It's no secret that EA's Madden NFL franchise has had a monopoly on football video games for years, even decades. If you love football, you play Madden, and there's not really another choice. Unfortunately for gamers, EA has seemingly taken advantage of that fact as of late, churning out a near-carbon copy of the same game every fall, just with new players and ratings. The lack of changes has been infuriating, to say the least, especially when there isn't another option on the market. This year, at least, the folks at EA are finally listening. Madden NFL 21 is a long-overdue upgrade.
Madden 21 isn't a perfect game by any stretch, so it's not like this thing is going to revolutionize football gaming going forward. Not every choice made by this new iteration is going to be universally loved by players. That's okay! The point is, rather than just accepting free money by being the only football game on the market, Madden 21 switches things up, while keeping a lot of the elements that worked in previous installments, making it the most enjoyable entry in the past five years.
The biggest changes in Madden 21 come in game modes rather than on the field. Every player has an avatar that you can customize, earning new swag by playing each and every mode of the game. That isn't a major deal, but it adds some fun to the experience. There is also a pretty substantial overhaul to the career mode with "Face of the Franchise," and the addition of "The Yard."
The Yard is a six-on-six mode that allows your player to play on both sides of the ball, going head-to-head against the computer or any number of opponents online. It's a quick and incredibly fun game mode that allows you to change up your experience every time. It's also nice to see how easily The Yard can switch from a single-player experience to a shared game. It works well in both regards and is undoubtedly the best new feature of Madden 21. It feels a lot like NFL Blitz from a gameplay perspective, just with actual rules. This will be the favored feature for a lot of players and will certainly become a mainstay in years to come.
Face of the Franchise is also a welcomed improvement, but not quite as groundbreaking or exciting as The Yard. This mode clearly takes its inspiration from the popular career mode in the NBA 2K franchise, bringing in recognizable actors to play characters in a set journey for your player, going from high school junior to Super Bowl champion. The story here is rough around the edges, and it can be frustrating to have the story simulate you through seasons to "key moments" in your career, only allowing you to play at certain times. It's also entirely too easy. As a rookie QB for the Chicago Bears, I went 17-0, put up 60+ points in the Super Bowl, and ended the year as a 92 OVR. I like having fun but it should never be that easy.
Madden 21 isn't without its flaws, and while the gameplay is mostly very smooth, there are hiccups from time to time at the end of plays. If a ball-carrier goes down on top of a defender, it extends the play by multiple seconds most of the time. In these scenarios, the offensive player isn't technically down, but they act as if the play is over while rolling around on top of a defender, wasting clock. It's a small fix, but it can be quite maddening in close game situations. There are also several bugs and glitches within the menus, especially with MyTeam, making it a slower experience overall. Fortunately, those are things that can be fixed with early patches.
It'll take years for Madden to truly become a standout sports game again, as the mediocrity has gone on for too long for massive change to happen overnight, but Madden 21 is a promising step in the right direction.
Rating: 3 out of 5