EA Sports kicks off another season of their annual sports game releases with Madden NFL 19, soon to be followed by NHL 19, FIFA 19 and NBA Live 19. We’re reviewing it on an Xbox One, and it’s also available on Playstation 4 and – for the first time in over ten years – for PC-owning football fans.
Not having to deal with stiff competition from the likes of Pro Evolution Soccer, Madden received its major technological boost a year later than FIFA did. Last year, the series introduced the Frostbite engine to the game – marking a big step forward visually. It also gave us the Longshot mode – Madden’s own cinematic story mode.
NFL 18 was similar to FIFA 17 in that, despite the introduction of Frostbite, it felt rough around the edges. Madden NFL 19 offers a more polished and streamlined experience to players, with the biggest improvements coming in the area of player control but also featuring other more subtle enhancements and tweaks in other areas of the game.
Visually it looks like the team at Tiburon has gotten more comfortable with the Frostbite engine. Player animations appear smoother, different moves are strung together with more ease, and the environments and crowds definitely look more alive and vibrant than before. But while the game often looks absolutely gorgeous, with a level of quality that rivals being on an actual field, small glitches do still pop up from time to time. I’ve had weird collisions with ragdoll-type motions and/or clipping, or balls that avoided any kind of collision detection or seemed to be stuck to a player without him actually touching it. Bear in mind that these were rare exceptions though – I don’t mean to make things sound like a broken mess, because the game actually looks and sounds excellent, like a benchmark title for sports games.
Speaking of which, part of that is the upgraded commentary and banter that you get throughout the game and during breaks – which makes Madden NFL 19 feel more like watching a TV broadcast than ever before. That dramatic flair also translates to the game’s new chapter in the Longshot story mode, although it doesn’t pack the same kind of punch that last year’s introductory story did. Where that story had plenty of impactful choices for you to make, this year’s edition feels more “by the book”.
The biggest innovation, however, is in the controls portion of the game. What they call Real Player Motion affects the game in a number of ways, roughly divided between skill-based and control-based changes. What a player can do, and especially what he can do well, is now more than ever based on real life statistics. This doesn’t show up on the surface, but when you try stringing moves together to weave your way through or past a defense you quickly notice the kind of stuff that one player will get away with but another one won’t.
This ties into the control-based portion of Real Player Motion, which makes movement far more dynamic than ever before. In previous Madden games, turning or spinning past defenders was always a case of how fast you were going on how sharply you could turn based on your inertia. This time around though, you can pull off moves where you stop dead in your tracks, put an opponent on the wrong foot, and then sidestep and accelerate away from him. It’s great for the ebb and flow of attacks and how well you can pull this off depends on the players you have on your team, so it’s a giant leap forward. You can also link moves together this way – sidestepping and subsequently spinning around a second defender who’s about to dive in for a tackle. The system doesn’t just apply to player vs player interaction though, as it also allows you to catch a ball near the sideline and avoid stepping out of bounds – as long as you have the time and opportunity to turn the situation into a successful play.
Other changes are more subtle in nature. Touchdown celebrations are more diverse (and can be controlled/picked by the player), attributing skill points in franchise mode is more streamlined than before (especially if you don’t enjoy micromanaging these things, like me) and “schemes” also help you make choices more easily. Most of the changes in franchise mode give gamers the option to either tweak their experience or keep their focus on the on-field action without spending too much time managing your affairs.
As such, Madden NFL 19 is to NFL 18 what FIFA 18 was to FIFA 17. A far more refined product after a bold new direction for the franchise. Real Player Motion is a wonderful new control feature, and looking at how much more dynamic it makes the game feel, I could even see more arcade-like implementation from EA in the future – either within the Madden franchise or as a spinoff. They went more arcade-like with NBA Live, and they could do it here – providing an alternative to the aging NFL Blitz. Whatever they decide though, Madden NFL 19 is an excellent new entry in EA’s franchise that should keep fans happy all throughout the new season.