I’ve reviewed almost every Madden release for the last two decades. That’s the thought that crossed my mind when I started to download Madden NFL 19 to my Xbox One. The realization stuck with me as I commuted to work that day and I thought about the series as a whole. Some years EA brings a big new gameplay mechanic, others a new mode, and sometimes a little bit of both. This year the game has some nice tweaks to its existing modes, but its big selling point are the upgraded on-field mechanics and the further progress in putting Madden NFL 19 on the Frostbite engine.
If I was to boil down Madden NFL 19 to its most prominent change, it's the "real player motion” that makes the biggest impact. For newcomers, you can skip ahead. But for the annualized like me, this is a pretty significant change. What this public relations term means in actuality is that you have a lot more control over players on the field, specifically those with the ball. There’s a lot more emphasis put on hitting a gap, making tight cuts, and ensuring that you avoid oncoming traffic. When contact does come, the reaction of players is a lot more realistic. When you bounce a tackle, it feels less like a roll of the dice and more of a direct relationship between the movement of the players. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some odd tackles and animations, but it's far less likely to happen than it used to be.
The improvements to the animation system go a long way in making the entire experience feel more like what happens on Sundays. It also puts more emphasis on the player to be a lot more strategic when running with the ball. I had a really hard time in my first dozen games or so in getting the running game going. Even now I feel like the new animation system has made it more difficult to make a big run. For the casual fan, you might not even notice the big change this brings to strategy, but for long-term players it's a big deal.
I mentioned the other big change and that's the EA's continuous move to the Frostbite engine for all of their games. Although the last year's entry was the first Madden to use the engine, this year it seems the game is reaping a lot of the benefits from it. Visually, Madden NFL 19 is a stunning and sees a huge improvement in facial models, stadium design, and general textures. There are some really nice stadium animations in the opening cinematics before each game, and beautiful cuts to the sideline that continue to enhance the overall package.
In terms of modes, there are some small updates to the franchise mode which is always my go-to mode each year. The first thing any returning player will notice is the vastly improved and designed menu system with a lot of quality of life improvements. EA has finally made it easier to figure out which players will fit your team's offensive and defensive tactics. So, if you're running a west coast offense, then the game will display a quarterback with mobility that will fit better with the scheme. It also helps when you're making changes to your depth chart, drafting players and upgrading players throughout the season. Otherwise, the franchise mode continues to feel familiar but deep enough that I know I’ll sync at least a couple of seasons in.
Making its sophomore return this year is the single player story mode "Longshot". If you read my review last year, you know I didn't feel overly high over it. It was like the greatest hits of football movie cliches with a very, very catchy theme song. Back this year, called "Longshot: Homecoming", the mode has learned a thing or two from some of my biggest complaints in the last year. Instead of creating a bunch of mediocre to bad mini-games, much of the mode now is a story with actual Madden gameplay. The star Devin Wade is in the NFL now and you get to experience some of the trials and tribulations of his early career. It’s still cliched and ultra-cheesy, but I found myself enjoying this second chapter of the series far more than the original. Although all things being equal, I'd give the nod to the FIFA single player mode over Longshot.
One of my biggest criticisms of the last couple years of Maddens has been the presentation that has become stale. That is still an issue in Madden NFL 19, although there are improvements. I mentioned earlier that the opening cinematics before each game have been improved with a nice stadium flyovers. There’s a handful of new in-game animations that continue to help feed the realism. But when you compare the overall package to something like NBA 2K18, it falls well short. The commentary is still spotty, and oftentimes doesn’t call the action on the field correctly. The half-time show which they pump up quite a bit during the game is still dull and one that I skipped after the first few. And there still isn’t any sort of sideline interactions that you normally see on a Sunday broadcast. It’s a shame too because the core game looks fantastic.
And that continues to be the story with Madden. It's an incredibly solid game of football that hasn’t done a great job of putting it all together. I really like the tightened up player movement and all quality of life improvements in the franchise mode. But I can’t help but feel like the best of this franchise is still ahead of it. Madden NFL 19 is a fully-featured and well-playing enough and if you’re in the mood for some football, it's still the game to get.
I'm the Owner & Editor in Chief of Darkstation.com. After spending seven years as the reviews editor I took over the site in 2010. The rest is history. Now I work with our amazing staff to bring you the best possible video game coverage. Oh and I really like sports games.