EA Tiburon continues to build upon its Madden series in this generation with Madden NFL 24. A lot of changes and a focus on foundational football has been touted for this year’s game, and there are plenty of noticeable changes across the board. Also, the development team has built on its FieldSENSE technology and brought back an old fan favorite mode to the game. The updates have resulted in solid upgrades across the board with unbelievable-looking moments, but some of the gameplay changes have introduced new issues. The gameplay ultimately lacks consistency and needs more polish so the great-looking moments stand above the awkward-looking ones.
The focus on replicating what’s seen during a football broadcast is also a big boost this year. Madden NFL 24 has introduced SAPIEN technology, which is a new player skeleton that will start to be used in other EA Sports titles. The bodies look much more realistic and while there are extreme physical attributes that aren’t accounted for from certain players in the league, there’s a substantial difference between player size types in the game. The technology is also used on the referees, who are actually back on the field this year during gameplay. The team has implemented more post-play emotion, where players will jaw at each other or just talk out loud. The presentation has been updated to basically mimic what ESPN offers on their broadcast with subtle changes implemented based on what day the game is on.
The upgrades to FieldSENSE and Foundational Football really open the playbook and drive Madden NFL 24. The game has over 1,700 tackle animations, so there are noticeable changes to hits in the game. New tackle types based on the size and strength of the defender help to create a variety of results on each play. Contested catches continue to feel natural and fluid for the most part. There are times when multiple players are involved that the ball will bounce around too much. Skill Based Passing 2.0 in combination with improvements to pass catching aim to create fewer missed catches. It seems like there are more drops then in the past, however, even if the receiver is wide open. Yes, this does happen in football and if the coverage is good and the ball gets dropped, that’s more plausible. But someone that is wide open and looking for the pass and it gets dropped seems to happen more than it should.
There are outstanding quarterback throwing animations, including the ability to do a diving throw. A lot of the rollout passes and throwing on the run show off awesome throws. The way the quarterbacks act in the pocket feel even more tied to their actual real-life counterpart. Quarterbacks that are prone to panic situations tend to scramble much more smartly. Getting to the quarterback is more difficult this year, and I believe that comes down to the implementation of the upgrades to Foundational Football. This also depends on the quarterback’s ability, as well, but if the offense has a good pocket and trying to get the player down one-on-one, especially if they’re mobile, is much more difficult this year. I see this as a positive aspect.
Speed kills in this game as a player with good closing speed on defense or speed on offense is a game changer. You will clearly see a player with a high speed rating chasing you down on defense. This leaves it up to the ball carrier to pull off a move to avoid the tackler, which can be satisfying. The lateral movement of players on offense feels much more responsive. There are two different types of jukes, with one being just a side step without holding down the sprint button. This little subtle move can open up for big gains when one-on-one in the open field. Picking up a fumble has also been improved thanks to ball physics, and the same goes for improved onside kicks.
Getting to the extreme core of Fundamental Football is the Tactical Blocking System. For one, if the team doesn’t have a good offensive line, you’re going to know quickly. This is the best blocking the series has ever seen, but it’s not perfect. Players are more aware this year when going for blocking and this depends on their ratings. You’ll see more pancakes and it’s more important than ever to follow your blockers when carrying the ball. Previously, the idea was to line up the blocker with the angle the defender was taking. This year, you will see blockers go out of their way to get to the defender. You’ll see actual double-teams and chip blocks and you won’t see defenders warp off a block to make a tackle.
All of this means the running game is overpowered this year, but it also depends on a few caveats. The ratings for both the offensive lines and the running backs will make a bigger impact. The AI uses Frostbite Navigation Grid capabilities to identify cut back lanes and traffic navigation, and it’s a substantial change. Someone like Christian McCaffrey will play smart, much like someone like Joe Burrow does in the pocket. You combine that navigation ability with a player that’s highly skilled, and the defense is going to have a lot on their plate. The biggest issue with all of this, however, is consistency. When everything works as designed and it’s witnessed, it’s impressive. There are times where blocking won’t execute properly or the ball carrier will still have issues running into someone. There are also times where contact doesn’t seem to be registered, and instead the ball carrier will just bounce off the defender. Again, something that happens but it doesn’t feel natural. I have experienced diving into a quarterback and it seemed like the defender just dove into a wall with no reaction from the quarterback. This happens enough to bring up these consistency questions, because again, when everything clicks, it really clicks.
