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Madden NFL 21

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2020


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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Madden NFL 21'

by Redmond Carolipio on July 9, 2020 @ 1:45 a.m. PDT

Go All Out in Madden NFL 21 with innovative gameplay mechanics that offer advanced levels of control and inspire creativity on both sides of the ball.

Pre-order Madden NFL 21

Madden NFL 21 might be the closest thing the world gets to "normal" football for a pretty long time, so there's a strange, different kind of pressure on EA's upcoming offering of the national pastime as more and more people are looking for a sports escape. Lots of fans got a taste of that escape over Fourth of July weekend during the game's closed beta.

Over the years, the Madden franchise has appeared to adopt a philosophy of gradual, year-by-year improvements and additions that may or may not dramatically alter the way the game looks and feels on the field. Occasionally, a larger concept takes hold. Last season's game brought forth Face of the Franchise, the role-playing/creative mode, as well as the Superstar X-Factors for the league's elite players, like Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. This helped separate the league's signature players from everyone else, and the impact could be felt on the field as football in real life seemed to be experiencing a shift in play style and a changing of the guard in terms of discovering new stars.

I've always held the belief that the game's cover athlete each year is usually an indication of what EA's trying to do with the on-field action. Reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson is this year's cover guy, and he meshes with Madden 21's promise to let players go "all out," as Jackson is one of the league's most electric, dynamic players as the QB for the Baltimore Ravens. This means a slight overhaul to the things you can do as a ball carrier in the open field, as well as a defender. I figured I'd dive right into the beta to give Mr. Jackson and the run-heavy Baltimore offense a spin against the Chiefs and Mahomes.

One of the first things I noticed after a few plays is that EA's promise of more diverse and realistic animations when it comes to tackling seem to be coming to fruition. Gang tackles and swarming resemble more of what I've seen in actual football. Running backs tumble and fall forward or down even on bigger hits or when there's contact in the hole. Some even reached for first-down markers, which I find a little exciting.

Then there's the running itself. EA is making the right thumbstick a nexus point for a catalog of new moves that players can use to dance through a defense, and guys like Jackson have them all. In addition to the usual stuff, like a simple juke, there's also a "deadleg" move (you have to see it, but I'd call it almost a Matrix-like slowdown/stop-and-start move that throws a tackler's angle and timing out of whack). Hurdling defenders is also part of the right stick menu, but I sadly never got particularly good at it.

Another thing that felt enjoyable is how the ability to manually celebrate is being extended to practically any big play on both sides of the ball, like first downs, interceptions and tackles for losses. It's a nuanced way of reflecting the real product on the field, and any little bit of that can only help the experience.

On defense, the most fun for me was in the trenches, as the right stick now opens up the ability to use a variety of moves for pass rushers and defenders in the front seven. Instead of simply timing your jump on the ball and deciding whether or not to use a power or finesse move, certain flicks of the thumbstick lead to moves like bull rushing, club moves and other ways to get to the quarterback. You can also actively shed blockers for the sake of run support. This makes work at the line of scrimmage a lot more fun for some people, instead of resigning to hanging back and trying to defend passes the whole game. The amount of moves a guy has depends on who he is, as interpreted by a little graphic next to certain players that featured anywhere from three to five bars.

One thing I and most of the internet noticed is that on defense, people generally felt slower than their ratings would suggest. This was especially noticeable when zone defense was called, and it's actually a little disorienting to experience, especially since in real life, defenders have gotten smaller and much faster to combat the trend of teams throwing the ball all over the yard. Last season's game seemed to capture this well. Again, I know this is only a beta, so I expect guys like Tyrann Mathieu or Earl Thomas to feel and react more like themselves around August, when the game drops.

Speaking as a football fan who dorks out on things like run fits and seal blocks and not an esports player, I thought the Madden NFL 21 beta held promise of what's to come. I look forward to seeing how EA expands the Face of the Franchise experience and adds more personality to the on-field product. I am indeed ready for some football, and the hope is that Madden 21 delivers.

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