PS5 Games – Madden NFL 22 review: Breaking up is hard to do
For many people, 1992 signified the official end of the Cold War. For me, however, it was the year that I got bitten by the Madden football bug.
As a young immigrant who fell in love with American football, I remember getting “John Madden Football ’92” for the Sega Genesis. Like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, getting Madden became a new annual tradition for my brother and me, a source of comfort in a strange new land that helped us acclimate and feel like we belong. As 16-bit consoles gave way to newer, more powerful successors, our affinity for Madden prevailed. Even as we started dabbling in competing games such as Visual Concepts’ NFL 2K series, which we loved and bought every year as well, Madden continued to have a special place in our hearts. You don’t forget your first love after all.
Fast forward to the present and my feelings for Madden are akin to that of an ex-boyfriend. I still treasure the wonderful memories born from more than two decades of playing the franchise. But I’ve also stopped yearning for it to be a part of my life. The last time I reviewed a Madden game was way back in 2014. And while I liked the game overall, I could also feel like I was drifting apart from the franchise. I still spent some quality time with the series in the following years. But I noticed that I was starting to focus more on its faults instead of the things that I liked about it. I honestly felt like I was going through the motions — that I was playing the game not because I was excited for us to have quality time together but because it was something I’ve always done.
And so I stopped. For the next several years, I stopped playing Madden cold turkey. Or cold turducken for you true John Madden fans out there. I tried the game intermittently in between, including last year. But I’d put down the controller after a day or so and never pick it up again, at least not for a Madden game.
At the same time, I also wondered in the back of my mind if this was a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” After all, the game continues to sell like hotcakes, with last year’s iteration setting sales records. I started thinking, “Maybe it wasn’t Madden’s fault.” So when I received a review copy of Madden NFL 22 for the PlayStation 5, I decided to give the series another chance. To give the game the benefit of the doubt and get a second or even third opinion, I invited two of my younger cousins, who are some of the biggest Madden fans around.
Will Madden NFL 22 bring back that loving feeling? Or is it gone, gone, gone like Tyreek Hill seeing daylight during a punt return?
Behind the line of scrimmage
As someone who played last year’s Madden NFL 21 on the PS4 instead of the PS5, the first thing I noticed was how improved the graphics were, at least on the latest consoles.
I remember Madden NFL 21 looking dated to me when I gave it a spin last year. In comparison, Madden NFL 22 looked much crisper and detailed even on my ginormous 80-plus-inch, big-screen TV. As I found myself thinking that the game looked nicer compared to last year, I noticed that my two cousins weren’t even talking about that aspect of the game. I thought it was odd, especially given how one of them, in particular, would always comment on the graphics every time we played a PS5 game. So I asked them what they thought of the visuals.
“It doesn’t really look that much different than last year’s game,” one of them said.
My other cousin nodded in response. That’s when I realized that both of them played Madden NFL 21 on the PS5 last year.
Madden NFL 22 does add some new twists to the presentation such as the game’s menus and play arts. It also adds some new player animations on the field that make certain interactions such as reactions to tackling, sliding and diving look more realistic. We even got a good chuckle from one pre-rendered scene, a recreation of the Tom Brady high-five meme. All in all, however, visuals and presentation do not see a significant leap from last year’s version, especially when playing on the same console.
This brings up one of the key issues with Madden in the modern era. As a longtime player, I still remember when every year would bring significant changes in the graphical or gameplay department. In contrast, change in modern Madden games happens at a snail’s pace. One could even make the case that the franchise goes backward instead. Just look at all the features that have been removed from the series over the years. These include creating your own team, bringing in the latest NCAA draft class to your game, and even the presence of referees on the field just to name a few.
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As an example, while the game touts the ability to play as a linebacker this year in its Face of the Franchise mode, it’s also a reminder that you are not able to play as a player from every position. Longtime players will also be quick to notice when features being touted as new additions are actually old ones resurrected from past games. This was immediately apparent in our very first football game, an exhibition between last year’s Super Bowl teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One of my cousins noted the addition of momentum mechanics, which essentially boosts or drops a team’s performance based on things like home-field advantage or performance on the field. Effects included players fumbling less when enjoying momentum or having difficulty in defending the pass when losing momentum. For teams on the wrong side of a momentum swing, play arts that show pass or run patterns would also turn into squiggly lines on third down and fourth down.
To my younger cousins, these count as new mechanics. Longtime football game players, however, will remember these from another EA series, the old NCAA Football games. Technically, they are new to Madden. At the same time, the feature — while nice to have — isn’t exactly a new, groundbreaking mechanic.
In a sense, modern Madden football games tend to take one step forward but also take two or even three steps back. While I’m glad that some old features are being added back to the game, unless you’re a new or younger player, it doesn’t really feel like you’re getting something new. At the same time, I would also applaud it if more of these older features make it back to Madden. It would certainly be a step in the right direction.
Deja vu all over again?
Gameplay will feel familiar to folks who have played the recent Madden games. Perhaps too familiar.
