The questions are coming, rapid-fire, and you can barely think of the right answer. One coach wants to know if he can have your cellphone. The next wants to know where you’d sit on a packed bus. You have to figure it out, because your position in the NFL Draft is on the line.
Welcome to QB1, the new story mode in Madden 20, the latest edition of the storied NFL video game. If you’re a football fan, you know all about this game, and there’s a good chance you’re already lined up outside a store, trying to pick up your copy.
Good call, too, because this year’s game is the best Madden yet, an addictive experience that makes you feel more like an NFL player than you’ve ever felt. Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and computer, it delivers one of the most authentic football experiences we’ve seen in a video game.
Perfect? Of course not, but it’s supreme video game football, and more authentic to off-the-field football action than it’s ever been.
You’ll Love QB1 Mode
Madden’s signature story mode returns for a third year, and this year, it finally finds its stride. Gone are the contrived characters of Madden’s Longshot mode. This year, you finally get to play as . . . you. You create a character, design his look, and give him a name, and these little changes help you feel a greater sense of ownership in the mode. I actually restarted QB1 three times, because instead of stepping into the shoes of a guided tour character, I was playing as . . . me.
The entire mode also feels just far less contrived and far more realistic and grounded. Your character chooses a college, gets benched, and eventually has to come off that bench to lead his team to a national championship. Then it’s off to the draft and through some terrifically designed NFL Scouting Combine drills that actually mimic what scouts look for in quarterbacks. Recaps right off the NFL Network make you feel like you’re really battling to be an NFL star.
All this is light years better than the sandlot football with Dan Marino that existed in the first Longshot mode. Madden 20 finally finds balance between drama, melodrama, and the realism that football fans expect and want from their video gaming story modes.
If there’s a flaw to QB1, it’s the shortness of the in-depth story mode. Once you get drafted and hit the pros, the detailed storytelling devolves into text-message menus and, essentially, a glorified franchise mode. It’s a comedown after the terrific storytelling early on, even though it really isn’t all that bad, either.
Standard Gameplay is Far Improved Too
One consistent struggle with Madden games: they get too easy once you know the mechanics. And once you know the mechanics, in standard play, you almost don’t need to play with stars. It’s easy to fall in love with your favorite teams and never even feel the need to deviate.
Madden 20 has a terrific answer to that in its new X-Factor and Superstar abilities. These abilities, limited to a select few star players, actively give those players advantages. Madden’s had these ideas before, but in Madden 20, they significantly change the game, making those players extra-potent.
X-Factor abilities are even better. Only 50 players in the game have these abilities, and they activate only at certain times. For example, to activate Tom Brady’s X-factor, which highlights open receivers so you know exactly who to throw to, you have to complete a certain amount of consecutive passes of more than 5 yards. The payoff, obviously, is a zoned-in Brady, much like the Brady who dissected the Seahawks in the Super Bowl and set the consecutive-passes-completed mark a few years back. X-Factors can be abused by savvy players, but at the same time, they can’t. They have to be earned by play-calling and effectiveness, and they can be lost swiftly.
What’s great about X-Factors is how they make stars play like stars, and how they push you to think more star-centrically in all phases of the game. Sure, you could very easily take a bunch of scrubs to the Lombardi Trophy. But, in franchise mode, how could you not think about signing Julio Jones to play with Brady or Aaron Rodgers, just to see how their superstar X-Factors will stack up together. Now that’s fun football.
The On-Field Gameplay is Consistent
Other than X-Factors, Madden 20 mostly plays like you’d expect. But this year, unlike last year, there are fewer glitches and inconsistencies. With the exception of a new helmet catch glitch, EA fixes one of the great flaws in last year’s game, too, finally addressing the strange tendency for defensive backs to jump sky-high for interceptions.
That eliminated a great many deep throws from your arsenal last year, but this year, coupled with the X-Factor abilities, the long game is back at its fluid best. Other minor problems do pop up though; namely, the quarterback’s habit of getting stuck to offensive linemen, making scrambling a little less natural. But these minor quibbles don’t hurt that much.
Franchise sees few changes, but it remains fun. Truth be told, Madden’s franchise doesn’t need major upgrades. I’d love to see some advanced, Pro Football Focus-style stats available, but, as constituted, it’s a strong overall package.
Madden 20 is the best Madden we’ve had in years, and a game that definitely doesn’t feel like a roster update. It plays as realistically as any video game football game, and even when it doesn’t play realistically, it’s still plenty of fun. If you’re starting to get that NFL itch, go ahead and pick this game up.
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