If you’re a football fan, you approach every year with big hopes and dreams. Maybe this year, my local NFL team’s coaching staff will get it together and actually start shaping plays for our offense. Maybe they’ll draft that superstar that we’ve needed for so long. Maybe the players will gel into a hard-nosed team of winners.
Maybe … this … is … the … year!
All we can do is hope.
Turns out Madden NFL fans look at their year-to-year hopes and dreams pretty much exactly the same way. Will this be the year when everything clicks and we find that nirvana of gridiron gaming perfection?
And the answer is, uh, nah. There are always gonna be at least a few snaky disappointments in the woodpile of gaming upgrades and improvements. In fact, even a perfect game would likely have nitpicking critics, if just to say things are too perfect.
That said, Madden NFL 20 is a pretty solid title with great football action. So let’s look at some of the new features you can expect as your virtual players explode into action this fall.
First of all, the latest Madden installment looks and feels great. I mean, the gamemakers always try to inject just a bit more realism into every new entry, but this year you really can feel it. The colors pop while nearly photorealistic visuals somehow feel a bit more soft and natural. And then there are the players themselves. The game doesn’t sport realistic facial features for every player in the league, but those that it does showcase look pretty amazing.
The revised player controls, however, are what really make things feel so much better. There’s an improved precision and connection to the controls that not only makes the action look and feel much more like what you’d see on your 4K on any given Sunday, but it just intuitively works. With this kind of smooth-running action, gamers can be thinking a move or two down the field rather than worrying about what their digital character is running into.
There are different difficulty levels of play to dial up, of course, so that the hard-core Madden player feels the challenge too. But things are geared so that even a first-timer can pick up a controller and jump right into the grid.
Another boost to the gameplay is something called X-Factor. Fifty of the most elite players in the NFL—such as Madden 20 cover athlete Patrick Mahomes or someone like defensive monster Von Miller—get special, super-duper “in the zone” abilities that you can unlock if and when you meet certain in-game conditions.
And those thresholds have a very believable mental realism about them. Mahomes, for instance, gets a 15 yard boost to his rocket arm after he completes a pass for 30 yards or more. Once he’s sacked, though, that perk goes bye-bye.
Now you might think that sounds like an unfair advantage, but it actually adds some realism in certain on-field circumstances. Defensive pressure is improved, and your quarterback choices start requiring a tweak or two, based on who you’re facing. Having Von Miller or Kahlil Mack on the line forces you to mentally acknowledge their presence and account for the threat they pose, not to mention the sudden juiced-up burst they may unleash in your direction at any moment.
A feature called “Face of the Franchise: QB1” will be fun for fans who want a bit more narrative content in their football play (at least initially). You guide a college second-stringer through his breakout final games of the season, then get a chance to see what it’s like to manage the NFL draft cattle call, which entails surviving question-and-answer sessions and combine drills. It’s a fun, funny and informative open door to behind-the-scenes activities as your guy makes his way to one of the NFL’s 32 franchises.
From there, you’ll guide him through contract negotiations and then into his pro career. Special missions are a part of this process in a given season, too. So if a fellow player is relying on you, for instance, to help boost his production, you might receive a mission to get him an extra 100 yards and a touchdown in a game and in turn receive a team boost.
If you’re really into fantasy football, Madden 20 has you covered there, too. A feature called Ultimate Team lets you build a team of your favorite NFL players. You can play games, collect rewards, compete in specific challenges, etc., in this additional mode.
Then, hey, there’s also the joy of simply getting together with buds or going online and playing realistic football game simulations with your favorite teams and players.
One of the great things about a Madden game has always been its ability to easily slip into the family room without much worry. And Madden NFL 20 is no exception. I will say that the thumping action here is probably as realistic as it’s ever been. And you will see situations where offensive and defensive players can now be injured and carted off the field. Nothing bloody mind you, but it’s still pretty heavy thumping.
Oh, and if you’re not a big fan of rap, well, sorry. No Frank Sinatra or arena rock in this soundtrack’s mix tape. It seems that hip-hop is the only style of music that gridiron icons play. And those tunes can also usher in some lyrical uses of the words “h—” and “d–n” if you’re listening studiously enough. On the other hand, you can also turn the tunes down if you so desire.
So there you have it, another year, another game and another step toward the perfect virtual experience of actually chucking that old pigskin around yourself. Of course, you could actually go out and do just that. That’d probably be fun, too.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.