The Madden series is among the most heavily-criticized franchises on the market. Typically getting a new entry every summer, just before the real-life NFL season kicks off, Madden is infamous for its long-standing bugs, repeated content, and a general lack of innovation. Madden NFL 22 is the latest installment in the series and although it does address some of the game’s long-running problems, it feels like more of an incremental upgrade, rather than the generational leap players are hoping for.
Coming through the tunnel
Although last year’s game did get a next-gen upgrade post-launch, Madden NFL 22 was designed from the jump with the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 in mind. With that, I went into the game expecting some immediately noticeable upgrades over the previous versions. When I jumped in, there were a few new changes that enhanced my experience.
Madden NFL 22 lets players choose between a Quality and Performance mode. The Quality mode allows the game to run at gorgeous 4K, with Performance mode running the game at a consistent 120 FPS on current-gen consoles. The boosted framerate smoothens the experience and bolsters the fast-paced on-field action. I don’t remember experiencing any noticeable drops when playing on the Xbox Series X.
Just like with the next-gen upgrade for the previous game, Madden NFL 22 also benefits from vastly improved loading times. Regardless of the game mode, there was never much time spent waiting between gameplay segments.
I also noticed some improvements to the crowds and lighting while playing Madden NFL 22. When playing at M&T Bank Stadium, I could actually see the light from the fireworks reflecting off of the players and field as I lined up for the PAT following a touchdown. Audiences look a bit more realistic as well, sporting a variety of gear and jerseys as they cheer from the stands. They still look far from great, but it’s certainly an upgrade from the cardboard cutout-looking fans that we’ve had for years.
Farce of a franchise
Face of the Franchise, Madden’s story-based career mode, returns once again in Madden NFL 22. Like similar entries, the game follows the life of a player from high school, to college, and then the NFL. Unfortunately, this mode yet again falls completely flat.
The majority of Face of the Franchise centers around the narrative, rather than the football itself. Game’s are incredibly easy, and you don’t have to put in much effort at all to secure the number 1 pick in the draft. Add on the scripted injuries, contrived story scenarios, and lack of overall variety, and there’s plenty to be desired from a gameplay standpoint.
This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if the story delivered something genuine and worthwhile. However, the story is as generic and underwhelming as it’s ever been. There’s moments where the player is clearly supposed to feel something, like when you get the call that you’re going to be drafted, but it feels incredibly flat. None of the characters are interesting, and the stiff facial animations only exacerbate the shallowness of it all.
Shifting the momentum
One of the biggest additions in Madden NFL 22 is momentum. If you’re familiar with live sports, you know that momentum can be a major factor in any game. Though you can’t precisely identify or quantify it, there’s a feeling in the air when momentum is beginning to swing in the favor of one team or another. Think about Super Bowl 51 for example. Atlanta held a 28-3 lead over New England late in the third quarter. The Patriots quickly came down and scored two touchdowns, cutting that lead to 28-17. Although the Falcons still held an 11-point lead, you could feel a heavy momentum shift as Tom Brady and company came roaring back, eventually winning the game 34-28.
EA Sports looked to replicate this feeling with the momentum mechanic in Madden NFL 22. A little bar at the top of the screen features both teams’ logos at opposite ends. After each play, the meter will move in one way or another. Teams gain momentum from just about every on-field action: gaining yards, converting first downs, scoring touchdowns, kicking field goals, tackling for a loss, forcing a punt, forcing a turnover, you name it. Of course, some of these actions have a bigger impact on momentum than others.
What’s really neat, is that as the momentum bar progresses in either direction, teams will unlock certain bonuses. There are a wide variety of different momentum traits, and it varies from team to team. One that I particularly liked was Shook, which causes the offensive play scheme to be jumbled, with route lines being shaky and squiggled. There's also a momentum trait that slowly rocks a play back and forth, and one that even gives the “iced” effect to every field goal.
Though I was skeptical going in, I really liked the execution of momentum in Madden NFL 22. There was one instance where I was playing online against a player using the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They had me down 14-0 just before halftime, and the momentum bar was completely filled in their favor. I legitimately felt like my back was against the wall as I took the field at Raymond James Stadium for my final drive of the half. The screen was rocking, his players were in the zone, and some of the buttons for my wide receivers were disappearing.
