'Madden NFL 19'
From: EA Sports
Who it's for: Fans of the Madden series
Console: Xbox One, PS4
It seems like I just reviewed "Madden NFL 18," one of the most innovative installments in the series' long history. Chock full of new features, "Madden 18" was a no-brainer to recommend, a must-have upgrade for fans.
"Madden NFL 19" falls into a different category. While still an excellent game, it slightly improves on last year's innovations, rather than re-writing the book again.
That isn't to say "Madden 19" isn't worth picking up. Incremental gameplay improvements, as well as a few new features, makes this year's installment a worthy contender.
Real Player Motion marks the most significant gameplay addition. Placing more emphasis on the left analog stick, players can now more realistically run the ball.
While it was always possible to juke, spin and dive, the result has always felt a little robotic. While you'll still need to press the right button at the right time, the left stick provides a finer level of control over the runner. Flick it right or left while tapping the right trigger and your player will stop, change directions and shake off pursuers.
Once you get the feel of the new system, you'll never be able to play an older version of "Madden" again without scoffing at your lack of control. It makes the running game a much more viable option.
Other improvements directly affect certain game modes.
In addition to the standard quick games options, Franchise mode offers the chance to lead your team through a full season and beyond. For the first time, you can set offensive and defensive schemes, and you can train your team's players to fit those schemes.
EA Sports also responded to fans' No. 1 request and included a Draft Class Creator to make your own draft classes built with your imagination (or the stats of your favorite old-timey players) and use them to move your franchise forward.
For those craving lighter fare, the Madden Ultimate Team (M.U.T.) returns with dozens of new challenges. It's both fun and addictive to collect player cards to improve your team, and then take the field, fulfill objectives and raise your M.U.T. level.
In addition to the myriad pre-set objectives, you can also participate in the weekly Solo Battles or take your team online to tackle other M.U.T. teams around the world.
The one problem that still plagues M.U.T. is cost. While it is possible to assemble a respectable team with the coins you earn by completing objectives, it's arduous compared to buying better packs with points. Points, of course, cost real money, about a penny a piece, though you do get a discount if you buy them in larger quantities.
It's the kind of Loot Crate scheme that hurt "Star Wars: Battlefront II" and will continue to haunt EA until there's better equity. If all packs were available to purchase with coins as well as points, it would be a step in the right direction.
The last major mode continues the story of Devin Wade and Colt Cruise, stars of last year's "Longshot," the first "Madden" attempt at a story mode.
In "Longshot: Homecoming," Wade has made it to the lowest ranks of the NFL, fighting for a place on the Dallas Cowboys, while Cruise waits by the phone for any team to call.
Mixing copious cutscenes with playable football sequences, the well-acted story mode makes for a fun diversion and unlocks some fun extras in M.U.T. There are even some Longshot-based challenges that unlock after you've beaten the story mode.
While enjoyable, I hope EA gives players more freedom of choice in future installments. During the story mode, there is literally one choice to make, which doesn't affect the story at all. It would be nice to see more branching paths and a reason to replay.
Ultimately, the key to "Madden" is gameplay.
Sure, there are still some quirks. When you choose Coaches Recommendations from the playbook, you will receive a limited number of plays and some particularly wonky choices. If anyone could find a coach that calls a play-action on third-and-19, I'd like to talk to him.
But this year's release provides a great football simulation and does its best to outfit players with all the bells and whistles they could want.