Not maddening, despite negativity

Block out the noise. Ignore all other reviews. Keep an open mind.

MADDEN 21
From: EA Sports
For: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: (PG) ★★★★

It is always the best approach when, just like that, a whole year has whizzed by and you are playing the latest instalment in a loooong-running sports gaming series and you need to decide for yourself whether it’s any good.

But this year? Ignore the noise around Madden 21? Next to impossible.

Shortly after the game’s release, it was subjected to one of the most intense online campaigns of disgruntlement seen in recent years.

Thousands of fans, claiming to be annoyed at what they perceived to be a lack of attention paid by developers to the title, bombarded the popular Metacritic site with negative reviews.

In fact, Madden 21 has notched the website’s lowest fan rating of all time — a measly 0.2 out of 10. Ouch.

Is it really that bad? Of course not. Though, to be fair, some bits of the game leave a certain amount to be desired, so let’s start there.

It is certainly true that the latest version of the NFL series is mostly indistinguishable from the last, oh, four or five. So in terms of outright innovation, a low score is justified.

The menus are just plain ghastly, seemingly designed for the Tik Tok generation with splashes of garish colour and graphics, and they are not always easy to navigate.

Graphical glitches, especially around cutscenes and player animations, also pop up too often.

While some have welcomed the introduction of a new mode, ‘‘The Yard’’, a sort of twenty20 version of gridiron with crazy new rules, I have found it genuinely awful, a helter-skelter grimace-fest that bears no resemblance to the sport and is not even fun to play.

And, yes, the Face of the Franchise mode — sort of a singleplayer storyline — is super cheesy, and none of the choices you make appear to make much difference.

But, goodness, this is still Madden. It still has remarkable depth, offers dozens of hours of fun and absorbing challenges, and does a fairly amazing job recreating a sport that can be difficult to fully understand.

Gameplay is still, generally, remarkably smooth and balanced, and the full suite of difficulty options allow you to tailor the experience to your ability.

Significantly, speaking as someone who has always hated playing defence in Madden games, preferring to simulate that side of things, lining up on the defensive side of the ball feels better in a sort of intangible way, and less of a crapshoot.

I’m not saying Madden 21 is a lifechanger, nor denying it is all but the same game that has been pumped out for years. But it is, on its own, a really good game. It also comes with a free bump to the PS5 or Xbox Series X version if you are planning to upgrade next month, and that should be interesting.

 

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