Madden NFL 20
The latest in the Madden NFL franchise is here with Madden NFL 20. How does it compare to previous editions? Is this the best Madden in years? Find out in our review of Madden NFL 20.
A Smoother, Faster Madden
At long last a new Madden season has arrived and it’s unlike any Madden we’ve experienced in recent years. While the core of Madden NFL 20 is still football, the way it’s experienced makes it feel exciting, fresh, and better than I could’ve anticipated. Madden NFL 20 is a much faster, smoother, better game than in recent years.
To understand what I mean, we have to jump to the past, a whole 365 days ago. In 2018, Electronic Arts’ sports division rolled out Madden NFL 19, featuring now-Oakland Raider Antonio Brown. The game had made some improvements from the previous seasons (in terms of realistic catch radiuses), but it felt boxey with animations that didn’t seem natural.
One animation in particular was just running up to the line. Players were doing horse trots with their arms to their sides to get in formation. It was super weird. Another was you couldn’t hit the turbo button and change direction. Instead of quickly maneuvering past a defender in open space, it felt like you were grinding gears. It resulted in a lot of big plays being halted.
In Madden NFL 20, these issues are things of the past. EA Sports has found a way to make the 2020 season of Madden a faster, smoother experience, without degradation to the realism. From the moment I turned on the game, it became apparent the speed had been turned up from 8 to 12. As an avid Madden player and overall football fan (Go Texans!), this had me grinning from ear to ear, because we haven’t had this in so long.
What do I mean when I say that Madden NFL 20 is a faster game? It all starts when the ball is snapped: QB Drop Backs are faster, and Wide Receivers get to their routes quicker. Consequently, the Defensive line busts through opposing Offensive Linemen at a frantic pace, while the Linebackers and Defensive Backs work to get to the ball like their lives depend on it. Somehow, that speed allows for more difficult plays to become more achievable.
For instance, I had a game where I was in a difficult situation. It was 3rd Down & 21, an obvious passing down. Checking down to the running back wasn’t a viable play to get the first down and the Safeties were providing double coverage on my outside receivers. Obviously, either a vertical play or a crossing route with my slot receiver was the best idea. The only problem would be if the defense was running a deep zone, then I could be in some trouble. As soon as the ball was snapped, the defensive line rushed, the linebackers began scooting back, and the Safeties drifted over to cover their area, an obvious zone play. Thankfully, my slot receiver had blazed behind everyone on his crossing route and my QB put enough touch on the ball to float over the linebackers hands, 17 yards down the field, and into my receivers waiting embrace. In that moment, I had just enough time to get 4 more yards before the defense smothered me.
That speed isn’t solely on passing plays, either. The last Madden tried to make every running back into Le’Veon Bell, but not every running back can play that way. I disliked it so much, I began employing more of a high-octane passing offense. In Madden NFL 20, running plays have found their feet again, especially up the middle.
Madden 19’s outside runs were broken as all hell, while up the middle runs were absolutely pointless. With the right plays and formations, Madden 20 will part the seas for your running back so you can hit the ground running as fast as possible. As an added bonus, change of direction while sprinting doesn’t feel like a liability, allowing for a smoother running experience. Granted, because run and passing plays are faster and smoother, it means the defensive players will get to the ball even faster and could ruin your perfectly good drive.
New Plays, Abilities, and Features Add Wrinkles to the Gridiron
At E3 2019, EA Sports took the time to explain the abilities they brought into Madden NFL 20. They’re called X-Factor Abilities and Superstar Abilities. At the time, we only knew of a few traits like Bazooka, where cover athlete Patrick Mahomes II could throw the ball over 75 yards, and Double Me, where a receiver was almost assured to catch a jump ball in one-on-one situations. From the moment these were announced, I had a feeling that it would change the way we play Madden and my intuitions were correct.
