Madden 19 isn't a huge step forward for the long-running football video game franchise. There's nothing too shocking in store for football fans, especially those who played the previous entry, Madden 18. While the changes and improvements are minimal, they still exist. Madden 19 is a superior game to its predecessor in (almost) every aspect.
Madden 19 is the best football video game out there. Unfortunately that statement comes with a pretty hefty caveat. This is because Madden is literally the only NFL game on the market. Still the newest entry is well worth the investment for any American football gamer, especially if they've sat out some of the more recent Madden games.
Madden 19 doesn't reinvent the wheel. All of the standard modes are still present: Franchise, Madden Ultimate Team, Exhibition (online and off) and the returning Longshot story mode. The highlights are, of course, Franchise and Madden Ultimate Team (MUT). They're by far the most substantial game modes and it's easy to sink dozens of hours into both without even realizing.
Both Franchise and MUT have managed to strike the perfect balance between welcoming newcomers to their many game systems and appealing to the hardcore sect. It's a slow immersion process in learning how to improve your team(s) in both Franchise and MUT but it's not hard to catch up and be an expert in no time. Within a couple games, it's simple to know where to spend experience points and what line-up will produce the best results.
There's also a constant sense of progression. There's persistent goals to achieve and when accomplished the goals give experience in Franchise mode and/or player packs in Madden Ultimate Team. Both modes always provide the sense that things are moving forward and the best team possible is being created. True, there's a little bit more chance involved in Madden Ultimate Team as the most sizable rewards will come from MUT's random unlockable player packs, microtransactions can even be involved. (This is an EA game, after all). Thankfully, the microtransactions aren't obnoxious or vital to progression, proving that maybe EA did learn a little from the Star Wars: Battlefront II debacle.
The highest praise that can be given to Franchise and MUT modes is that they give the most time possible with Madden 19's gameplay and new systems. The mechanics haven't been significantly overhauled from Madden 18 but there are enough tweaks added in that it feels different. Initially, Madden 19 doesn't appear to be any different to predecessor, especially in visuals, but the new entry is deceptively better. The overall feel of Madden is improved. Tackles have more of a crunch, there's a satisfying new impact when a completed pass is made, and most importantly, players move better than ever.
Madden 19's big selling point is its Real Player Motion system. The central gimmick here is that the various players are animated and controlled to move like real people. A juke, dodge, or stiff arm will result in a tangible benefit, not just be a superficial animation. It sounds like hyperbole but it works. There's a noticeable improvement in how players are controlled once they receive the ball and it's so much more rewarding. The difference between a run play resulting in a yard gain or being tackled behind the line is a product of player choice and skill. This is exactly how all Madden games should work.
Control isn't the only area of improvement in Madden 19 either. There's also been an effort to make the presentation of the game much smoother and sleeker. It's all superficial but the menus and interface of Madden 19 are more aesthetically pleasing than its predecessor. Even the various replays and statistical breakdowns (all of which are skippable) are fun to watch.
The recorded commentary track, which has plagued not only the Madden series but every major sports game, with its staleness has been made more bearable too. It still occasionally feels like that the commentators - Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis - aren't watching the same game as everyone else but these instances are much rarer than usual. The two often even sound like actual human beings having a conversation, not a collection of robotic clips.
With everything Madden 19 does right, there is one rather significant downside from the previous year. Madden 18 did something very interesting by instituting a cinematic story mode with its own original characters. Titled Longshot, Madden 18's story charted the careers of fictional NFL hopefuls, Devin Wade and his best friend Colt Cruise. The experience was surprisingly emotional and engaging. Devin and Colt were endearing and expertly brought to life by their actors, JR Lemon and Friday Night Lights' Scott Porter, respectively. Devin and Colt return in Madden 19's Longshot, subtitled Homecoming, but they should've just been left alone.
Madden 19's Longshot doesn't wreck either of Colt or Devin's characters. They still remain appealing and the story surrounding them is even interesting at times. The gameplay changes that have been made to Longshot however, turn it into a disappointing mess. Longshot: Homecoming strips out the dialogue choices of the first iteration. These choices weren't perfectly implemented but they let players at least feel involved in the story. Now, Longshot plays out as a series of long cut scenes that are only broken up with snippets of Madden gameplay. There are still multiple endings available but how to achieve them all is less defined and desirable this time around.
Without the interaction of dialogue choices in Longshot it also becomes impossible to ignore the technical limitations of the cinematics. Madden's character models simply weren't built for extended cut scenes with generous close-ups. There's a definite improvement over Madden 18 - Colt Cruise looks much more like Scott Porter in Madden 19 instead of a bloated Ken doll version of the actor, but it's still not ideal. Facial animations are way too stiff and it becomes even more noticeable when Madden 19 includes video of live-action actors, often alongside the virtual characters.
The failure of Longshot is a relatively minor gripe. It's disappointing but the mode is just a fraction of Madden 19's offerings. Longshot takes little under four hours to complete. The bulk of Madden 19, from the Franchise most to Madden Ultimate Team, and the basic gameplay is where the game succeeds.
The improvements to player control and presentation might not be enough to justify a purchase for everyone, especially if they don't care about getting the most updated NFL rosters. However, Madden 19 is too well-made and does so much right that it's hard not to recommend it to even the most casual of football fans.
Madden 19 is available now on Xbox One, PS4 and PC for $59.99. Screen Rant was provided an Xbox One copy for review.