It has to be difficult to release an annual game, much less a sports game. Publishers ask their fans to pony up full price for what amounts to a handful of quality-of-life updates and a flashy new menu, and yet we pony up the cash year in and year out. After the advent of a new console generation ushered in new, more powerful systems, fans expect more, more, more, and, unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want. With EA’s Madden NFL 22, all of the above rings true — but now with the next-gen $10 price hike.
Madden NFL 22 goes out of its way to avoid fixing what’s broken. The game looks great, and it’s easily the best-looking Madden game to date. Developer EA Tiburon is milking the Frostbite engine for everything it has, but a gorgeous aesthetic can’t make up for the shortcomings in the overall presentation. Beginning with the ugliest menus I’ve ever seen, Madden NFL 22 seems to do whatever it can to prevent the player from getting into a game.
Even the vaunted Madden Ultimate Team mode shackles the player, forcing them to play through missions to unlock the mode itself. Once unlocked, the ability to simply open packs, build a team, and jump into a game is bogged down with menus. I spent my first two days just trying to unlock Madden NFL 22‘s meatier sections, as each mode forces you into a tutorial. This is uncalled for in an annual sports game.
The between-the-lines gameplay in Madden NFL 22 is another bright spot. Tiburon revamped the tackling mechanics in what they call “Player Movement 2.0,” and I’ve used the hit stick to cause more fumbles in two weeks than I had all last season. Crashing into players is fun, and doesn’t drag you into a senseless animation. Playing feels freer, which makes the menu fiascos that much more of a sore spot. The catching mechanism is still spotty, as WRs often drop easy passes, even when I hit them in their hands. I think this is a result of two other new features: Gameday Momentum and Home Field Advantage.
Playing well, and in front of home fans, triggers new boosts to both the team and individual players. A quick scoring drive or a timely turnover can move the needle during a game and give your team an advantage — or disadvantage — and it trickles down to how the game is played. If you are losing and the crowd is giving you heat, players are more apt to run the wrong route, drop a pass, or fumble the ball. On the flip side, breaking a team’s back by stealing their home crowd can offer benefits and allow for those miraculous comebacks. These features are easily the best new features to hit the Madden series in years.
Tiburon also overhauled the Face of the Franchise “campaign” mode as well as The Yard and Superstar KO modes, making them more fun (and fast), giving the player more options on how to play the game. Face of the Franchise utilizes the X-Factors (and M-Factors) more than ever, and taking your player-created star through a career is better than it has been in recent years, but still not on par with other sports games.
In terms of presentation, I’m personally “over” the announcing team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis. Their banter — including how it incorporates new real-life issues in the NFL into their commentary — is okay, but neither man gets me excited when I play and serve as more of an annoyance. When you play a sports game, you are pretty much guaranteeing to play for hundreds of hours, and announcers are an important part of the experience. In the Madden series, that importance is hamstrung by this crew.
Despite some improvements, Madden NFL 22 doesn’t do enough to warrant a new game, especially now with the $10 price hike for the next-gen versions. If anything, EA should really consider cutting the price on these annual games by $10 (or more), and when (or if) they do an overhaul every four or five years, then they should charge full price. This model isn’t unheard of, as the new Battlefield game is going that route (to an extent), where the game is designed with a multi-year lifespan in lieu of an annual release. Sports games as a whole, including my beloved MLB The Show, should adopt this same mechanic, as justifying $70 for a fresh coat of polish is getting ridiculous. Madden NFL 22 takes a few steps forward where it matters, and it looks gorgeous from top to bottom, but the same old issues and gaudy menus keep it from standing out as it should. EA Sports’ Madden series is iconic, and it’s time for EA to start treating it as such.
This coverage is based on time spent with the PlayStation 5 version of Madden NFL 22. A copy was provided by Electronic Arts.