Flipping the calendar to August always means a few things – school is back in session, fall is right around the corner, tons of NFL futures bets are being made (by me), and the new Madden hits store shelves. EA Sports’ annual American football sim is back this year with Madden 24, starring Buffalo Bills gunslinging quarterback and human battering ram Josh Allen as the cover athlete, swelling the pride of many upstate New Yorkers. But will NFL fans everywhere be as enthusiastic and get to enjoy an improved experience, or will Madden 24 signal another underwhelming entry to the series after the troubles of its predecessor.
Last year, Madden 23 introduced a new gameplay system dubbed FieldSENSE, designed and promoted to improve Madden’s “ultra-realistic” gameplay by giving more control over players on the gridiron and granting them tons of new animations. The rollout of this new system was largely met with disappointment as Madden 23’s arc was dampened by an absolute boatload of glitches, both in the game and in players’ save files, which led to EA Sports offering discounts on this year’s version of Madden for those who had their save files corrupted. This includes myself, as I lost a Franchise mode save as the Carolina Panthers deep into the season.
In Madden 24, EA Sports gets a second crack at improving FieldSENSE, and after spending some time with the game, it certainly feels at least marginally better. Some of the new animations make the game feel more accurate to actual football – defenders must bring down running backs and wide receivers at specific angles to tackle them consistently, and EA Sports has toned down the rampant interceptions from last year, making them feel more earned when picking off the opposing QB.
Similar to the gameplay, Franchise mode has a few very minor updates that slightly improve the experience. Players can now restructure contracts to free up cap space, a trick most NFL GMs employ daily to circumvent the salary cap, and trades can now include up to six assets for each side of the deal, allowing for more mega-deals. As somebody who sinks tons of time into Franchise mode, these are the minor adjustments the mode desperately needs and are really welcomed.
Unfortunately, these small but positive steps forward feel meaningless when Madden 24 performs as poorly as it does. The game is severely bogged down with gameplay bugs and glitches, even in Performance mode. Performance mode is intended to sacrifice some of the game’s graphical fidelity for smoother frame rates but still lags even more than Image Quality mode when testing out both options on the PS5. I truly can’t remember a Madden release that performed this poorly at launch in years, as the frame rate drops make playing out a full game of football a headache-inducing nightmare.
The presentation for Franchise mode, as well as the rest of the game’s single-player modes, feels more stale than ever. The commercial-grade score with dime-a-dozen trap rap makes me yearn for the rock, hip-hop, and punk tracks of the past and earned a quick mute-all. The in-game presentation is in dire need of updating as well, with a severely generic pre-game and post-game package that doesn’t read like genuine football at all. Madden 24 feels like experiencing a bizarro world where Invasion of the Body Snatchers aliens took over humanity and kept playing football, stripping it of all the excitement and rituals that go into the pre-game breakdowns, analysis, and personality from beloved NFL icons that you’d come to expect from Monday Night Football broadcasts in the Frozen Tundra of Green Bay, or the scorching heat of Miami.
After 6-7 hours of playing the game’s single-player offerings on PS5, this year’s Madden so far fails to present any notable changes that longtime players will truly appreciate, nor does it offer anything to those who’ve sat on the sidelines looking for a reason to jump back in. For the game’s online modes that I haven’t had the chance to sink my teeth into yet, like Ultimate Team and Superstar Showdown, I’m hoping they will be able to save this Madden entry from tanking completely.
There was once a time when Madden was a series among the pantheon of best sports games of all time, but that feels like a distant memory. Despite some slight improvements to the FieldSENSE technology and Franchise mode, Madden 24 so far fails to deliver a consistent experience that football fans are looking for.