19, though. Tackling seems more fluid than it previously was, and catching passes no longer seems completely random. However, there are still multiple bugs that have either been in Madden for several years or were just introduced in Madden 19. Defenders diving towards the user still seems a bit unrealistic, especially when it comes to the outside run game. There was one instance where my running back received the handoff and almost immediately teleported from my end of the field to the opposite end, resulting in a way-too-easy touchdown. There was another instance where my QB was in the process of avoiding the rush and, while trying to throw the ball downfield, threw it twenty yards backwards, resulting in a fumble. Both user-controlled and CPU players still have issues picking up the ball on a fumble from time-to-time. At the risk of this turning into a big list (which some might call nitpicking), I’ll stop there, but it’s still disappointing to see all these bugs when Madden is really the only true football game on the market. The hope is that EA can patch issues like this throughout the life cycle of the game, but fans have held that hope for many years and often have nothing to show for it. When legacy bugs that were in titles that were released upwards of five years ago are still in the game, that’s a major negative especially for a AAA title.
As someone that wants to be a sports broadcaster in real life, I’m always interested to listen to the commentary in every sports game that I buy. While Madden 19’s commentary team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis are light years better than Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were, there’s still a lot to be desired in the commentary department. The broadcasters (not intentionally) are often caught analyzing an event that occurred multiple plays ago, and Gaudin’s enthusiasm on big plays is extremely lacking. I enjoy listening to Gaudin and Davis on actual broadcasts, but in Madden 19 it’s almost a chore to have to listen to the duo. Jonathan Coachman was brought in as the studio host, providing a nice change of pace from the incumbent Larry Ridley, but even he becomes a bit stale after a while.
Speaking of Coachman, he’s the voice you’ll hear during your game’s pre-game and halftime shows. These shows have been revamped from previous years and provide a nice base from which to improve upon over future titles. However, it’s still mind-blowing that NFL 2K5 (released in 2004) has a better pregame and halftime show than a game released 14 years later. I’m not even considering that 2K5 included a post-game show AND a SportsCenter clone (with highlights) to recap the previous week of action, something Madden 19 does not have.
The standard assortment of game modes has also returned for Madden 19. EA’s cash cow, Madden Ultimate Team, features numerous improvements such as Power Ups, Training Points, and the removal of contracts. While I’m not a fan of the mode, it’s become much easier to succeed if you don’t want to spend money on MUT Points to buy packs, as the developers have added a plethora of solo content right out of the gate, with more content to be released as the season progresses. Regardless, there’s still a good chance you’ll eventually be matched up against someone who has invested hundreds of dollars into their team.
The second (and presumably final) chapter of Longshot is another option for players to dive into. Madden’s version of a cinematic story mode, Longshot places you in the shoes of Devin Wade, the protagonist from last year’s Longshot story. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Friday Night Lights, you’ll probably notice some similarities between it and this year’s Longshot mode. While there are many more gameplay opportunities in Longshot 2.0 as opposed to its predecessor, the story itself is still heavily cliché-driven and doesn’t offer a ton of replayability. Longshot represents the only story-based career mode available in Madden, as their “player” option in Franchise mode isn’t even close to the Superstar Mode they offered in Madden 06, which was released 13 years ago.
photo courtesy of EA
Speaking of Franchise, the developers were excited to reveal the new features that could be found within the mode in Madden 19, such as Archetypal Progression, Schemes, and the ability to import a custom draft class. In Franchise, you have the option to act as a player, coach/GM, or owner. As mentioned previously, the player option is incredibly barebones when compared to the Superstar mode of the much older Madden’s and isn’t something I would recommend. The owner mode offers you the ability to complete tasks that you could complete in the base Franchise experience in the older-gen Madden’s, such as relocating your team or constructing a new stadium. Nothing has changed regarding stadium creation, either; while NBA 2K allows you ultimate customization options down to the most finite detail when it comes to making a new arena, Madden still offers a generic selection of stadiums that they introduced in Madden 25. You also can’t design new uniforms if your team relocates; rather, you’re forced to either keep the same threads or choose from already-created options the Madden provides. Admittedly, the uniform issue isn’t Madden’s fault, but rather the NFL’s.