Madden NFL 24 brings back its coveted Franchise Mode and Ultimate Team, but also returns two longtime fan favorite modes. Face of the Franchise has been a narrative-driven mode that focuses on an avatar, and over time the narrative focus has taken steps back. This year, Superstar has returned with two variations: Superstar The League and Superstar Showdown. The goal, as either a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, middle linebacker or cornerback is to reach the 99 Club. The option to create a few different avatars is here, but most importantly while there’s still an early narrative aspect, the avatar will progress through the NFL Combine including doing all the important drills and even taking a Wonderlic-like test to get the highest draft grade possible. What’s nice is the ability to re-do the drills. I’d like to see a quicker approach to getting through this process as this was really fun.
Weekly training drills and daily tasks will be used to help boost the avatar in-between games. While playing a game, missions and stats are provided for the process the avatar is making, rather than waiting for after the game. The upgrades are hot swappable in The League and Showdown, so progress from both carries over for the avatar. Superstar Showdown replaces the yard, and is purely 3-on-3 where players can squad up and play co-op, or one-on-one with AI NFL players. Players will define their position prior to playing, and the first to 21 points wins. These games go by quick and can be the quickest way to earn XP for the avatar. Avatars can be customized, which means apparel can be purchased with money. This mode is quick, fun and more enjoyable than The Yard. Once the 99 overall rating is reached, the avatar will spend their time here. This also means if the rating isn’t that high for the avatar, the other will most likely be high online.
Franchise Mode received improvements and commissioner tools that will make the overall experience better, but not something that is felt immediately, except for one thing. EA Tiburon has brought back Training Camp mini-games, which are also available to play on a standalone basis. When going through Training Camp, one player can only do one drill per offseason. This can also be simulated and random outcomes will be given. It would be nice to have the option to do this weekly, but most likely this design was selected to keep the pace of the preseason going and not drag down the process. Some of these games are cool and one is an entire field where you run around to avoid defenders that are time-released to chase you down. The target passing takes a minute to get acclimated with and results will vary. With this being available to play in the main menu, there’s no multiplayer option for this and I feel that was kind of a miss. If golf games can do simultaneous players on the same hole, I don’t see why this couldn’t have been implemented, if even just local co-op.
Ultimate Team returns with a few additions, but the focus remains to build a team with real money or grind for currency to get better cards. There will be seven full seasons that will cover the entire NFL season and past the Super Bowl. A new introduction mode is available for newer players and a new Live Event Hub and Catalog will make navigation easier. Cross play is available in the game for separate generation platforms, but currently isn’t in MUT, although will be coming. It’s also worth noting that MUT won’t transfer cards from the previous generation to the current generation. The PC version of Madden NFL 24 is also upgraded to coincide with the current console generation and most of the upgrades in this year’s game are not available on the previous generation.
It’s past time to start accepting the attention to detail on the visuals of the Madden series. Along with the SAPIEN technology, there are a ton of player and coaches faces in the game. These faces are superbly realistic and while there will most likely be players that haven’t been scanned yet, what’s here looks amazing. Add the lighting and the updated ambient occlusion in the stadium and the environment is detailed and full of life. Even sideline players have received a noticeable upgrade. There’s a resolution and performance mode option on current-generation consoles, and there seems to be optimization issues on the resolution mode. The game will bog down, especially during throws, and hiccup more compared to the performance mode. The reflections and details aren’t as apparent on the performance mode, but it runs much more smoother. The hair physics also got a big boost and the varying long hair looks great across the board.
The audio captures the NFL atmosphere and varies per location. Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis are back as commentators, and while there’s a lot more dynamic commentary that can be heard, at this point these two have become a part of the brand. It would be nice to either see a change up in the booth as Gaudin still lacks energy, but the added dialogue will have to work for now. I would still like to see a variety of commentators for different games and a change. A variety of modern hip-hop rounds out the soundtrack, and any NFL-themed music has been removed. Sound effects during the game, mainly the hits, do sound great.
Madden NFL 24 feels like the most complete game since jumping to this generation. EA Tiburon continues to build on the core that was established four years ago. The changes for this year’s game are numerous, but results with inconsistencies and ultimately need more polish. Hopefully this will come in the coming months with patches. When everything works, it’s cool to experience it all coming together that can result in a big play. This also ties into the resolution mode which is playable and offers excellent image quality. There could have been more implemented with the Training Camp mini-games, but they’re a fun change of pace that add to the Franchise Mode experience. The games also do not feel as scripted, even though the division games in Franchise Mode aim to level the playing field no matter the difficulty. I have had enjoyable and drama-filled tight games this year and the AI brings more of a natural level of opposition compared to something that’s pre-designed. There are bugs, but the overall experience in Madden NFL 24 is getting closer and closer to properly replicating an NFL broadcast.