The addition of X-Factor and Superstar abilities create a game inside the game of football. There have been drive goals in past iterations of Madden, but this was something different. I wanted to complete the steps necessary to unlock the full potential of my players. To do that, I had to fulfill the requirements of certain traits. For instance, to unlock the “Pro Reads” ability, I had to complete consecutive passes of 5 yards or more. While that seems pretty easy, these challenges get progressively harder when you’re trying to unlock traits like Antonio Brown’s “RAC ‘EM UP”, where it increases their success rate on Run-After-Catch. To do that, Brown has to catch 3 balls of 20 yards or more. Not as easy.
Meanwhile, defensive players also have perks they’re trying to activate as well, like Khalil Mack’s “Unstoppable Force”, which when activated allows them to shed one-on-one blocks like they’re playing against a traffic cone. To make matters even worse, one sack or one interception could spell the end of your offensive’s progress in attaining these perks. These new abilities have the potential to make your players gods in any Madden game, but it could all come crumbling down at any moment. Thus making it perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
Abilities aren’t the only addition to Madden NFL 20. The franchise is about 2 years late, but RPOs (Run-Pass-Options) are finally in Madden and they are FUN! If you haven’t guessed, the theme of this Madden is speed and RPOs are some of the fastest parts of this game. When you select an RPO play, you’re basically supposed to decide what you’re going to do in that play in the course of less than a second. Depending on the RPO you choose, the base play could be to throw the ball to a receiver running a slant, but if the corner is playing press on the receiver, that’s just not smart. If you see that, you have less than a millisecond to either hand the ball off to your running back or book it with the quarterback. It’s heart-stopping, but effective, if you make the right choice.
While all those additions are fantastic, my favorite feature to Madden NFL 20 is the realism. The realism comes in a lot of forms in Madden NFL 20. The one in particular that I’m thinking about has to do with the important part of any football team, and no it’s not the quarterback. It’s the lines. If you have quality Offensive and Defensive Line play, your team is likely to be successful.
EA Sports made the Offensive Line vs the Defensive Line the chess match it is in real life. In previous Madden entries, the quarterback had the ability to move the offensive line to protect against blitzes. It was effective, but you didn’t have to use it. In Madden NFL 20, your livelihood is on the line if you don’t move the big men in front of you. I mentioned before that I was in a 3rd & 21 situation. The reason for that was because Chicago Bears OLB Khalil Mack had destroyed me for his 3rd sack in one drive. How I was able to convert that 3rd down into a 1st is because I moved the line to accommodate his intimidating presence, and it worked. That’s not to say it will work every time, but it’s important to add and move around protections as much as possible to survive.
Oh, and the last updated feature I love is the pump fake. It’s as simple as double-tapping the receiver you want to fake to, which in turn gets him or someone else open. It works like half of the time but it’s so much easier to use than in previous Maddens.
New Story is...an “Improvement”
Speaking of previous Madden titles, let’s talk about the storylines in Madden history. Over the last two seasons, EA Sports has tried, desperately, to deliver a compelling story within the annual football game. Unfortunately, they tried too hard. Longshot was just...the worst. It featured an unlikeable character surrounded by equally unlikeable side characters in an ultra unrealistic storyline.
For Madden NFL 20, EA Sports once again included a story with QB1: Face of the Franchise. While it’s not the best story, it’s a major improvement from what we’ve previously had to endure. Instead of just handing us a character we have 0 connection to, QB1 allows us to create our own Quarterback to connect with.
The character creation isn’t great. There were only two pre-created characters that were worth using, but weren’t easy to customize. Little things like nose length or eye depth were unnoticeable and the hair choices were lacking, to say the least. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty quick process to create your character.
Once it’s done, you select one of nine colleges to represent. In my try-hard playthrough I chose Clemson and for my fail-test I chose Oregon (no offense Duck Nation). What I wanted to see in both playthroughs was how different your performance dictated the final result. Suffice to say, it’s actually pretty different.
No matter which school you choose, your start is always the same. You are a QB who was recruited to join X school, but never saw the field because a 5-star recruit signed with your school. Suddenly, right before the National Championship Semi-finals, said 5-star recruit goes down and the team is now in your hands. While you’re going through the process of playing your first College Football game, you answer questions to dictate your play style, along with your attitude.