Archetypal Progression is the new way to upgrade your players in Franchise mode. Whereas before you’d accumulate XP to spend on individual attribute upgrades, now that XP earns you skill points. With a skill point, you select a Player Archetype to upgrade. Each of these Archetypes hosts several different attributes, and some of those attributes will be increased after you spend a skill point. The attribute upgrades that you get are different each time you spend a skill point, but no matter what happens your player’s overall for that specific Archetype will go up by one point each time you spend a skill point. I unironically like this new method of progression when compared to the old progression system and am really interested to see how it can be improved upon in future titles. Schemes are directly related to Player Archetypes. Each coach (as in real life) has both an offensive and defensive scheme that he likes to run. If the archetype of a player matches the scheme of his coach, the player will receive a slight XP boost in practice, making it easier to fully develop him. This is also another addition that I like, as it rewards you for taking the time to build a team with players that fit your scheme, as teams attempt to do in real life.
The ability to import a custom draft class is long overdue, as it allows players to incorporate actual NCAA prospects into their Franchise, which helps it feel less stale. One of the main issues occurs when you want to use one of these created draft classes in an online Franchise, as the commissioner is technically able to see the ratings of every prospect upon importing the class.
“Immersive Environments” attempts to make an artificial connection between the user and their specific Franchise mode. While sitting at the Franchise menu, you’ll see your coach in his office performing a small handful of animations such as pacing around or typing on his computer. During the draft, you’ll also be presented with an outdoor stage and silhouetted fans, and upon selection of a player you’ll see him in your team’s jersey as his ratings are revealed. While it’s a nice first step regarding presentation in Franchise mode, the feature still leaves a lot to be desired.
Still, despite these improvements Franchise mode is still incredibly stale when compared to the mode found in, say, Madden 07. I say Madden 07 because I went out of my way to hook up my PS2 and pop in Madden 07 to see if Franchise mode is as fun as I remember or if I was just being overly nostalgic. The verdict? The more recent franchise modes (including that of Madden 19) don’t hold a flame to those of the older-gen Madden’s. While playing Madden 07, I was able to listen to the Tony Bruno Show while reading both the national and local newspapers to see headlines from both my team and around the league. I could create a stadium that truly had my fingerprints on it and play a college football All-Star game prior to the draft, allowing me to truly get a feel for the prospects that would be available to select in that draft. I won’t even fully go into the Superstar mode found in Madden 07, where I could progress from an apartment to a mansion, participate in the NFL combine and pre-draft drills, and star in movies. Do you think you’re able to do any of what I just mentioned in Madden 19, plus a lot more that I didn’t mention? Spoiler alert: no.
I want you all to realize that there are many issues that I’m opting not to fully discuss at risk of this review becoming longer than it already is. The crowd is still a major issue; the combination of when they cheer, how loud they cheer, and their animations oftentimes break the immersion factor for me. Field degradation seemingly doesn’t exist like it should, especially when it’s raining or snowing. Speaking of the weather, it’s still incredibly static. If it’s snowing, for example, the snow falls in the same exact location on the field (never anywhere else), and when a player gets tackled you won’t see an imprint of where he went down; rather, you’ll just see the marks his feet made while running. The weather is also constant throughout the game; whereas in real life it might rain throughout the first quarter before letting up, in Madden it’s going to rain for the entire game.
I considered presenting my final score with a caveat before deciding against it. With patches, likeness updates, and more, Madden 19 could become a fun (albeit still flawed) game to play. However, I decided against it because I’ve finally become sick and tired of what one of my favorite video game franchises has become. There’s little to no innovation, and when I (and many others) can enjoy playing football games that were made from 2004-2007 more than one released in 2018, that’s a major issue.
Luckily for me, I didn’t spend $60-plus on this game like many others did; instead, I opted for Origin Access Premier, which is $15 a month and allowed me early access to Madden (as a side note, this is the only reason I signed up for Premier). I’m not going to renew my Premier subscription (it’s a neat service but one that I don’t fully need currently in my life), and in the process I’ll lose my access to Madden 19. I’m not the slightest bit upset about it, either, because Madden 19 is not worth the money in its current state.