Madden 22 Review – Moving the Goalposts

Madden 22 Update 1.014

Another year, and just like clockwork, another Madden. It’s easy to write off sports games each year, but before I continue, I do want to say I have a lot of respect for the developers of these games. They are tasked with one the most challenging jobs in video games — creating innovations in less than a year in a genre that hasn’t seen graphical, or gameplay jumps in who knows how long. To top it all off, almost all sports games have little to no competition, so fewer developers working on the genre means less chance for innovation, which hurts the entire sports game industry.

As much as I respect the devs, looking at this year’s Madden, well, it’s a lot of the same as the last few year’s, but because Madden sells like crazy every year, EA has taken the approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 

Next-Gen Game, Last Gen Looks

The presentation in Madden 22 is still one of the most jarring things in the series. While some upgrades have been made to pre-game presentations, they still feel awkward, and not what regular game days feel like. 

My biggest issue is how players look, and how their in-game models react when they don’t have their helmets on. It’s hard to believe that this engine is the same one that games like Battlefield and Battlefront are made on. While players’ faces are noticeably improved compared to Madden 21 thanks to the new facial scan tech, hair still looks like straw, facial features like mouths, and eyes still look like they were made ten years ago. This is especially true when playing Madden 22’s single-player addition, Face of the Franchise. Additionally, all cutscenes are made from in-game assets, so all those mouth problems and facial detail (or lack thereof) issues I mentioned above, even more noticeable in these cutscenes. Next to no detail stands out, and it’s hard to believe that this is supposed to be the “next-gen” upgrade we have been looking forward to.

Pre-game flythroughs of the stadiums still look beautiful, and I love how they finally incorporated cameras that show what fans (that look half decent) are doing. Jets will fly across the sky, players will be hyping the team up (though the mouth movements mentioned above still look terrible), and you get a sense that if they just took some extra time perfecting the engine, there is something gorgeous that could be put on display here. Unfortunately, the Superbowl is still a massive disappointment that feels like it couldn’t be any other game. Nothing special sets it apart aside from players running onto the field after and celebrating a little bit. 

Madden 22’s menus have received a much-needed speed boost compared to last year. When playing game modes like Madden Ultimate Team or Franchise mode, constantly bouncing around different menus, it is a welcome change to have quick and responsive menus. On basically every menu and even in-game, the NFL wants to make sure you know about “Next Gen Stats.” The black and neon green is plastered everywhere in the game, from scoreboards to in-game pop-ups, telling you about every little stat you would typically see on the field. It’s a nice touch but can feel a bit annoying at times. 

The Sounds of the Field

Where Madden 22 nails it is the sound design. You can feel every hit as players run into each other. On-field chatter from players sounds excellent, and even fans sound fantastic when they have their moments. One bug I would encounter is when the camera would show only fans or the players on the benches; all other sounds would become very low, so you would get these weird moments where only the sounds of fans cheering or players talking and nothing else. I hope that gets fixed with Madden’s post-launch updates.

Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis return as the play-by-play announcers, and while there isn’t anything wrong with them, EA hasn’t brought them in very long to record new voiceovers. As a result, you will constantly hear commentary that you have listened to for the past two or three years in past games. It can get very annoying, but to top it off, Madden still has no half-time entertainment that the 2K basketball games have had for years. I’m not a big basketball fan, but when I see Shaq and the TNT panel coming on to talk about the game during intermissions in NBA 2K, I can’t help but love how many voice lines they had them come in and do that makes each game feel like an actual broadcast. Madden needs to look into this to bring gamers in and feel like they are watching a real NFL game. 

The Field Is a Bit Beat Up

The gameplay in Madden is its usual self. Players are responsive, and the game plays wonderfully, especially at 120hz. Calling plays from the new menus feels like you can get around faster and find the play you want quicker. Just like every year, Madden releases with a few plays that are downright broken because they seem to work almost every time you call them until a few patches come out to balance everything out.  This game heavily favors the offense at launch. I can’t recall the last Madden that came out with this amount of basic free plays because the defense would either get blocked pass rushing and stop trying after, or the man coverage would cover my team for a few seconds then slowly just drift to the middle of the field.

Superstar X-Factors make their return that gives Madden a more arcade feel. High rated players come equipped with specific skills that activate when they perform a particular feat on the field. This can be anything from catching a 20-yard pass or completing five passes in a row. In addition, the X-Factors boost players’ skills like trucking through tackles, jumping higher for 50/50 balls, and being stronger on the line. I liked that Madden seems to have found an outstanding balance between these arcade-style features and the realism of regular football. 

One other new feature that adds to the gameplay is an old idea from NCAA games of the past. Home-field advantage and momentum swings give teams special abilities during the game. The better you play, the more momentum upgrades are added. Things like seeing which of your opponent’s receivers are the main target on a play or the route arrows for your opponent will be moving all around, so they have a more challenging time knowing which route their players will run. None of these things will severely affect games, but they are fun ways to reward players for playing well. 

Get Excited (If You Play Franchise) 

With a few improvements, Madden 22’s game mode selection is about what you would expect from a Madden game. 

Ultimate Team is still the game circus of complete challenges, earn coins, get card packs, open them to get better players, improve your team and go online to compete against others until you realize you get smacked by someone who spent $500 to get better cards than you. 

Superstar KO and The Yard make returns this year too. The Yard is where you create your player and level him up. It’s a fun 6v6 mode that you can play with friends, and since it is more arcade-focused, the rules are different to allow for big splash plays. Superstar KO is another arcade based mode 

Face of the Franchise is again back, and puts you in the shoes of a college player making his way up to the big leagues. You create your character, select your position, and upgrade your stats as you make your way through the story. I enjoyed Face of the Franchise for the most part, as it almost feels like an RPG lite where you get to make the choices of how you build your player. The issues are with the bugs and glitches I encountered. For example, in many training sessions, players wouldn’t spawn, and I even experienced an issue where the ball was either invisible or wouldn’t spawn, and I had to quit out and rejoin to fix the problem. 

Where most Madden fans will be overjoyed are the improvements with Franchise mode. Finally, after years of complaints about features being removed and next to no innovation, Franchise takes a step in a positive direction. 

You feel like this is Madden 22’s meat and potatoes, Franchise mode is very deep, and it feels more like an RPG off the field with the amount of control you have. 

You get to control the head coach, offensive and defensive game plans, and player personnel. This lets you hire and fire who you want to, negotiate contracts with players agents, customize your skill tree that has multiple branching paths and customize your stadium and the costs associated with it. They even added mini-story-like moments where you hold press conferences and select what you say to the media. It isn’t profound, but things like this give Franchise mode that realistic feel of running a football team.

EA has already promised updates for Franchise that will continue to add to the depth, a welcome sign that they care about Franchise players instead of focusing solely on the cash cow that is Ultimate Team. In September, fans can expect a deeper college scouting experience and more updates as the year goes on. 

Verdict

Madden 22 is what most people would expect from EA’s yearly sports franchise. Some upgrades here and there but mostly the same product. Visuals still don’t come close to looking next-gen, but the presentation has improved a bit. In addition, franchise mode gets a long-needed upgrade, and EA isn’t solely focusing on pushing updates for Ultimate Team anymore. 

Score:  6/10

Pros:

  • Sound design is top-notch
  • Franchise gets a much-needed upgrade
  • On-field presentation is an improvement over 21

Cons:

  • Visuals still look dated 
  • Bugs in Face of the Franchise 
  • Defensive AI is too easy 

Review copy of the game provided by the publisher.Reviewed on the Xbox One X. You can read SP1st and MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here. Madden 21 is now available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One systems for $59.99

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