Madden NFL 19 Review: Settling for a field goal
EA's football franchise returns to the PC after a decade-long absence. Is this a triumphant return or another fumble?
For more than twenty five years, the video game world has been graced with an annual edition of Madden football. Once the crown jewel of publisher EA’s portfolio, the game has lost some ground thanks to its cousin FIFA’s international appeal, but the yearly Madden release is still remains a big deal. The series disappeared from the PC platform after Madden NFL 08, but makes its return this season thanks to its use of EA’s Frostbite Engine. While the on-field action in Madden NFL 19 makes some positive strides, the complete package manages to feel stale, especially in the absence of competition for nearly fifteen years.
If it’s in the game...
For those who played a lot of Madden NFL 18, a few meaningful changes come with the new version of the game. Most importantly, ball carriers are now affected by what EA calls Real Player Motion. Real Player motion is a combination of new animations, control adjustments, and an overhaul to the player locomotion system that result in a more realistic representation of player movement compared to previous installments. The effects of this system are most apparent when controlling running backs or wide receivers after the catch.
Real Player Motion brings an additional layer of movement nuance and is handled via the left control stick. While pushing upwards on the stick still directs your player upfield, any movements to the side or backward can trigger anything from a slight hesitation to a full plant and change of direction. This is a huge shift away from nearly twenty years of players simply holding the turbo button, running forward, and using special move buttons to navigate defenders. It’s gonna take lots of retraining your mind and thumbs if you are a regular Madden NFL players. On the plus side, the results on your screen are much more realistic and when you finally get a grip on the subtleties in the control, the game begins to feel more fun than in previous years. If you simply hold the turbo and play like years past, you will find running the ball to be an exercise in frustration.
Elsewhere on the field, a bundle of new animations help making the passing game feel like a real improvement over Madden NFL 18. In last year’s game, wide receivers would often drop just about every pass if they weren’t five yards clear of any contact. It was endlessly frustrating and could only be overcome by delicate operation of the user catch mechanics. In Madden NFL 19, the players will still drop passes, but this time around, you actually get to see the defenders punch out or swat balls. For contested catches, new animations make what you see match up to the results the game dishes out. Almost all interactions between wide receivers and defensive backs look and feel better in this new installment. The other positive change is that not all DBs and linebackers playing zone coverage will automatically break on your passes from unrealistic angles and positions. In Madden NFL 18, any defensive player with an 91 or higher Zone Coverage rating would be able to react to your passes from the moment your quarterback’s arm started moving. This has been mostly corrected from what I’ve seen in Madden NFL 19, and makes passing much less frustrating.
Front office failure
Off the field, not a whole lot has changed. For Madden Ultimate Team fans, the biggest changes are the removal of contracts and the addition of quality of life changes surrounding player upgrades. All bonuses for the more expensive Madden NFL 19 Hall of Fame Edition are tied into MUT, so if you don’t participate in this mode, you don’t need to shell out for the more expensive edition of the game. Still, this is the most popular mode in the game and the one that will receive the most post launch support. If you come to Madden for MUT, you’ll probably have a good time this season. Longshot returns this year. It is awful. The less said about it, the better.
EA paid lots of lip service to Franchise mode this year, but in practice, almost none of it impacts the game meaningfully. The menu UI has been slightly changed to a black on grey color scheme that is tougher to parse, in my opinion. Depending on the type of franchise you choose, you’ll either see your coach or player goofing around in a mostly static scene. It does nothing to enhance the mode and is pure fluff. The same goes for the supposedly “all new” draft presentation, where you’ll see a really crappy looking NFL Draft stage that simply pans left and right over a picture of whoever you drafted. All the draft voice-over from last year appears to be gone.
Player upgrades in Franchise Mode have shifted over to a scheme fit system and player stats are increased by dumping points into a play style that will reward attribute bonuses randomly within that play style’s forte. The system is not bad, but pointless unless you manually do it for all of your players, because the CPU will never auto-upgrade any players based on scheme fit. Scouting and drafting players remains unchanged from last season and is still very underwhelming. Some of this can be overcome by the inclusion of user-modifiable draft classes, which is a nice addition, but like the rest of the mode, only half baked. Unlike virtually every other sports game (and the Madden games from the PS2 era), commentators will never say the names of new draftees, simply referring to them as “the quarterback” or “the running back.” Once again, there is no create-a-team or create-a-stadium feature like was found in older Madden titles. Team relocation is again locked to the same cities and pre-made teams from the last few seasons. The create-a-player system is as half-baked as ever.
