Sports games have a tough task year in and year out. How do you take something static, like a major sport, and make it new and fresh annually? Unless a game goes through a widespread engine change, the annual updates boil down to a polish and a roster refresh — usually at full price. There’s really not more you can do to represent a game like football, though EA Sports still tries each year with the Madden NFL series. While the sport itself seldom changes, the only recourse developers have is to add new game modes that are engaging and above all fun, without damaging the core mechanics of the sport itself. With Madden NFL 19, developer EA Tiburon has added new features to the popular Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) modes, created new in-game moves for runners, tweaked the franchise interfaces even more, and they present the second chapter in the Longshot story, aptly called Homecoming. Does that constitute a worthy addition to the Madden NFL series, or is this year’s version a punt?
To kick off this review, Madden NFL 19 looks absolutely stunning. The Frostbite engine recreates players’ bodies and faces to a level of realism seldom seen in video gaming. The animations on field, both during plays and after, could easily fool an observer that they were watching a real football game on TV. The new moves and animations, dubbed Real Player Motion, make the players move and react like real NFL stars, which works well, though it’s far from perfect. Some of the new “trucking” and “cutting” moves aren’t as intuitive as they should be, forcing the player to press buttons to initiate, and a small amount of lag means that there is a learning curve just to run the ball — even through a hole big enough for a bus to drive through.
The passing game, which inexplicably became more difficult in Madden NFL 18, has been tweaked, but it’s still plagued by issues. Receivers drop more balls than ever, and I’ve seen DBs perform superhuman defensive moves to break up a pass play, much to my frustration. Learning the right situations and touch controls is now more important than in previous years. And if that concerns you, Madden NFL 19 offers three play styles to choose from: Arcade, Sim, and Competitive. Arcade relaxes the play control for pick-up-and-play games, whereas Sim is more stringent. Competitive is for the true Madden diehards, for which there are many.
Franchise mode gets some new features as well. Offensive and Defensive schemes now allow you to create your franchise as you see fit, including hiring a coach and staff that fits your play style. Then you draft (or hit free agency) to fit your chosen scheme. Players can opt to play as a coach (current or created), a player (current or created), or as a GM. All of this is tied into Franchise and it is surprisingly deep, especially if you eat, sleep, and live for NFL football.
Madden NFL 19 also injects some new features into Madden Ultimate Team (MUT). The card-based team building mode is now flush with features, like Solo Challenges. What you do with your MUT team nets you rewards, along with a ranking to compare against other players worldwide. Scenarios have been added that create bite-sized requirements to meet to win challenges. Daily and Weekly challenges are constantly being pushed, meaning there will always be something to do here.
Possibly, the biggest addition to MUT is in player upgrading. You can create superstar players (or even elevate real-life players) by burning various training points, giving the player more control than ever before in building their team. MUT has never been this deep; I’ve been playing for almost an entire week, and I’m still finding new things to do and see. Plus, the legends players are exciting. As a Redskins fan, the thought of having the late Sean Taylor on my team is a dream come true. Madden NFL introduced this mode years ago, and has since been picked up by other gaming franchises, like MLB: The Show and the NBA 2K series, in addition to the EA Sports menagerie of games. It makes me excited to see what EA has up their sleeves for NHL 19 and FIFA 19.
No matter how expansive the MUT mode is though, it still has its fair share of issues. To buy new packs of players, gamers need to put in an exorbitant amount of time by completing challenges or playing against other teams online, or they can spend real money to buy points to use on new packs. So, yes, this is pay-to-win, seeing as some of the best players are gate-locked behind cash-paid points. Translation? If you want a super player like Tom Brady on your team, it will cost you real money. This puts much more emphasis on getting training points and making your 64-rated Alex Smith a god behind the center for the Redskins. It’s a slog, but it can be done.
The last big addition is the continuation of the Longshot story which kicked off last year. Longshot: Homecoming sees Devin Wade struggling as a Dallas Cowboy and Colt Cruise back in Mathis, dealing with an expected discovery of a half-sister. These two stories play out as a “playable movie”, challenging any preconceived notions of what can be done in a “sports video game.” It’s a nice alternative to the constant grinding of playing games in Franchise and MUT, or even exhibition against the CPU, co-op, or online.
I won’t go so far as to say that all of these new changes make Madden NFL 19 a must-have this year, but it’s a good start. There’s a bottom to the barrel when it comes to gameplay, and Madden NFL arguably hit it a few years ago. I applaud EA Tiburon for thinking outside the box with modes like Longshot, and for truly revolutionizing MUT, but unless the real-world NFL adopts jet packs and laser guns, the game of football itself has reached the end of what can be done on-field. Swapping out announcers, or changing up how the game is presented (I abhor getting a Gatorade commercial between quarters; but that’s EA as a company for you) is not going to change that.
Madden NFL 19 is a solid entry to the franchise as it builds off the 2018 game in many ways, constantly tweaking the nuts and bolts of the gameplay itself. For some modes, it works well; for others, it’s a nominal change at best. EA Tiburon has been accused of resting on its laurels in the last few years, and long time fans of the franchise are hoping for something new and fresh across the board. Madden NFL 19 is not that game, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. And in the end, isn’t that all that matters?
This review is based off the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A review code was provided to us by Electronic Arts.
The changes and tweaks to Madden NFL 19 aren't enough to make it a must-buy, but it's still a solid entry in its own right.