How many years have we heard the gruff, macho, and somewhat mysterious voice tell us we are playing a game by “E-A Sports…”? More times than I can count for myself. Madden NFL was the “Flight Simulator” of sports games for many years. If you wanted realistic NFL football, then you played Madden. Over the years though, something has changed, and Madden has turned into something totally different, and that scares me.
I the early 90’s I didn’t appreciate what Madden was, or what it was providing. Playing Tecmo Bowl, and enjoying fast paced offense, Madden was slow and too realistic for my tastes. My brother would wear me out, and I would smash controller after controller in anger from botched plays. My brother would remind me that I needed to play and think “real football”. As time passed, and I matured, I learned to embrace the game. I educated myself on plays, and counter plays. I loved defense, and ran a well balanced offense. I came to love Madden and the opportunity to play a simulated season with an under dog team and overcome a mountain of odds. Each iteration of Madden brought us all closer to the field on game day, and we just knew it could only get better.
The Playstation 2 / Xbox / Gamecube era of Madden began to become a little too fast paced almost resembling an arcade game instead of simulation. Players, no matter the position, could move with high speed and agility, and this took the realism away bit by bit. The cover athlete was always a force to be reckoned with (despite the curse!) leading to players choosing that team and exploiting the star’s talents to the full. Game play was fast paced, and sloppy, and it never felt like a real simulation of NFL football.
Madden 07′ brought about positive change with the series being released for the first time on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Despite the 30 frames per second issue on Sony’s console, the franchise seemed to be moving into a more realistic approach to football. Players looked realistic and moved at a slower and more believable pace. A 300 pound offensive lineman couldn’t run alongside a corner after an interception. A receiver could separate from a linebacker if the mismatch occurred. It finally felt as if EA had found a path to real simulation football.
Over a decade has passed, and each year that goes by it feels that the series is taking two steps back. Game play is buggy as players clip into one another and “pop” into weird animations. There are three game modes, arcade, simulation, and competitive, but they all play the same. Emphasis has been placed on the Madden Ultimate Team game mode where the game’s profits can continuously flow well after the game has released. Years ago a friend stated that the NFL exclusive rights could lead to EA becoming complacent, and that seems to be the case. A new story mode in 2018 was a very welcome change along with the new game engine, but we continue to see the same issues in game play and AI logic that is holding the series back.
At one point in time it really did feel that we would have a true simulation NFL game in our hands. What we saw on game day was going to be the game we played as well. Methodical play calling, realistic AI, and an emphasis on strategy would be the major features of the series. Instead, we lack all of those things in favor of a stylish arcade experience. I will continue to hold the hope of a new direction for the franchise where we really get to play what we see in the real game of NFL football.