Regular players will feel right at home with the gameplay and controls, which essentially feature the same mechanics that fans of the game know and love. For folks looking for something fresh, however, Madden NFL 22 does not have anything that particularly stands out. Even new changes to pocket protection, run blocking and catching controls don’t feel like major additions to the game.
The lack of major improvements or changes to the gameplay was actually a key reason why I found myself losing interest quickly in Madden games in recent years. What I did not expect was for one of my cousins — the one who liked Madden the most out of the three of us — to feel the same way. Several hours into our gameplay session, he kicked off a conversation that would ultimately end up surprising us all. Mind you, this was done after he had pulled off several incredible jukes, athletic catches and other cool moves during the course of playing.
“I feel like I’m playing last year’s game,” he said as his waning interest became more and more clear with every game. “As much as momentum mechanics are pretty cool, it doesn’t really change the way you play the game.”
My other cousin, who was a bit more forgiving of the game so far, countered by saying there is only so much that you can do with a football game from a gameplay perspective. He then asked just exactly what my disillusioned cousin would like to see done to improve the gameplay. After thinking silently for a bit, this was his answer.
“I don’t know what I really want,” he said. “I just want something new.”
This was when I realized the reason why I stopped regularly playing Madden several years ago. It’s probably the same reason why many disillusioned Madden gamers stop playing as well. The game has been stuck in such a holding pattern mechanics-wise that outside of roster changes, it can feel like you’re playing the same game year after year. Rather than feeling vindicated, I felt sad seeing someone who enjoyed Madden so much finally reach the same point I did about the series. It literally happened right before my eyes. Ironically, the part this particular cousin enjoyed most about Madden NFL 22 was a mode that’s been panned by many other folks. That would be The Yard, a simplified street-style football game with fewer players and a more arcade-like feel. Then again, even that might not be enough to convince him to play Madden NFL 22 as he did before.
Personally, I used to blame the rise of Madden Ultimate Team as the biggest reason why I stopped playing. I just have such a fundamental distaste for microtransactions and pay-to-win mechanics that I thought the emphasis on Ultimate Team was ruining my enjoyment of the game overall. Then again, that could very well be the case. After all, the lack of attention paid to franchise mode appears to have a direct correlation with the rise of the moneymaking Ultimate Team mode.
That being said, Madden as a franchise has just felt listless ever since EA punted the NFL 2K series out of the picture by nabbing exclusive NFL rights to football simulation games. Ironically, Madden was at its best when NFL 2K was still around. The gamesmanship between both franchises served to elevate each other with competition breeding innovation. Being a hardcore NFL fan at the time, I even remember buying both games every year as they were different enough to warrant separate purchases. Now it just seems that Madden’s stuck behind the line of scrimmage. My younger brother, who was a big NFL 2K fan and the best player out of all of us, kept playing NFL 2K5 for years before he stopped playing football games altogether.
As someone who absolutely adored the franchise from its early beginnings, the lack of significant progress is something that saddens me. I really wanted to like Madden NFL 22. I really did. But even as I tried to give it another shot, things kept popping up that would turn me off from the game. You’ve got certain types of plays that are almost impossible to defend against when relying on the AI, a long-running issue that continues to this day. I also don’t know if this is the buggiest Madden game yet but this one certainly has one of the worst glitches I’ve ever seen. It’s one thing to have cosmetic glitches, which I can wave off the field, so to speak. Game-breaking scoring glitches, on the other hand, are different. Midway through our very first exhibition game, my cousin was awarded a touchdown despite his pass being batted down before the goal line. We were so shocked, we had to check the in-game replay because we couldn’t believe it actually happened. By the way, I have the incident recorded via my Elgato capture device.
The sad part is, I was willing to forgive the lack of notable changes if the gameplay was at least tight. Gameplay is king after all and if Madden delivers a solid gaming experience on the field, then I can still give it a pass. If a game can’t even get basic things like scoring right, however, then how can players trust it to get everything else right? What else could be wrong about the game that I don’t know about?
Just as I was wrapping up this review, I got an email noting changes and fixes for the game. On one hand, I’m glad that issues continue to be addressed. On the other hand, I don’t know if I want to stick around long enough until they get fixed, especially when I have a huge backlog of other games that I could be playing.
Either I’m getting old or Madden’s getting old. Maybe it’s both.
I really wanted to like Madden NFL 22. After a hiatus from the franchise, however, I find myself facing the very same issues that made me stop playing the game in the first place after trying out this year’s iteration. These include a lack of significant changes to the gameplay as well as a host of game-breaking bugs and glitches. All in all, Madden NFL 22 probably isn’t as bad as some of the game’s more vociferous critics make it out to be. But “not as bad” isn’t exactly something to aspire to when you’re the only football game in town — or for any game for that matter. As a longtime player since the 16-bit days, seeing Madden stuck in neutral once again is a heartbreaker. Here’s hoping things get better as no one would like to see Madden make a comeback more than longtime fans such as myself.
Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.