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Madden 24 review: "A clumsy, rickety game of pro football"

 Madden NFL 24 screenshot featuring a player celebrating on the field
Madden NFL 24 screenshot featuring a player celebrating on the field

Ask me – or any longtime, die-hard Madden NFL fan – to name the differences between Madden 93 and Madden 99. Do that again for say Madden 01 to Madden 08. There are stories of shoestring catches, passing windows, polygons, vision cone passing, and more. Now, ask that same audience to name a notable difference between Madden 2016 to Madden 2024; you'll likely hear cricket noises beyond graphical advances.

FAST FACTS

Release date: August 18, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA

There are layers to consider. In the past, generational shifts saw sprites become polygons, greater processing for physics, the introduction of now standard single player career/story modes, and deepening modes. Yet, for close to a decade now, Madden hasn't moved.

Maybe this isn't fair criticism. After all, rival sports games MLB: The Show and NBA 2K offered little to refresh themselves either in that same timespan. Between console generations, the law of diminishing technological returns set a ceiling for what's possible in a developmental year. The difference? At their core, each of those rivals are spectacular sports games at their core. Whereas Madden 24 sputters beneath the series' long-standing issues.

Unnecessary roughness

Madden NFL 24 screenshot featuring a football player taking a hit
Madden NFL 24 screenshot featuring a football player taking a hit

Does the new skeletal animation make a difference in Madden 24? A little, certainly. The way players react and move when hit looks changed from last year. Likely, future iterations will benefit from this as well. Meanwhile, it's a wonder why it's still possible to see Chase Claypool catch a touchdown pass, dance with his team, only to then need assistance to get off the field due to an injury. Why do teams hurry back to the huddle in a 36-point blowout with 30 seconds left on a running clock? Why are there so few between-play cutaways, and why were some of those (like the crowd shots) removed entirely?

On other consoles like the Switch, EA sells their sports games as "Legacy Editions," noting the only real changes happen on the rosters year-to-year. That's honesty. With Madden 24, EA touts "foundational football" which marketing states is, "the core of Madden's realistic gameplay." If that's the goal, watching tacklers warp to their target, receivers and safeties improbably drop easy catches, the near total lack of penalties (on default, but it's only marginally better when raising the sliders), and inexplicable glitches must represent a different reality.

A streamlined user interface gives most of the attention to Ultimate Team – one of the most popular modes in the game, and an arena where much of the transactional content is located. It's strange then, given both its importance and prominence, how the sluggish menus take a second or longer to respond to a button press, long enough to wonder if Madden 24 even recognized the selection. In this era of SSDs, where load times are proudly boasted about as near zero, Madden 24 takes ages to load a simple menu, or even worse, forcing someone to wait for a cinematic in the career mode that's just two people chatting in dialog boxes.

In Madden 24's career, the player character becomes Cap, a generic name to help ease the story writing process given the voice acting, but aside from cameos like Deion Sanders, it's a lifeless path through the pros. Every game rates Cap's performance with a letter grade. Testing this system for curiosity, with the difficulty turned down to rookie, after 400+ passing yards, eight completions (six of them touchdowns) in a 40-point blowout against the Rams, Cap's rating only reached an A-.

It wasn't until the game turned into a 60-0 blowout that a true A was earned, an all time performance not even Tom Brady could pull off. That seems wrong. Given the chugging menus, the Madden 24's fresh mini-games (meant to raise XP between games) become a total chore; it's better to set those to auto play and lose potentially small XP bonuses than deal with the loading (same goes for the training camp in franchise mode, a requested feature ruined by technical faults). During the review process though, 10 games into a Superstar career, Madden 24 force closed every time the save file tried to load, so it never mattered.

Offside

Madden NFL 24 screenshot showing the line of scrimmage from above
Madden NFL 24 screenshot showing the line of scrimmage from above

Madden 24 looks better; that much is true. HDR gives stadium lights and setting sun a dazzling aura. Skin textures look remarkable, and Madden 24 is the first time coaches look generally human rather than sloppy sideline characters. And again, Madden 24 moves a little better too, the smoother and more natural animations less invasive to the broadcast simulation.

While appreciated, Madden's long term issues that began around the dawn of the Xbox One and PS4 remain. It's a clumsy, rickety game of pro football that does, at best, a marginal job of replicating the sport. Madden 24 feels canned, predictable, even staged and rehearsed, akin to a failing digital stage play where the seams in the crumbling set can be seen from the back rows, but still desperately trying to hold on to what it once was.

If Madden 24 were revamped and to a point where the fanbase might note a major shift, a few awkward digital warts and glitches make sense. Instead, lingering issues abound, and it's time to admit something: Madden is no longer a yearly franchise.

Think back to Madden 06, a low point in the series on Xbox 360. Madden 07 reinvented the game; it's not impossible, but it likely takes additional time in 2024 compared to 2007. As of now, Madden 24 is unnecessary when against Madden 23, and without developmental leeway to truly take advantage of this console hardware, Madden 24 is a pointless endeavor.