The National Football League, the international top class of American football, is facing a lot of question marks at the beginning of its 101st season: The opening game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans is supposed to take place on the night of September 10th. Whether or in what form this will happen cannot yet be foreseen. The NFL has not yet worked out a real corona concept. It is still not clear: do you play with or without fans in the stadium? Will there be a kind of "bubble" like in the NBA that bundles its games on the floor of Disney World Orlando? And what actually happens when a player becomes infected?
What is clear without a doubt: This season will definitely be different from all previous ones. So it is good news for fans that they can experience their favorite sport at least on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in the usual way. EA Sports has Madden NFL 21 on August 28th (buy now for 63.35 €) published and thus offers a familiar American football experience.
Evolution instead of revolution
Sometimes Madden NFL 21 feels almost too familiar. Because the title actually plays very similarly to its direct predecessor over long periods. The development team at EA Tiburon did not shake really groundbreaking innovations out of its sleeve, instead much more was screwed into the existing gameplay framework. According to creators, defending the running game in Madden NFL 20 was a little too difficult for many players. Correspondingly, countermeasures have now been taken, the speed reduced and often used moves such as stretch or dive have been weakened.
Source: PC Games
For even more control on the defensive side, EA Sports is also introducing a new pass-rush control. Last year you had to pound a key like crazy to avoid the grip of an offensive lineman. All defensive actions from bull rush to swim move can now be carried out with a movement with the right stick. But you do not become completely overpowering. In return, your linebackers can now only cover a smaller area, so you have to decide which route you want to cover. Then there are the position-based tackles. Your players are now even more aware of their position on the field and can thus prevent attackers from reaching the first-down marker even more effectively. Your ball carriers, on the other hand, stretch especially to get over the magic line to the end zone.
The devil is in the details
The offensive players were also given a little more attention: thanks to the skill stick, running backs can now chain several moves together, while wide receivers start more intuitively for the next run after the catch. In addition, quarterbacks will get rid of the ball even faster in the future. You can even throw the egg while you are being tackled, preventing a sack of wasted space. At least ideally. Since EA has also adjusted the accuracy of fit under pressure or when throws against the direction of movement, you may also risk a fumble or even an interception.
Source: PC Games
The gameplay package is rounded off with a few additions and changes to the Superstar and X-Factor skills. They were introduced in Madden NFL 20 and are a type of temporary buff that you can activate by completing in-game objectives. Players with the new "Anklebreaker" feature let opponents get out with ease. Actors who have the "avalanche" skill are masters at forcing fumbles. In addition, there are minor AI adjustments to play calling and time management, additional penalties for illegal contact and updated playbooks.
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The embarrassing attempt at a story
The big innovations are especially on the content side. Above all, the face-of-the-franchise mode introduced last year has been remodeled a bit. Here you still create your own character who makes his way from high school to the NFL. In doing so, you get a kind of "story" told: Actually, you are only number two in the quarterback position, but in the final you have to step in for your competitor who has a heart defect. Under no circumstances should you reveal this to the coach, otherwise your opponent's career would be over. A real conflict of conscience that will affect your career in the long run! In addition, various familiar faces are dragged through the picture, such as US rapper Snoop Dogg and NFL journalist Rich Eisen. This is supposed to give the mode more depth, but often makes it look more like an exaggerated drama.
Source: PC Games
After all, you can now expect more playful possibilities: For example, you can play two seasons in the college league and even try out new positions such as wide receiver or running back. Then you prove yourself in the NFL Combine and are then drafted by a team, or you join your favorite team directly and try to lead them to a Super Bowl. That happens almost inevitably, because the structure of Face of the Franchise is much more linear than last year. You don't play the entire season, just the highlights. In addition, in your career you will run through predefined scenarios, such as the rapid ascent with an award as Rookie of the Year or the intermittent descent with injury. All in all, it's a pretty well-rounded affair, with cut scenes that have not been set to music and ugly character models, but unfortunately a bit poorly staged.
In some places you still have a direct influence on the course of your history: In interviews and press conferences, you can choose from answers that have different effects. Sometimes you get a new teammate, sometimes you unlock boosts for your avatar. It can also be leveled up with earned Match XP and equipped with individual skills.
Source: PC Games
Standstill in franchise mode
If you don't feel like it anymore, you can convert your score into a regular franchise savegame at any time. But it's not really worth it, because the mode was once again criminally neglected this year. Really big, noteworthy changes are in short supply. For those who like to prove themselves as a player, coach or team owner, an extended wild card round, more realistic player development and simulation results as well as authentic rookie contracts are the highest of feelings in Madden NFL 21. That sounds more like patch notes than a list of fresh features. Admittedly, the developers assert in a blog article that Madden is a live service that will be supplied with new content throughout the year. For improved AI or extensive career statistics, however, "no exact times can be given yet". Great.
The fact that such functions cannot be found in the game at launch could be because EA Sports has once again put a lot of work into other modes – for example on Ultimate Team, which is now with two or three-player co-op, new items and challenges as well as the well-known pay-to-win aspect. In addition, the developers are introducing the new mode The Yard with Madden NFL 21, an arcade football variant that is a little reminiscent of NFL Street. Various rules and gameplay adjustments await you here: For example, the playing field is only 80 yards long, there are only six players per team and several passes can be thrown behind the line of scrimmage, which means you can play nice combinations and trick moves up your sleeve can conjure. So even up to 13 points are possible per drive!
Also nice: If you want, you can visit the four locations Miami Port, Lambeau Tailgate, F.O.B. Try the Nico and Brandenburg Football Festival with up to two friends – either against the AI or against human players. Either way, you can look forward to rewards after every match: With XP you level up your avatar and unlock new skills. With Street Cred you can also stop by the shop and put together cool outfits. Have you always wanted to play in a crop jersey, leopard boxer shorts and a baby blue face mask? The Yard makes it possible!
Source: PC Games
Unfortunately, because nobody wears official uniforms, it is often difficult to distinguish between your own and opposing players. And of course EA Sports has not missed the opportunity to turn on clothes for Madden Points, which are only available for real money in the in-game shop. It's a shame, because otherwise The Yard is actually a nice addition, which does not stand out as the sole selling point, but adds another facet to the feel of Madden NFL 21. It's a little bit of fun in between, comparable to VOLTA Football from FIFA.
Last but not least, Madden also takes a step forward with the presentation: With new pre-game intros, fan chants and short cut scenes like "Move those Chains!" After a first down, the gaming experience was polished up again. We have not experienced any gross clipping or texture errors such as those that can sometimes be found on the Internet. We were rather bothered by the irregular running animations, the horrific depiction of long hair, the same sentences from the commentator box or the frequent loading times. So there is definitely room for improvement in the future of Madden.
Source: PC Games
"A real option for newcomers, less so for long-time fans"
On its own, Madden NFL 21 isn't a bad game. In fact, it is probably the roundest and most comprehensive American football simulation that is currently available on the market. For newbies or players who have taken a break in the meantime, 2020 is a good point to get back into the franchise. Long-time fans who also have the past offshoots on their shelves will have a hard time finding a reason to spend another 60 euros apart from the free next-gen upgrade. The gameplay adjustments are only minimal, neither The Yard nor the revised Face-of-the-Franchise mode is a real selling point. Instead, you can just as easily continue to play the predecessor and simply download an updated roster from the community. And then hope that after acquiring the NFL license next year, 2K Games will shake EA's deadlocked monopoly a bit.
Madden NFL 21 under test. (Source: PC Games)
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