Madden 20 Review – Where do we go from here? A closer examination of Connected Franchise Mode and Madden's standing in the sim community

Madden 20 Review – Where do we go from here? A closer examination of Connected Franchise Mode and Madden's standing in the sim community

I have played every single Madden since Madden ’92 where “halfback pass” and “flood left” were the Founding Fathers of cheese. Obviously, Madden has come a long way since then, but is it in a place where we’d expect to see this series heading into 2020? Let’s take a closer look at what Madden 20 has to offer gamers who are focused on realistic/sim gameplay and a franchise experience. In other words, if you’re wanting further details on MUT or FOF (was this an attempt to bury Front Office Football?), this is not the review you’re looking for.

The Good

X-Factors

X-Factors are an exciting improvement, but are too overpowered.

Admittedly, I was skeptical and a bit worried about this being implemented into CFM, but it plays rather well, especially for its first attempt. I do think it’s too overpowered. I know the Madden team wants us to notice their new X-Factors, but it would be best served in a smaller dose which we’d appreciate further over time. I anticipate we’ll see this adjustment in Madden 21, but as these abilities stand now, they are too overpowered, albeit a fun twist to gameplay planning and strategy.

Gameplay…Most of It

Gameplay continues to improve, and as much complaining as I see about gameplay on Twitter and Reddit (for all sports games), the game does represent a solid version of NFL football. While it’s not perfect, it’s easily the best option we have today: past, present, and foreseeable future. It is still far too easy to break big plays, create turnovers, and wind up with scores of 52-47, but some of that also comes from style of play, such as trying to hit stick and lurk on every down—something I wish CFMs could disable if they choose.

I also see a trend of Madden not wanting boring plays, such as incomplete passes; most CFMs will see an imbalanced ratio of incomplete passes (not enough) to interceptions (far too many) when compared to the NFL games we watch each week. However, with the proper settings and agreed-upon sim-style of play—something that every sports game has to have some sort of adherence to in order to be moderately realistic—Madden 20 plays well, for the most part.

The game is still geared too much towards the MUT/competitive community, but I’m grateful that the Madden team has worked to create differentiation between these modes, even though the divide is still not wide enough. Please don’t forget us sim-style gamers, EA.

Draft

The draft remains virtually untouched, but is still one of the best experiences you’ll find in your CFM.

The draft is perhaps the most exciting time for all members in a CFM. It really helps tell a story of the league as it begins to take its own unique shape. I love the hidden potential ratings until a player has had enough playing time to truly be evaluated–these are the sort of changes that are welcomed to CFM (pictured at top).

It sounds small, but Madden has the best name (and character) generator out there that gives players truly accurate names, and not ones like Muhammad Perez or Thomas Thomas that happen repeatedly in other games. It’s not perfect, and scouting still feels like a bad card game, but it’s easily one of the most enjoyable aspects of a CFM.

Note: I appreciate the Madden team taking out the draft stories as they could be used to rig the draft a bit. I’d have rather they left the stories in, but removed or buried the impact those stories had, but it’s a much more secure drafting experience in Madden 20.

Needs Work

CFM Decisions

These mini-conversations look to be in an alpha phase.

This year, Madden 20 has CFM players making decisions on a variety of situations, such as planning for an opponent’s top DL, or whether or not to play an injured player. These are, and have been, welcomed editions over the years for CFM, but they are far too stale and simplified as most appear as mere text on a screen representing a bland text message conversation. Since when does a head coach text with a team doctor, anyway?

I’d like to see a team doctor not always being accurate, or have the option for a player to seek a second medical opinion, etc. I’d like to see actual in-season video of the impact player I want to prepare for, so that I can see how my user opponent utilizes this player.

On-Screen Visuals

This has been out of control now for a number of years, but with the addition of X-Factors, the amount of distracting and arcade-like visuals that pop up on every single play are mind-boggling. At the same time, key elements have been stripped down; while on defense in Madden 19, I was able to pull up a screen that would show me the run/gap responsibilities of my defensive players. This year, instead, I have 3 different actions that all show me information for X-Factors (see video above). Along with that, we have seemingly endless pop-ups happening mid-play that makes it feel as though I’m playing a game of NBA Jam. I don’t mind those arcade sports games, but I want separation–I don’t want that in Madden. Keep these visuals in the competitive world if you must, but Madden must find a way to further separate the competitive environment from the sim environment, and allowing for a CFM to turn these off globally would be an easy place to start.

Depth Charts/Formation Subs

JuJu Smith-Schuster is talented enough to play in two spots in this formation.

When I sign or cut a player, please do not scramble my depth charts. Just don’t. I get why it must be done for AI teams, but a new or cut player for a user team should simply be added to the end of the roster or should leave a temporary gap (with a pre-game warning) in the depth chart until the user addresses it manually.

When I go to formation subs, why am I seeing the same WR in the formation twice? I know the technical reason (one is pulled from “WR” on the depth chart and the other pulled from “SLWR”), but why is this still happening?

The…Not So Good

Franchise Depth & Presentation

News continues to be…not good.

The news screen continues to be awful—it contains next-to-nothing in terms of useful information. Why can’t an online CFM link the actual Twitter handles of its members to show team updates? Why can’t a commissioner post a news message or video to the CFM in place of these awful news stories generated by the game? Why can’t a member of the CFM create a podcast radio show to upload with commissioner approval? Auto-generated news stories used to be a cool feature, but it’s far outdated by now and needs to be revamped. There are plenty of other great ideas floating around, and I’d recommend starting with the work of Deuce Douglas.

Penalties & Injuries

This will be a regular occurrence in your CFM each week without massive changes to sliders. Notice these are teams who have played 2 games (all head-to-head).

Simply put, why do we still not have a realistic number of penalties in a CFM using sim gameplay? This makes no sense and is a microcosm of the MUT competitive world outweighing the CFM sim world. The same can be said for injuries where it’s another year of feast or famine where the only injuries you see are either 1-day injuries, or 8+ week injuries. In the NFL, injuries are drama throughout the course of a season. In Madden they are a badly-implemented frustration.

Bringing the MUT and CFM Worlds Together

While I mentioned earlier that we need more separation in these modes, that has everything to do with play style. While MUT-style gameplay is not for me, I respect that others enjoy it. MUT is an undeniable driving factor in the development of the game. Madden, and all sports titles, need to find ways to connect their franchise modes much in the same ways that their Ultimate Team modes are. There are numerous ways to do this, and I won’t get into those details in this review, however I’d encourage readers to check out this post for some basic ideas.

Where do we go from here?

With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Scarlet on the horizon, Madden is our only reasonable offering of NFL football in the modern gaming world moving forward, sorry NFL 2K5 fans. Consumer criticism can be warranted, and while sim sports gamers do need to be louder like the MUT community, we also must remain constructive in that criticism.

Madden is closer than we realize to being great, so become a voice for this community; share your ideas, applaud what’s working, and let’s get in the ear of EA Sports, but in a way that our feedback will be heard and implemented.