THE PLOT There's no pandemic in this football arena.
RATED E for Everyone
DETAILS $59.95; PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia and PC (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X coming soon)
BOTTOM LINE Some nice game tweaks but the technical glitches are a fumble.
Madden NFL 21, the first major team sports video game to come out during coronavirus pandemic, could be labeled a bit of escapism from what people are dealing with in real life. In this game, crowds still cheer in the stands. No face masks are worn. Announcers Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis make what could be a passing announcement regarding the pandemic but otherwise, for better or worse, it's business as usual.
In The Yard, players fire off behind-the-back passes or hike the ball to anyone on the field. The gameplay rewards cunning and deception with the freedom to pass more than once while behind the line of scrimmage and misdirect opponents. It's less rigid than traditional football and rewards those with improvisational skills.
A progression system and deep customization options aim to keep players hooked. They can upgrade the prototypes, which can be seen as classes in role-playing games, that are chosen for each matchup. The prototypes have traits and abilities that are geared toward different play styles, such as a scrambling QB instead of a pocket passer. Meanwhile, players can change up their looks with colorful helmet, jersey and accessory designs.
Unfortunately, this edition of the series had an embarrassing number of visual glitches, typos and broken systems were just too hard to ignore. Everything from misspellings to lost seasons showed up in Franchise and Face of Franchise modes. In one scenario, while celebrating a championship win, the players were still frozen on the field. It was a distracting flaw in a moment that fans should be proud of. In Face of the Franchise, after upgraded a quarterback with the Bazooka ability, it was still locked when attempting to activate it. Separately, these problems are annoyances but taken together, it ruins the experience altogether.
The best improvement is to the pass rush, which now becomes more transparent as players see how offensive linemen adapt to a rusher's move. That can be countered by using the right stick and triggers to perform a variety of moves as a defensive lineman. It becomes more of a game of chess rather than an exercise in redundancy and reaction.
Meanwhile, tackling is easier and more intelligent. The defense will move into better angles to stop the ball and prevent a first down or score. That eliminates a long-held frustration that favored the offense in those situations. Although this version of Madden NFL 21 isn't the best, it has the potential to be the most interesting and one that players can show off if they survive an increasingly difficult 2020.