Madden NFL has even more to prove than usual this year. Heading into its fourth year in the PS5 / Xbox Series X generation, EA’s storied football series has more in common with the Chicago Bears than the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs. The last three entries have been battered by fans and critics alike, with last year’s release averaging a 69 on Metacritic.
As in previous years, EA’s strategy is to basically play defense and ignore the bad press, claiming that players are actually very happy while keeping the focus on the game it wants to promote. EA revealed Madden 24 to a group of reporters and influencers at a press event last week, opting to move away from the staggered info drops from previous years in favor of a more concentrated blast of news. In so doing, EA revealed that virtually every major mode is getting some kind of interesting upgrade, with the only one missing in action being Madden Ultimate Team.
Keeping with the focus of previous years, EA is putting a big emphasis on gameplay, which took an appreciable step forward with last year’s version despite being riddled with bugs. But there are many other updates in other areas as well, including the return of mini-games, expanded relocation options, and more.
Josh Allen is your Madden 24 cover athlete
First thing’s first: Josh Allen is this year’s cover athlete, making him the first ever Buffalo Bills player to feature on the cover of a Madden game. Allen has developed into one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, and he was last year’s frontrunner to win MVP until injuries eventually slowed him down. Previous years have used the cover athlete to illustrate some new feature, but there isn’t much to take away from Allen’s inclusion this year. He’s simply one of the best players in the league, and with Patrick Mahomes having featured on the cover twice, it was his turn to be in the spotlight. Bills fans will have to hope Allen avoids the so-called Madden cover curse. Their team is cursed enough.
Madden mini-games are back
As for the game itself, one of the Madden community’s top requests in recent years has been the return of mini-games. A popular feature introduced during the PS2 era, the return of mini-games coincides with the introduction of training camp in Franchise Mode, allowing players to earn XP by completing numerous challenges. The 25 mini-games available at launch include Close Quarters, in which rushers dance around tripping hazards, as well as a passing target mini-game and more. EA doesn’t expect these minigames to be playable with friends online in Madden 24, but is hopeful that a multiplayer version will be released next year.
As with the homefield advantage feature introduced in Madden 22, mini-games fit into the “everything old is new” approach taken by the series of late. Mini-games were introduced in Madden 2003 and managed to stick around until Madden 13, when the franchise was effectively rebooted into the era that persists to this day. In a sense, they’re recycled content, but it’s been long enough that they manage to feel fresh. The question is: will they have staying power? While it’s fun to dodge around tackling dummies and toss footballs at targets, these games have the potential to feel like more preseason busywork in Franchise Mode. Thankfully, they’re skippable.
Madden NFL 24 – First Reveal Screenshots
So is Superstar Mode
Speaking of “everything old is new again,” Superstar Mode is back. It’s not as big a change as you might expect, as it’s effectively a rebranded version of Face of the Franchise. This is EA’s way of tacitly acknowledging that last year’s simulation-focused approach to the mode is here to stay. It also acknowledges that the more narrative-based approach of past years, which tried to present a slick story mode in the vein of a Call of Duty campaign, was more or less a failure.
Well, mostly. Face of the Franchise’s familiar faces are still here, and Ochocinco is around to ask you what you think your rating should be. It’s just apparent that EA’s priority is in creating something more akin to MLB’s Road to the Show than Longshot. In last year’s review, I called the loop satisfying, and the reborn Superstar Mode seems to take what worked and expand on it. I mentioned that minigames might be a little repetitive in the last section, but I’m kind of looking forward to the bench press and the 40-yard dash here. There’s an element of role-playing here that works better in a player-focused mode than in a team-based one.
Now if Superstar Mode would only revive NFL 2K5’s Crib, Madden would really be on to something.
The Yard has been transformed into Superstar Showdown
After being orphaned in last year’s version, The Yard has been fully transformed into a revamped mode called Superstar Showdown (Superstar KO also returns, though it seems largely unchanged from last year). Like The Yard, Superstar Showdown will be a team-based multiplayer mode where you team up with friends against the AI or other players. The format has been heavily reworked, with each side now playing to 21 instead of getting a handful of possessions apiece. For the team that gets the ball second, a “Last Stand” mechanic will be in play to offset the advantage offered by going first. Characters will continue to be united between Showdown and Superstar Showdown, with XP and currency earned in one mode being usable in the other. The Yard was the kernel of a good idea when it released a few years, and it’s good to see EA giving it another shot after it failed to take hold the first time around. It’s not quite full online team play, but it’ll do.
Franchise mode’s relocation options are being expanded among other enhancements
In the meantime, Madden’s most controversial mode brings with it a solid slate of improvements this year, chief among them being updated relocation mechanics. You no longer have to be an owner to move the Titans back to Houston, though the option is still available. You can play as a coach and move them on day one if you so desire. This makes relocation less cumbersome than in the past, and it’s further buoyed by new uniforms, updated stadiums and other enhancements.
Elsewhere, EA is addressing Madden’s troubled free agency mechanics with “Free Agency 2.0,” which adds fifth year options and contract restructuring, as well as improvements to the trade system, expanded draft class generators, and additional coaching skill trees. Online league commissioners are also getting a multitude of new options, including the ability to adjust XP allocated to older players, the ability to turn off the controversial homefield advantage mechanics, adjust the impact of player motivation, change up the fantasy draft order, and more. Add in the addition of training camp and it seems like Franchise players have a decent amount to look forward to.
Franchise mode had serious issues in Madden 23, with several features being outright broken, so just getting the simulation working properly would be a win for Madden.