Of all the criticism pointed at the Madden games in recent years, Franchise Mode might be the one under the most scrutiny. For several consecutive games, this mode has remained almost untouched, with the most minimal of changes between games. It’s an issue that grew so large, the developers shared a letter to fans in which they outlined plans to be better going forward. Though a lot remains the same, there are some decent upgrades present in Madden NFL 22’s Franchise Mode.
First up, there’s finally a new visual layout. Though fairly, it’s not a game-changer, it’s more than we’ve gotten over the last several games. The new interface shows the current week’s schedule, top players on the opposing team, and challenges for that week. Changes to the News and League tab also put the information you want up front, without requiring you to dig through a series of submenus. The full weekly schedule for the entire NFL, as well as the top performers in every category can all be seen from the home page. As a stat buff, I appreciated the change in how all of this information is presented.
Franchise also adds some much-needed depth to coaches. Now, players will have a staff of assistant coaches and coordinators to manage. These coaches have talent trees, which will unlock new bonuses for the team, such as faster recoveries from injuries, or better deals during trade and contract negotiations. Abilities in the talent trees are unlocked using staff points, which are earned from completing challenges specific to each coach. It adds another level of strategy and gives players something else to work towards during their season.
Holding all the cards
As with other EA Sports franchises, Madden’s real money-maker is its Ultimate Team mode. In MUT, players collect cards, building their own fantasy roster of NFL stars and legends. It can be incredibly tough to build your team from nothing into something without spending a dime on the packs (loot boxes), which are sold in the store for real-world currency. There are a series of challenges that players can take on in order to slowly add valuable pieces to their team.
From my time with it, Madden Ultimate Team is more or less the same as it’s been for years; a fantasy mode that asks players to either dedicate a great deal of hours into grinding challenges, or crack open that wallet and start forking over the cash. That said, it’s hard to have a full grip on the mode at the time this review is being written, because the majority of MUT content is launched post-release, with events coinciding with Holidays as well as the real-world NFL schedule. It’s very likely that there will be quadruple the content present 3-6 months from now.
Madden NFL 22 also sees the return of The Yard, as well as Superstar KO, two modes that were added over the last few years and provide a more arcade-like experience compared to standard play. The Yard adds a new solo campaign, which I appreciated for its variety in settings and lack of a shoehorned narrative.
What I did find frustrating was the unnecessary attempt to unify all of the game’s experiences. There’s a ton of crossover in unlocking cosmetic content to be used in different modes. As someone who doesn’t care all that much for The Yard, it was a bit annoying for the game to constantly bombard me with arm sleeves, shoes, and other random accessories for a mode I wasn’t playing. There’s also just too many currencies and points to keep up with, between Ultimate Team, The Yard, and Face of the Franchise.
Madden NFL 22 also maintains some of the same head-scratching limitations or issues that plagued past games. For one, you can't select your number in Face of Franchise mode. Instead, it's determined based on which college you select, and can't be changed later. When naming a character, the last name "Dixon" is flagged as inappropriate, despite there being real-world NFL players with that last name. It's instances like these that are far too common in Madden NFL 22, and they collectively weigh down the experience.
At the goal line
Madden NFL 22 is an upgrade from the last few entries in the series. The new momentum mechanic, addition of Quality/Performance Modes, and some changes to Franchise genuinely make it feel like a step forward. However, the game fails to skirt around some of the same issues that’s held it down for years. A poorly executed Face of the Franchise, and an Ultimate Team mode that’s pretty much more of the same stop the game from being the endzone celebration that it could be.
This review is based on a digital Xbox Series X code provided by the publisher. Madden NFL 22 is available now for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, and PS5 for $59.99 USD on last-gen consoles and $69.99 on current-gen consoles.
Madden NFL 22
- Momentum mechanic captures the energy of real NFL games
- Performance and Quality mode deliver either gorgeous visuals or smooth gameplay
- New changes finally made to Franchise Mode
- Face of the Franchise falls completely flat
- Technical issues and bugs that were present in previous games
- Too many currencies
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Madden NFL 22 review: A game of inches
Do you still need a pilot's license to learn the controls or nah?
Haha, I was playing on Xbox and it wasn't too tough. Pretty much the same as recent years, so if you had an issue with the controls in previous games, you might have the same issues here.
I am not surprised but disappointed to hear that the changes were not as impactful as they sounded.