Are you a Strong Arm with a Leader trait, a Mobile player with an Entertainer trait, an Improviser with a Team Player mentality? The combinations are endless. While the play style will dictate the attributes you have in-game, the personality you choose will be enforced in the answers you give throughout the story. I, personally, found the Entertainer personality to be the most enjoyable.
Your first big test comes when you have to play the National Championship Semi-final. You select your opponent for the big game and move forward to play the game. In my try-hard profile, I wiped the floor with Oklahoma, which resulted in my QB receiving more praise and accolades before taking on Texas in the Championship game. In my fail-test profile, I purposely lost to the Florida State Seminoles (Admittedly, I handed the controller to my wife who knows nothing of football and doesn’t game. So, you can connect the dots from there.). That sent my team spiraling as players were crying in disappointment after the game. Plus, the hype for my character plummeted.
Eventually, you end up going to the NFL Combine where you have to impress scouts in various drills. In this scene, the NFL and EA Sports show how little they think of agents by giving you the worst agent in the world. How do you meet him and hire him, you ask? Oh, just on the field at the NFL Combine because he forces you to let him be his agent. He simply walks up, says he’s looking for your agent. You say you don’t have one and BOOM now he’s your agent. Oh and did I mention he’s the WORST? The guy doesn’t know when you should answer your phone, sleeps when you’re in the draft room on draft day, or ridicules you when you’re waiting too long for your name to be called. His presence makes your character look like a chump.
The combine is a big test of where you’ll land. When I dominated the combine, I ended up being invited to the first round draft presentation and subsequently being picked in the first round by th Oakland Raiders. When I purposely failed, I fell all the way to the 7th round to the Denver Broncos. So, performance actually matters.
Once you’re finished with the story, you then proceed to franchise mode where you solely control the development of your Quarterback with your new team. There are no cutscenes from here on out. Instead, you just meet goals and play your hardest to try and keep your spot. I did most of this with my 1st round QB.
Overall, I just like the format of this story a lot more than the last attempt. It works and isn’t overly depressing. They do try way too hard to shoehorn unnecessary sad elements to the story, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to quit Madden forever like Longshot. The NFL will never sign off on creating a true, realistic story or allow you to pick your backstory, but this is a step in the right direction for a Madden storyline.
The Best Madden I’ve Played in Years
No matter the iteration, I love Madden. Even when the games are at their worst, I still enjoy every minute of this game. Mainly because I get to try out different players, plays, and teams with my friends. That said, EA Sports have made some really rough Madden games in recent years. Since the 25th Anniversary Edition of Madden, my favorite, the franchise has had some doozies while they tinkered to create the perfect version of Madden.
While Madden NFL 20 is not a perfect game and there are glitches galore, that will likely be cleaned up throughout the year, this is the best Madden I’ve played since Madden 25. The gameplay feels smoother, faster, with the potential to be inventive with your playstyle. It’s as if Madden is finally within the same timeline as the current NFL.
In every facet of the game, excluding the glitches, this is the most realistic Madden yet. I’m not even talking about in terms of graphics and player mannerisms, which are realistic. I’m talking about how you approach each game. The addition of abilities make scouting your opponents and identifying their position and ability a necessity, because if you don’t you will be punished.
I love that there are consequences to not preparing. In the real NFL, teams spend countless hours preparing, but in past Maddens I could stroll into a game, use the same plays and win a game in about 30-40 minutes. Not in Madden NFL 20. In this year’s Madden, accounting for your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses is absolutely everything. Thus, making the Madden experience a more challenging, less monotonous video game experience.
Huge thanks to EA Sports and all those involved for allowing us the opportunity to test out Madden NFL 20. It’s the culmination of several years of trial and error, resulting in an iteration of the game that’s loads of fun and a joy to play as a gamer, Madden fan, and overall football fan.