As a sports video game fan for over 20 years, it’s a shock that I can safely say that Madden NFL 21 is the biggest letdown of a sports game I’ve ever had the misfortune of playing. While Electronic Arts can use COVID-19 limitations and the shift in focus towards PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, that still doesn’t excuse a game that is this buggy. The game clearly feels rushed to production and definitely needed to better allocate their resources, or at the very least, delay the game in order to have more time to put it in a better spot.

a graphical issue during the post-game highlights in Madden 21

I’ve only spent the hours allotted to me through the EA Play trail of Madden NFL 21. For a sports game, 5-10 hours is plenty of time to get some experience with every available mode and determine if you want to spend the additional funds to keep playing or wait until it’s available at a lower price (or skip entirely). In the case of Madden, my time with it included multiple game-crashing bugs and annoying menu lock-ups. I was glad I didn’t spend anything extra on the game; if I did, I would be even angrier.

As someone who loves career modes in sports games, I obviously jumped into Madden’s Face of The Franchise, to see what they did there. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst acted and written story modes I’ve ever played. The first story mode Madden did a few years ago, “The Longshot”, was incredibly well written and paced. Unfortunately, the developers have not been able to replicate that success in later years. For “FOTF”, the plot is nonsense, your performance on the field doesn’t matter, and the bugs are out on full display.

The bugs aren’t limited to graphic mistakes, which there are plenty of. In my high school games, the commentary would often shout: ‘Touchdown Armadillos”  but I didn’t play for the Armadillos nor was I playing against them. Maybe due to work-from-home restrictions, the voice work from the small cast of characters sounded really bad. Or in some cases, the lack of audio during press conferences or player interactions in the dressing room immediately took you out of the immersion you’re meant to experience.

Not sure why the surrounding players are missing their jersey colours

On the field, the game is fine. Madden isn’t necessarily a hard game to learn and they’ve done a good job letting you customize your gameplay experience so that a newcomer or seasoned veteran can jump in and play the way they want.

With regards to presentation, the game lacks the atmosphere sports games should be trying to replicate. The player scripting is way too evident with AI players doing weird things because they were programmed that way. The commentary never matches the intensity that should be on the field. A blowout sounds the same as a tight contest.

Coaching suggestions make no sense. Why are you suggesting passing plays when I’m up by three possessions? Why is the AI not calling a timeout to get the ball back? Why haven’t they benched their quarterback after his third INT?

Even the celebration options available after certain plays, such as sacks, long catch/runs, or TDs do not feel smooth. The 2-3 seconds the player just stands there before doing the action is so disjointing, and in some cases, I miss it because the game has already moved to the next sequence (giving me the play call screen, showing the reaction of a coach, etc…)

The Yard, which is the big ‘new’ feature for Madden NFL 21, suffers the same problems that I had with FIFA 20’s Volta. The Yard is meant to be the game-within-a-game mode where you play 6-on-6 football with modified teams and rules. On paper, it sounds a lot of fun but the execution isn’t quite there.

There is almost no on-boarding for the mode. You get thrown in, explained that you need to score more points than your opponent but you don’t really get a good grasp of the small playbook or how to really be successful on the field without actually playing a few games. I had no idea you could get bonus points for making a few passes to your players before throwing a TD.

In the earlier games against the AI, you’ll have three chances to rack up the points scoring touchdowns. In one game, because I went first and had a large enough lead, the last drive for the AI was unnecessary but still had to play it out. The results didn’t feel like they really mattered. I was still advancing even after a loss only because my team racked up experience point. Or, at least I think that’s the case as The Yard doesn’t do a good job of explaining player progression.

Also, as this is using the same engine as the full-field 11-on-11 older brother, there are some weird things that happen, including some weird player scripting and AI mistakes. This was a big part of why Volta for FIFA 20 bombed with its community. The control scheme, shooting accuracy, and other aspects were using the full-field metrics which just did not translate correctly on the smaller pitches.

The Yard is obviously meant to serve as a successor to NFL Street, but it’s just not ready yet. With it having microtransactions for cosmetics, it’s going to be around for a couple of years. Hopefully, the Dev teams make the necessary adjustments so it feels more fleshed out and more enjoyable to play with or against friends.

There’s no point in going into the other core modes. The internet has already done their fair share of complaining about the lack of improvements in Franchise and the force-it-down-your-neck of Madden UItimate Team. As someone who participated in a pretty engaging Madden Franchise mode in the past, it’s sad that it doesn’t get the love it rightly should. As for MUT, I spent too much money on similar modes in the past and I just don’t play enough now to really make it worth my while long-term.

I was really sour on sports games last year and with a few exceptions (F1 2020 is fantastic), this year hasn’t fared much better. EA SPORTS is really guilty of this. I was left less than impressed with UFC 4 and with how Madden 21 is performing thus far, I am really worried about FIFA 21 and NHL 21

As I mentioned at the start of this post, if the reason Madden NFL 21 is so ‘broken’ at launch is because of COVID-19 that’s a poor excuse. If the reason is that focus was on making sure the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions were ready for launch, then the smarter move would have been to follow in Pro Evolution Soccer’s footsteps and offer the PS4/Xbox One versions at a discount. For a full-priced game, Madden isn’t worth any sort of investment and hasn’t done enough to make the user-base feel confident that the next-gen versions will be much better.