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Madden 21 Review: EA's Legendary Football Title Losing its Luster

  EA’s once-great football franchise is crumbling right before our very eyes. Gone are the days of Pat Sumerrall and John Madden in favor of ushering in the era of commentators Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis. That should tell you all you need to know about the iconic football video game title’s fall from grace.

Full disclosure, I’ve been a Maddenite for the better part of the last two decades. From the days of Super Nintendo to PlayStation2 and every console in between, I’ve played the game on virtually all platforms and played through each year’s installment, too. So when I received a review copy of this year’s iteration for Xbox One, I had guarded optimism that the developers would start to move the franchise back in the right direction and get back to the game’s roots. By roots, I don’t mean bringing Madden and Summerall back into the fold with blocky polygon character models or adopting game cartridges.

Madden has been using the Frostbite engine since 2014, not coincidentally, the game has been in a steady freefall ever since. While I’ve been a loyal follower of the franchise, 2020 was the first time I seriously considered another football title could bump the legendary game off its high perch.

The world where it’s easier to complete a pass to Richard Sherman than it is Julio Jones is not a world I want to be living in, but Madden 21 creates this nightmarish scenario for players to endure. During online matches, I was convinced that my early turnover problems were going to become a thing of the past once I adjusted to the game physics. That was not the case. Every 50/50 ball seemed to go to the defender as one- handed interceptions, outstretched grabs from cornerbacks and ranging safeties scurrying from the far sideline to the middle of the field to secure a pick is the norm in this bizarro virtual football world. Madden 21 should come with a throwaway controller for those gamers who are as vexed and perturbed with the cornerback friendly, quarterback-hostile experience as I am.

 Despite the hair-pulling, maddening nature of the game, I still managed to climb into the top two percent of online players by featuring a steady diet of halfback draws, bubble screens and safe, quick passes to limit turnovers. With no vertical passing game to speak of and by capitalizing on the mistakes of opponents, Madden 21 becomes a game that is more about the throws you don’t make than the ones you do.

 Even with the arrival of the unrealistic Yard Mode, which is intended to mirror EA’s NFL Street, has minimal entertainment value. The X-Factor abilities allow players to possess superhuman athletic prowess, which makes an NFL Simulation into more of an arcade-like field. I even played an online game where yardage markers, boundary lines and endzones didn’t even exist. Glitches and faulty AI are aplenty. There’s a reason why hardcore fans of the franchise are starting to jump ship on this year’s version as the NFL’s exclusive football franchise really dropped the ball with Madden 21.

Overall Grade 6.5/10