The on-field presentation is a mixed bag. Graphically, the game has some real strong points, particularly the helmet reflections. The only rough spot is the depth of field technique employed. It look really bad, especially on players in the foreground of a shot. There are some new animations between plays that look really good and occasionally you get some great looking replays. The touted broadcast-quality presentation is rather laughable compared to any competing sports game. Even the new halftime show that the in-game announcers repeatedly plug often never happens or is nothing more than four or five static shots of something that happened during the first half. Supposedly, these halftime shows will get better as the season progresses, but I’ve not seen any evidence that they will be any more than presenter Jonathan Coachman reading stat lines over a static score screen. It’s beating a dead horse’s fossil at this point, but it is incredibly disappointing that Madden NFL 19’s presentation is still light years behind that of ESPN NFL 2K5, the last game that offered EA any competition in the pro football arena. It is unexplainable how that bar has yet to be topped in almost fifteen years and nearly three console generations.
Momma, get the camera! Madden’s on PC!
Madden NFL returns to the PC this year and offers a somewhat solid port. The game looks slightly better than its console counterparts and can run at a smooth 60fps, even on very modest hardware. Your PC will have no trouble getting smooth action on the field as long as you lower the crowd quality setting down to “Medium.” Above this setting causes strange dips in frametime consistency and I couldn't spot any visual difference. The game has native 21:9 resolution support and the football fields looks great in ultrawide. Things are less peachy for players who want to take advantage of high-refresh rate monitors or TVs. As of this writing, the game is outright broken if you do not use the in-game 60hz lock (or external lock via drivers, etc). Refresh rates higher than 60Hz cause insane jitters and player animations appear to randomly play back at alternating speeds. Mouse and keyboard control works fine, but the game insists on flashing the mouse control overlay on the screen constantly, even when I use a controller. Having the receiver button prompts changing to keyboard prompts in mid-game is incredibly frustrating and makes the game more difficult than it should be.
A big upgrade from the console versions are the reduced load times with a SSD. It takes less than 15 seconds to click the icon and begin traversing the game’s menus. Week to week simulations are also very snappy. Netcode for PC online play has been stellar in all matches I tried, with not a hint of lag or hitching. Inexplicably, there are no options for voice chat at all. You (and your opponent’s) mic will be broadcasting at all times, no matter what you have set in Origin or in your Windows control panel. This is incredibly frustrating and has left me avoiding online play until a patch is issued or the community finds a workaround. HDR is supported on the PC version of Madden NFL 19 and it looks amazing. Sadly, I was unable to get it working with the newest NVIDIA driver and had to downgrade to the March 391.35 driver to get flawless HDR. Much like the lack of voice chat options, there is no way to toggle HDR, so if your display tells the game it can read HDR metadata, the game will always output in HDR when you play fullscreen. This needs to be changed in a patch (the console versions have this same problem).
The post-game show
Madden NFL 19 is a mixed bag. Meaningful upgrades to the on-field action are greatly appreciated and will likely be all that is needed for the Madden diehard to justify jumping into this year’s version. The continued stagnation of the Franchise Mode is a big disappointment for front office sim players like myself. I’m not a MUT fan, so I cannot speak to how its new features will play out this season. Madden’s return to PC is still welcome, despite some serious oversights that will hopefully be patched. Those hiccups aside, the framerate and fast loading times make the PC version the one to get this year. If you have craved a licensed football game for PC, this is your only option, but there is still a lot of fun to be found. 7/10 butt fumbles
This review is based on the PC Origin release. The game was purchased by the reviewer as part of EA's Origin Access Premier service. Madden NFL 19 was made available for Windows, Xbox One, and PS4 on August 10, for $59.99.
Madden NFL 19
- Real Player Motion helps improve on-field action
- New animations improve feel of passing game
- PC version runs great on all types of hardware
- Rock-solid netcode on PC
- Same disappointing franchise mode
- Lack of creation tools/modes
- Sub-standard presentation
- PC port bugs/quirks
Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Madden NFL 19 Review: Settling for a field goal