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Madden 20 Beta Review: Pretty Face, Same Personality

*Disclaimer: We were not given codes by EA Sports for this review on the Madden 20 beta. Access to the beta was available to everyone through the Madden 20 Twitter. This review is solely based on the beta version of the game that didn’t include Face of the Franchise: QB1 mode or Madden Ultimate Team. We were not allowed to stream, record clips, or grab screenshots during the beta.

Following a Madden 19 game that had issues throughout – from players teleporting from one side of the field to another, players impossibly breaking tackles to even not being called down when tackled – Madden 20 was hoped to be the savior of EA Sports’ annual NFL franchise that, if we’re being honest, has been lazy since the publisher earned the exclusive rights to the NFL in 2005.

Madden 20 isn’t the hero that the series needs. It’s not a step forward for EA Sports. It’s more of putting one foot in front of the other.

What’s new: You may be a Longshot kid…

One of the most anticipated modes coming to Madden 20 is the Face of the Franchise: QB1 mode that puts the player in the journey of an NFL superstar quarterback, from college through the combine, draft, and eventually through the NFL. The new mode replaces its “Longshot” story mode that did the same thing through quarterback Devin Wade, just briefly.

It wasn’t available in the beta, but it’s expected to play like NBA 2K’s MyCareer, or NBA Live’s The One – both player career modes that guide the player through their own story with certain goals to attain and choices to make that could send the player in one direction or another.

What was included in the beta was the new Superstar X-factor ability. Superstar X-factor gives NFL Superstar players a certain in-game boost if they achieve certain goals, getting them “in the zone.” For example, Patrick Mahomes’ zone ability is “bazooka,” which allows him to throw about the length of the field if he completes three passes over 30 yards.

Players can get knocked out of their x-factor if they have bad plays – for example, Mahomes loses his zone ability if he gets sacked or throws a pick.

Superstar players also have Superstar abilities, including full-game boosts that give them an edge over other players. Julian Edelman has a boost called “Slot-o-Matic,” which increases his stats out of the slot.

It may seem like a lot, however, it barely affected the game. It felt a lot like a player’s “Takeover” in NBA 2K19. It’s a boost, and it’s there if you can get it, but it’s not something that’ll dominate games come August.

Gameplay: Feels good, looks the same

To its credit, Madden 20 looks great and, if possible, slightly better than last year’s version – a constant with a franchise that has adapted over the course of two generations of gaming consoles since Madden 2001.

However, looks and the way a game feels can only go so far, and it feels like all EA did for Madden 20 was fix its physics and smoothen out its look. In short, a lot of Madden 20’s “updates” are cosmetic.

The scoreboard graphics and fonts look different along with the overall, new bright aesthetic. But that is the only big difference of the game, along with new cover athlete Mahomes, who plays like the Mike Vick of Madden 2004 (more on that in a bit).

Team introductions look the same. Loading screens and player spotlights are the exact same as last year. Play calling is the same. Celebrations are the same. The full-screen graphics that break in between gameplay and replays are the same.

The menus also have the exact same layout. Presentation is 95 percent the same with the five percent being the new aesthetics. Having a uniform code is one thing. But after a few years, uniforms get updated.

The gameplay is where Madden 20 actually kind of shines, even for a beta. Tackling feels a lot better and looks more realistic as scripted tackle animations are just about gone. There could be a few more hard hits, but the speed of the game and its physicality are there. Sack animations, which seemed to happen whenever a defender got within two yards of a quarterback in Madden 19, are much smoother and rarer. Sacks feel like real sacks.

The game, in general, feels a lot smoother and plays as such. That part alone should make both the hardcore and casual NFL fans excited to play Madden 20 – it looks and feels like what you see and get excited about on Thursday nights, Sundays, Monday nights, and the occasional Saturdays late in the season. The ball physics look a lot better and feel a lot more natural in the passing game. 

Quarterbacks throwing mechanics kind of match their real-life counterparts, more or less, but the ball releases from some weird points and can have odd launch angles. This is a thing you’d have to look deeply for, but there were moments when the arm was going over-the-top ear high, but the ball was released at over-the-shoulder high.

The Pro Bowl returns to Madden for the first time in a long time and will probably be played once when Madden is installing in everyone’s PlayStation 4’s and Xbox Ones.

Needs improvement: Time for a rebuild

AI is where Madden has always been really hit or miss. Once again, the offensive line play is in that same hit or miss category. They have moments where they’re perfect in pass protection and picking up the blitz, or getting to the next level in run blocking. But there are too many moments where they also completely miss their assignments in run blocking and tackles that get blown away too easily by the outside rush, to where they’re just standing there, shuffling sideways as a defensive end easily gets past them on the outside for the sack. 

