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Madden NFL 20 Review: A Spectacular Catch

Another year, another Madden. Every August, I - like countless other NFL football fanatics - shell out my hard-earned cash for another full-priced, annual release of a game that barely changes anything other than its player roster. Having played every game in the franchise since 1990, when the original John Madden Football made its way to the Sega Genesis, it’s safe to say that although the series had some standout years, most of the entries - especially the past few releases - have failed to inspire with anything that makes the game worth playing other than controlling your favorite newly added or updated players on new teams. Madden NFL 20 surprises by finally breaking the mold of its previously uninspired annual releases with the reemergence of its “Superstar” mode, along with the rest of the game modes that Madden fans have come to expect and enjoy over the years.

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Face of the Franchise mode is Madden 20’s newest mode in which players create a custom, highly sought after high school quarterback who (hopefully) eventually rises through the ranks of the NFL to become a Hall of Famer. Face of the Franchise very much resembles the game’s former Superstar mode, which became a rather underwhelming gameplay experience after being merged with Franchise mode in Madden NFL 25. The physical player customization options are surprisingly robust, while every decision or response made during the story’s quick-time events shapes the personality traits associated with the character, such as a self-absorbed diva or a respected team leader.

So Long, Longshot

Face of the Franchise replaces the Longshot story mode that was included in the previous two installments of the series. Although a lot of work went into Longshot’s story, which included the voice talents of high-profile actors such as Academy Award winner, Mahershala Ali, and, of course, Rob Schneider, the lack of a focus on player-created stars was a missed feature for many Madden fans. Luckily, Face of the Franchise feels like a healthy mixture of Longshot and Superstar mode. Longshot fans will enjoy the initial surprisingly immersive story, while Superstar mode fans will enjoy the process of developing their player through the College Football Playoff National Championship and into the NFL, which means that even NCAA Football fans can have some fun with Madden 20 by selecting and playing for a handful of college teams. Could this be a tease of EA’s NCAA Football making its triumphant return? We can dare to dream.

Face of the Franchise isn’t perfect, though. The mode is very narrative-heavy during the lead up to being drafted in the NFL, which is roughly a two to three-hour experience. After that, the story-driven elements wear off as players go through the weekly routine of training, upgrading their player, and playing in games. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. I have only played through one season, but I imagine that a successful career will result in some sort of conclusion involving a Hall of Fame happy ending, which is nice, but a more robust journey would have been preferred over the final destination.

It also would have been nice to be able to select my position, rather than being forced to play as a quarterback. Admittedly, I would have started as such anyways, but not having that choice ultimately reduces Face of the Franchise’s replayability to zero (unless you’re a Denver Broncos fan who got drafted by the Oakland Raiders, which was the unfortunate case for me).

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The Gang's All Here

Beyond Face of the Franchise, all of the beloved Madden game modes are there, including Franchise mode, Head-to-Head online, Skills Trainer (including The Gauntlet), and, of course, Madden Ultimate Team.

It’s tough to touch on anything new or surprising from Madden Ultimate Team, Franchise mode, or any of the Exhibition modes. If you’ve played Madden before, you pretty much know what you’re getting into. The same learning curve exists for feeling out the updated game physics and controller responsiveness, but as usual, that hurdle can be achieved after a few hours of gameplay, in addition to getting used to the random glitches that have always plagued the game.

However, there are some new features that take some getting used to. For example, running a hurry-up offense automatically sets the offense on the line and instantly runs off precious seconds from the game clock. I can understand why this sort of dynamic would be considered positive, but it’s nice to be able to watch players actually running to the line in situations where you’re deciding whether or not to use a timeout. Being at the mercy of an automatic seconds run-off creates a totally new dynamic in time management strategy. Players also need to get used to the new Superstar X-Factors that certain players possess to be able to gameplan against them.

NFL superstars like Patrick Mahomes (QB) and Chris Harris (CB) come with special X-Factor abilities that, when in the zone, can cause opposing players major headaches. For instance, Mahomes comes with the “Bazooka” ability that, when active, allows him to throw for a maximum distance of 80 yards, which by NFL standards, is insane. On the other side of the ball, Harris features the “Shutdown” ability, shutting down receiver routes and increasing the likelihood of making interceptions during contested catches. You’ll pay the price if your offensive play or defensive coverage selection is weak while these players are in the zone, so be sure to keep an eye on who’s hot and who’s not.

The Future Finally Looks Bright Again

While by no means perfect, Madden NFL 20 did just enough to make it stand out as one of the best entries into the series in recent memory. It’s unlikely that Face of the Franchise will get any sort of update to include more story elements or the ability to select a player position, but the inclusion of the mode is a step in the right direction. However, as usual, we will continue to see updates in the player ratings and voice-over commentary throughout the season. Maybe one day we’ll get a Madden release model that is more centered around seasonal DLC and content, rather than a full-fledged annual release… and maybe even a Nintendo Switch port. But until then, Madden NFL 20 brings the right amount of changes and new features to at least revitalize the formerly stale franchise.

4 Out Of 5 Stars

A PlayStation 4 copy of Madden NFL 20 was purchased by TheGamer for this review. Madden NFL 20 is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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