If you’ve ever seen an NFL game before, you’ll know that the sport is an explosive experience packaged up with as many ad breaks as is humanly possible. The gameplay of Madden NFL 21 captures the magic of the bang and crash, while letting you skip the ads to get to the parts that you really want. It’s like skipping the main course to head straight to dessert!
The core gameplay is super fun. It’s fast, slick and hits harder than a shot of tequila on a Sunday morning. Successfully picking and running out an awesome play has a sense of satisfaction that’s hard to emulate. The time-sensitive decision making followed up by split-second execution is at the heart of the NFL experience. When you’re playing Madden NFL 21 there is a real sense of being in control of a runaway freight train. Sometimes the control is just an illusion, but boy-oh-boy is it satisfying.
A selective streamlined gameplay option is also excellent, as you have the choice to only take part in the “red zone” plays, third downs, crucial defensive plays or come-from-behind points attempts. If you’re not into this game for the full package, running these crunch time events while simulating the rest of the game can be a time saver. Full game results can be run and won in five minutes. The opportunity to enjoy the NFL experience your way makes Madden NFL 21 as accessible or deep as you want it.
“The opportunity to enjoy the NFL experience your way makes Madden NFL 21 as accessible or deep as you want it.”
Appropriately, superstars in Madden NFL 21 get the superstar treatment. They all have game-changing elements, which mean that the special things they do work more often and in much more spectacular ways than those of anyone else. If you want to pull off that special pass, run through traffic like a bull in Pamplona or crash a quarterback’s party, you’ll need the top end talent to do it. Occasionally, some of the lower tier players can make those plays, but nowhere near as consistently – or as awesomely – as the big names.
This is a game of the haves and the have-nots. You either have the talent and you’re burning down the track, or you have a front row seat to some of the most talented players in the game as they run rings around you. Star rated quarterbacks (which you can’t win a game without) will throw absolute bullets around the pitch. Throwing under pressure or on the move, for normal ranked players, is almost impossible to pull off. If you’re playing with Patrick Mahomes, the level of control and performance under pressure is next level ridiculous. The top end running backs like Dalvin Cook or touchdown machine Aaron Jones move like they’ve been covered in butter and shoved down a waterslide. They are incredibly quick, and almost impossible to catch one-on-one. Running plays are incredibly successful at all levels of difficulty.
The ‘Face of the Franchise’ mode is a little less than thrilling. You take the reins of a high school player living through some telenovela style cutscenes before hitting the track to showcase your moves. It’s more than a little washed out though, as the experience really only plays through the “highlights” of your player career. There’s no real sense of ownership of the player, more that you are along for the ride on a barely-there story. Instead of treating it like a unique experience, where you might individually control your created player, Madden NFL 21 gives you the same gameplay as the rest of the game. You control the whole team, not just your franchise player. It makes it a little less like the customised experience you might be hoping for.
As with other EA Sports games, ‘Ultimate Team’ is back. There’s nothing really new here, it’s the same grindy, pay-to-win, experience as other games in the EA stable. Franchise mode is also back, with almost no changes to the previous two iterations. Both of these modes don’t do the game justice or add much to the player experience. Like trying to put on pants after you’ve put on your shoes, everything in Madden NFL 21 seems to have been done in the most difficult way possible, and for absolutely no reason.
‘The Yard’ game mode does for Madden NFL 21 what Volta did for FIFA 20. It’s a fast and frenetic 7-on-7 style of American Football which brings the showier aspects of the sport to the fore, with a heavy helping of street art to jazz it up. In the same way as Volta, The Yard offers players a chance to not take things so seriously for five minutes and play out highlight play after highlight play. It can be a fun distraction, but it is by no means an essential game mode.
On the downside for Madden NFL 21 there are a number of technical issues which mar the experience. Load times are sluggish and occur more frequently than should be required. The menu system is overly complex and constantly tries to draw you into the Ultimate Team game mode. There are a number of design issues, from clunky animations to mimicked player actions, which seem to make as much sense as Snoop Dogg’s cameo in the ‘Face of the Franchise’ story.
One thing that Madden NFL 21 doesn’t do is offer anything new or exciting to the mix over previous iterations of the game. It’s a paint-by-numbers sports sim which, at its core, offers a solid NFL experience and streamlined gameplay that will have you cringing at bone crunching tackles and fist pumping at 50-yard bullet pass touchdowns. It just doesn’t have much else outside of that to bring fringe players to the table or make it a required purchase for anyone looking to re-up. Madden NFL 21 is a very nice present wrapped up in newspaper, bent at an impossible angle and shoved into your mailbox.
Madden NFL 21 is available now on PS4 and Xbox One.