Cornerbacks have no balance; they either get smoked at the line or they’re too overpowering all game, and safeties feel useless in the passing game.

Mahomes and Tyreek Hill seem to be an impossible duo to stop, along with Mahomes’ connection with Travis Kelce. I’d expect the Chiefs to be used a lot in online head-to-head to start the competitive season of Madden 20. Mahomes plays a lot like Mike Vick of Madden 2004 and Hill reminds me of an overly dominant Odell Beckham Jr. with his speed.

Quarterbacks, in general, seem to have too good of a deep ball which should, hopefully, be tuned down just a bit in a Day 1 patch – unless every NFL quarterback can actually throw 70-plus yards routinely, effortlessly hitting receivers in stride deep.

The run-pass option makes its debut and is a little hard to use at first. How to use the RPO isn’t really explained in the game (at least the beta) which could cause some players to suffer from it early on if not ignore it completely going forward; if you’re late on a throw, you get flagged for an illegal man downfield. It’s an addition that could be great to use if someone can master its timing, or could be a fad like the zone-read option in Madden was a few years ago.

And yes, the “Philly Special” makes its Madden debut as part of the RPOs, and this could be great only if anyone can get a grasp on using it.

Audio: Can you hear me now? Again?

Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis once again return to do the commentary with Jonathan Coachman handling pregame and halftime. They don’t sound bad or lethargic, but their scripts are sometimes off. For example, Coachman called a 17-0 game a back-and-forth shootout in one game, and in a few regular season games, Gaudin called said my receivers had a great game in “last week’s wild-card round” – this happened mid-season in franchise mode. Some of their commentary came really late on numerous plays as well, taking away from the immersion of the game.

Quarterbacks’ cadences are too early, coming before they’re even behind or under center. Trash talking between players is as good as background noise and, usually, makes no sense for most, if any occasions in-game.

Playing Franchise with the Raiders, Gaudin talked a lot about it being the team’s last year in Oakland, which is good and realistic storyline-wise, but this only works if the team is automatically relocated to Vegas in the second season of the franchise mode.

This is a picky take, but it would be great if he had alternate audio if the player decides to actually keep the team in Oakland. That small detail could add so much immersion to the game and outside of the on-field stories, and Madden misses out on that sense of immersion. I fired Jon Gruden and got a new head coach, and there was no mention of it, while new player signings get five seconds in the spotlight then are forgotten.

For example, in EA Sports FIFA series, when a new player is signed, the commentators follow his storyline in his debut match – they talk about the signing early in the match mention his performance at halftime and at the end of the game, and if he scores, they talk about it being a debut goal. It would be great to see more of that in the Madden series.

There was no specific soundtrack set for the Madden 20 beta, but the inclusion of a more upbeat selection of NFL Films orchestra music was a solid change of pace.

Verdict: They’re running the same play with a twist

With the troll-job and constant meme that was Madden 19, it would’ve been great to see the game refreshed, something that many fans wouldn’t have minded waiting for until the end of the month if that’s what it took.

Madden 19 came out last year on August 10th, a week later than Madden 20 which is set for an August 2nd release date (earlier for pre-orders and those on EA Access). While many are excited to get the new Madden sooner rather than later, it’s easy to feel like this game is being rushed.

It’s truly hard to say what Madden 20’s legacy will be until the retail version comes out. The much-anticipated Face of the Franchise: QB1 mode was not included in the beta, which would’ve probably helped the cause a lot.

Franchise mode is disappointingly the exact same as last year. Without continuous, year-to-year saves that carry over to future games like MLB: The Show, it’s pointless to have Franchise as the same exact look and feel if it’s a brand new file year in and year out.

Madden Ultimate Team, a huge and growing mode, especially for the competitive and esports pro scene, is expected to be relatively the same – which is okay because nobody on MUT is going to notice its look or feel since they’re all concerned if they’re going to get to keep their MUT squad from Madden 19. 

In this generation of sports games, Madden 20 should be a much better game, one that could finally make up for the recent legacy of laziness and lack of inspiration that EA Sports has given its players for the last decade. Face of the Franchise mode is yet to be seen and could be the saving grace in the end, but its lack of inclusion in the beta is a bit scary with the game set to be released in about a month and a half. 

Madden 20 looks great and feels a bit more like its real-life counterpart. But the same stale presentation and same stale franchise mode keep it from really being the great game it could, and should be. When you have the exclusive rights to the NFL, you can get away with releasing the same exact game year in and year out with little effort. It’s more of the same this year. 

Current rating: 6.7/10.