Madden games have drawn some heat over the past half-decade or so for making only marginal year-over-year improvements that feel more like roster and graphics updates rather than fully new experiences worth full price. In recent years, new modes like The Yard and new gameplay elements like Superstars made valiant attempts to add some new flavor but never quite hit the mark, especially with the stagnation of the ever-popular Franchise mode. Responding to the increased heat from last year’s entry, Madden 22 is as close as the series has come in recent years to feeling like an entirely new experience. Franchise mode has finally gotten a meaty upgrade, and the new momentum factors, complementing the Superstars, make gameplay feel tangibly different. It doesn’t fully answer all the criticism recent Maddens have received and does introduce a few new issues of its own, but at least it’s finally past the point of apathy.
Much of what’s made recent Madden games so heavily criticized in recent years is their general lack of innovation on both gameplay and structural fronts, and both are addressed this year to a certain degree. Starting on the gameplay side, there are a few front-and-center additions that reinvigorate the minute-to-minute experience, namely the new Momentum system. Depending on the flow of the game, either team will be impacted in a tangible way, either positively or negatively. The more one-sided the flow of the game, the more severe the benefits or punishments. I appreciate this addition to gameplay because it adds more of a fan-centric way of playing the game that gives a bit more arcadiness to the experience, building a way to manifest how fans feel when their favorite team is losing a lead or mounting a comeback. I only wish the effects themselves were a little more balanced. They range from things you have to take the game’s word for, like receivers being better at catching, to highly noticeable changes, like your play art being incorrect. While with dozens of these effects, it’s inevitable that some are going to be less useful than others, it seems like there are a select few that aren’t always even the most severe on the meter that made a bit more of a difference than they were probably intended to.
"Madden 22 doesn’t fully answer all the criticism recent Maddens have received and does introduce a few new issues of its own, but at least it’s finally past the point of apathy."
There aren’t many major updates to gameplay outside of the Momentum effects. There are the usual updates to things like movement and animation, and it certainly feels better than any recent Madden, especially combined with the upgraded audio and beautiful visuals on the new consoles. It’s been true in the past and it continues today that if you’ve played a Madden game before, you know what you’re getting into. I wish there were more noticeable improvements, especially to things like the AI, which continues to be questionable in situations on and off the field, from clock management to CPU-controlled players running straight out of bounds for no reason. With that said, it’s still as refined a football experience as the series has ever provided, and I found myself enjoying it surprisingly more than normal right off the bat.
What Madden 22 has clearly put more effort into changing for this year’s entry is its presentation, particularly modes like Franchise and Face of the Franchise. Franchise mode has long been problematic for both how little it has evolved and how much it was falling behind comparable modes in games like NBA 2K or MLB The Show. Luckily, Franchise has taken a hefty jump this year thanks to a handful of new features that give you a lot more control. Major additions are things like more detailed control over staff and the ability to control your weekly strategy. Your weekly strategy options aren’t as complex as it might want you to think, since they’re almost always the same week-to-week options of prioritizing or defending the outside run, inside run, or different levels of passing attacks, with a blitz or two thrown in there, but it’s definitely a start. Even mid-week conversations with the media and in the locker room feel a bit more engaging, even if you’re still answering many of the same questions. They feel more long-term now. The objectives like throwing a certain number of touchdowns or holding an opponent to a certain number of scrimmage yards in a game are still there, but I was faced once with the threat of retirement from my star Edge Rusher if we didn’t win enough games.
The Face of the Franchise mode is updated, too, with a brand new path-to-stardom story. Like last year, you choose a college and can play in the College Football Playoff for the national title, all as part of a training camp you, as the presumed number one overall pick, go through with other stars. From here on out, you begin your career as a rising NFL star, all with your agent, team mentor, and some major online personalities by your side in a story that I generally didn’t care about as much as in previous years. It’s a little jarring to see how the game deals with you being the number one overall pick in the 2021 draft compared with reality, or, more accurately, how it doesn’t deal with it, as Trevor Lawrence is still on the Jaguars’ roster and the game bafflingly calls out that the Jaguars had two number one overall picks this year Regardless, once you make your way to the NFL, you settle into a weekly routine where you have a cutscene or two and make a decision for how to spend your week, whether it’s watching film, repping your brand, or putting in work at the gym. What’s more is that the choices commonly give you short-term benefits, as do gameday effects, so you might have an increased throw power because you went to the gym but decreased agility because there’s a blizzard on its way. It’s a really interesting way to keep you on your toes for what to expect for the coming week.
"Franchise has taken a hefty jump this year thanks to a handful of new features that give you a lot more control. Major additions are things like more detailed control over staff and the ability to control your weekly strategy."
The issue that I have with these two modes comes less from their individual characteristics and more from their interplay, because on a purely gameplay front, Franchise and Face of the Franchise are converging to the same mode. From the gameplay itself to the mid-week decisions and conversations, much of what I experienced in either was almost indistinguishable, and the fact that I played my Franchise mode team with a highly-touted rookie quarterback at the helm didn’t help matters. The Momentum system, short-term stat changes, and weather effects are all always present regardless of the mode, and even the menus, though they have been nicely refreshed from past years and offer a modern new style, look identical to the uninitiated. Both modes are great on their own, but without much of a difference in structure, or even menus, they begin to feel a bit samey over time.
The gameplay differentiation comes from the rest of the modes Madden 22 offers. The Yard, the backyard football equivalent that was introduced last year, has had some major upgrades, including a new surprisingly meaty faux-campaign. It has five full chapters in different backyard stadiums, including boss battles from superstars like Patrick Mahomes. The core gameplay is the same as it was before, and the shaky AI sticks out like a sore thumb here, but I still find this mode to be as refreshing to Madden as the XFL wanted to be to real-life football. Otherwise, Ultimate Team is almost unchanged, and smaller options like Superstar Knockout and Championship Series are still there but have little staying power compared to the rest.
It’s worth noting that I encountered a good number of small bugs and mishaps that range from funny to frustrating. In-game animations frequently synchronize, character models when not in fully voiced cutscenes aren’t always in the right place or correctly timed, and I noticed a handful of typos and misplaced descriptors lying around. It’s more frustrating that, at least on Xbox Series X, the game’s reliance on connecting to servers almost negates any possibility for Quick Resume, and I encountered one or two crashes in my time. None of it was experience-breaking, but it did take me out of the moment a few times and will hopefully be fixed with future patches.
"I encountered a good number of small bugs and mishaps that range from funny to frustrating. In-game animations frequently synchronize, character models when not in fully voiced cutscenes aren’t always in the right place or correctly timed, and I noticed a handful of typos and misplaced descriptors lying around."
For a series that has repeatedly been criticized for resting on its laurels, Madden has at least aimed higher this year than in many recent years. While the actual gameplay remains much the same, some of the in-game stat and ability modifiers make things a little more dynamic on the gridiron. There’s no denying that Franchise mode has taken a healthy step up as well, even if it and Face of the Franchise are coalescing, because the entire experience has improved overall, especially when considering the continued greatness of The Yard. Not everything in Madden 22 is better, nor has every issue been addressed, but this year’s entry into the classic football franchise has begun laying the groundwork for some major changes to the formula with a few great gameplay modes to boot.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
Upgrades to Franchise mode; Continually great gameplay; Meatier The Yard experience; Beautiful visuals.
Similarities between Franchise and Face of the Franchise; Shaky AI; Unengaging Face of the Franchise story.
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