Franchise mode had serious issues in Madden 23, with several features being outright broken, so just getting the simulation working properly would be a win for Madden. More broadly, Madden’s Franchise Mode has long had a problem with context and narrative, making the overall experience feel more sterile than it should. If winning the Super Bowl doesn’t feel like a huge deal, then what’s the point? This is an area where NFL 2K5 excelled, and it’s one that Madden continues to struggle with close to 20 years later. Alas, it doesn’t seem like Madden 24 will take any appreciable steps forward in that regard, but at a minimum players should be able to enjoy this year’s version without having to worry about their online leagues being deleted by a glitch.
Madden 24 crossplay confirmed, PC will finally match console versions
Madden’s PC version has lagged behind its console counterparts for the last few years, depriving players of access to several major current-gen features. Thankfully, Madden 24’s PC version will finally be equal to the versions on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S. This opens a number of intriguing possibilities for the series, chief among them enhanced graphical fidelity. It also makes the series a much more interesting option on Steam Deck. Want to grind objectives in Madden Ultimate Team while marathoning The Office for the hundredth time? Now it’s much more worthwhile.
Additionally, Madden 24 is joining FIFA in enabling crossplay across all platforms, though with a few caveats. Among them, crossplay won’t be available in Franchise Mode at launch owing to a “unique set of complications,” and MUT profiles will remain separate in order to avoid upsetting the in-game economy. Like FIFA, Madden will include a toggle to filter by platform or turn off crossplay entirely. One way or another, Madden fans will have a lot more options this year, and that figures to be a good thing for online play overall.
Madden players (and coaches) have brand-new skeletons
One of Madden 24’s most touted improvements is the so-called SAPIEN system, which joins FieldSense in the realm of jargon-y Madden marketing speak. In effect, Madden 24 characters are getting brand-new skeletons based on real-life NFL players, specifically several members of the Kansas City Chiefs. Believe it or not, this is cooler than it sounds. Anyone who has spent time with previous iterations of Madden will recognize the hunched, strangely stiff gait of its players, which trickles into how they make cuts and other mechanics.
Madden 24’s skeletons have been rebuilt from the ground up, with player models being split between standard, thin, muscular, and heavy players. EA claims this update will bring with it meaningful changes to the animation, and sure enough this year’s version feels far smoother and more natural than the last. The new system extends to coaches – the create-a-coach system is being blessedly overhauled – and even members of the crowd, which means they may actually look like real people rather than the vacant dolls of years past.
If there’s one thing that has really bugged me about Madden over the years, it’s been the uncanny valley feel of the animation. It’s just never felt right, especially when compared to major sports games in other categories like NBA 2K and MLB The Show. Ridiculous name aside, the SAPIEN system seems like a large step toward fixing what may be my single biggest problem with Madden. Here’s hoping it lives up to its potential.
Catching and tackling are also getting major improvements
Following on from last year’s improvements to pass throwing, Madden is also getting big improvements to catching and tackling through what EA is calling “Hit Everything 2.0.” This includes an updated contested catch system, which ought to make it easier to break up passes with well-timed hits, though I was still compiling some pretty big numbers with Joe Burrow and Kirk Cousins.
“It’s just not about hit sticks,” explained one Madden developer during their presentation. “We’ve been about hit sticks in the past.”
To that end, Madden 24 will feature contested tips, scoop tackles, leg wrap tackles, and other moves. It’s also revamping the catching mechanics, with players better able to retain their momentum while going for the ball. This ought to make swing passes and other throws to running backs more popular, as players are less likely to accidentally fall out of bounds after making a routine catch.
What else to expect from Madden 24
There’s plenty more updates and improvements to Madden 24, some more interesting than others. Blocking has been revamped for the hundredth time, with linemen better able to lock in and blow up defenders, further strengthening Madden’s powerful running game. EA also claims that the AI is significantly smarter in this version and is capable of adjusting in realtime to repetitive playcalling, though I didn’t notice any notable improvements during my own hands-on experience (to be fair, I was mostly playing against other people rather than the CPU). Finally, making a big play will elicit more realistic reactions and celebrations, where previously they would shuffle robotically back to the line. Honestly, anything to make Madden’s gameday experience less sterile is welcome.
How I’m feeling about Madden 24
I’m going to level with you: I’m feeling pretty cynical about Madden these days. I’ve been playing and reviewing this series for more than a decade now, and I’ve been through a lot of hype cycles. I bounced hard off Madden 23 after reviewing it for IGN last year, convinced that this series would just never find the mix of authenticity and wish fulfillment I want in a sports game.
It’s not like the series hasn’t had good ideas over the years, it’s just too often been undone by bad execution and strange oversights. I had fun with my afternoon of Madden 24 – I felt like I was reading the field and playing actual football for once – but the success of everything I listed above will ultimately come down to whether EA can execute a competent sim, which hasn’t been the case over the past few years. This year’s version should be less “Hit Everything” and more “Make Sure Everything Works.”
Like every other studio, Tiburon had a rough time of it due to the pandemic, which took away what little margin of error the studio had in the annualized development cycle. But that doesn’t change the fact that in terms of gameplay, modes, and sheer personality, Madden lags far behind its peers in other sports. So while I find Madden 24 to be an intriguing update on paper, with a much more fully-formed Superstar Mode, welcome Franchise improvements, and a top-to-bottom gameplay update, my optimism is tempered by having been disappointed too many times before. I am a Vikings fan after all.
We’ll be able to see how Madden 24 pans out for ourselves when it launches on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC on August 18.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.