Madden 21 didn't make the playoffs. The game fielded its worst team in years, receiving criticism for being more of a roster update than a redesigned game plan. With Madden 22, the franchise at least starts driving toward the correct end zone again. The newest entry benefits from next-gen console graphics and introduces a handful of new features — some more successful than others — to its game modes.
Those start with a revamped Franchise mode that gives players the tools to build a dynasty from the ground up using staff management, skill upgrades, and on-field strategies. Unfortunately, Madden tripped before it could score more points by delaying the Scouting feature for a post-launch update. On the field, minor gameplay updates add realism, while tweaks to the presentation deliver an in-stadium experience many are missing while stuck at home.
But for how much was added this year, Madden remains worse than the sum of its parts. Various bugs break the immersion, with more troubling glitches influencing the outcome of games. Some modes, particularly Face of the Franchise, feel underdeveloped, and as good as the game looks at times, it isn't the revolution fans were anticipating in the shift to current-gen hardware.
Madden 22 graphics and presentation
The gridiron looks fantastic in Madden 22 as it did in the previous entries. But let me temper your expectations: the PS5 version I reviewed isn't a visual transformation over the previous entry. Instead, small tweaks to the physics and presentation add to the realism of this sports simulator. Crowd reactions are more varied, bringing a level of immersion missing from past titles. Similarly, players and the sideline crews react differently based on what's going on in the game, so your teammates no longer stare blank-faced at the ground when you score a touchdown.
EA says the broadcast package was also reimagined, and while the commentary is generally very good, I heard the same few phrases more than once. Listening to the commentators chat about the new 17-game season a few times can break the illusion; coming across that same line eight months down the line would make me pull my hair out.
Fortunately, the on-field presentation is superb. Stadiums are wonderfully recreated and the players look better than ever. Some star athletes even got the face scan treatment for an uncanny resemblance to their video game character. What impressed me most, however, were the fine details, like how the stadium lights reflect on helmets, or how you can see the folds and stitches in uniforms.
Some of the off-the-field graphics are less successful. I don't love the black-and-neon color scheme or the bold typefaces found throughout the UI. It's a preference thing, but some of the icons can be jarring. I also find that, whether you're in a game or flipping through menus, too many visual elements clog the screen. Going through the menus can be a chore especially when, even on the PS5, the animations are sluggish.
Madden 22 gameplay
EA did more fine-tuning of the gameplay than overhauling. Motion physics enhancements add realism to the way players run, throw or tackle, making movements more varied and true-to-life. It didn't take long for me to appreciate the differences.
When my running back got hit from the side, he lost his balance and awkwardly stumbled backward to the ground. A play later, I ran past the defensive line, made a hard cut, and was met head-on with a linebacker who lifted me off my feet and planted me on the ground. Ouch!
Another scenario showcasing the game's realistic physics had me spin past a player then lose my balance and trip over a teammate who was sprawled in front of me. And every now and then, you get some downright awkwardness, like when the opponent's running back got tackled and ended up sandwiched between my linebacker and his own downed player, then got back up and ran for extra yards because his knee somehow never touched the ground.
These subtleties are found not just in how the game looks and feels, but how it plays. Made using real-world route-running and speed data, a new movement engine makes players feel more authentic to their individual style. The catching system was also reworked for sideline grabs, and two-player preset animations are being phased out for unpredictable individual motions. Tackling and blocking also got a boost to make gameplay more organic on both sides of the ball. The differences are minor, but they add up.
Perhaps the biggest gameplay addition is what EA calls M-Factors (no, that isn't the performance trim of a car). These simulate momentum by giving advantages to teams that are performing well at a certain point in a game. M-Factors icons appear above a new momentum meter located above the scoreboard. The better you play, the more your half of the meter fills up. When it reaches an M-Factor icon, that ability becomes enabled until the other team shifts momentum back in its direction.
Those advantages range from increased acceleration to preventing the opponent from previewing routes after the huddle. Some don't make much of a difference, but others make the struggling team worse equipped to fight was is already an uphill battle.
One important element to this new momentum feature is Home Field Advantage, which gives the host team a special, third M-Factor. Every stadium is paired with a unique boost, so for instance, if you're playing as the Broncos in Mile High Stadium and gain enough momentum, your opponent's players will start each play with less stamina. Why less stamina and not some other perk? Because Mile High's notoriously thin air makes it difficult to breathe.
These are the Home Field Advantage M-Factors for each @NFL team in #Madden22🧵 pic.twitter.com/oBaq2L56iDJuly 1, 2021
It's a fun addition and doesn't feel too arcadey, but I do have some worries with the system. Remember those old-school games that gave advantages to the losing player (think Mario Kart)? Well, this is the opposite. If you're struggling, you're going to struggle even more with your opponent gaining advantages, and some of the perks can eventually influence the outcome of a game.
This isn't my only concern with the gameplay. While I enjoyed Madden 22 more than expected, technical bugs are a serious problem in the game's current state. At one point, it was fourth down and I was within field goal range, but when my kicker stepped up to tie the game, the kicking meter never appeared. I shanked the kick and lost the game. And when the meter didn't return for the subsequent kickoff, my opponent inevitably started their next drive at the 35-yard line. Then there were smaller, immersion-breaking glitches like when the commentators said the teams were separated by five points when the game was actually tied.
Madden 22 game modes
Those who favor a single-player story mode will welcome the return of Face of the Franchise. New this year is Road to the Draft, a fun addition that takes you through the process of going from college wunderkind to NFL draft prospect to hall-of-fame superstar. Players choose their position — quarterback, wide receiver, running back or, for the first time, linebacker — then skill up to be drafted to the NFL. Each position has more granular roles. For example, I chose quarterback then opted for the "speedster" trait to be a dual-threat quarterback rather than a "pocket commander" or "escape artist."
The campaign isn't as silly as it was in Madden 21, but the pacing is all over the place, your decisions don't have much of an effect on how the story progresses, and the cutscenes are laborious. Driving the main storyline are spoken cutscenes; the voice acting is solid this time around, however, you'll find yourself slogging through long scenes to get to a simple training drill. Other cutscenes work similarly to those in FIFA — no words are spoken, you simply pick from a list of answer choices.
Complaints aside, it's fun to move your player through the draft journey as a college prospect. Playing as my alma mater, the Texas Longhorns, and hearing the Texas Fight song gave me warm flashbacks of putting up the horns to NCAA Football 14 in my dorm room.
College life is short-lived; you play two games to win the championship before being inevitably drafted to the NFL (I ended up on the Jags…). Between those college matches are a few skill-based mini-games presented as sponsor events. As you rank up, you unlock skill points and experience that can now be used in The Yard.
Speaking of which, The Yard and Superstar KO are the least transformed modes in Madden 22. Both let you play short, small-sided games with varying rules in case you want a quick touch of the pigskin instead of committing to a full game.
The Yard is a 6 vs. 6 gameplay mode where your avatar plays through dozens of backyard rules challenges to win prizes and XP. Superstar KO keeps the same formula by centering around 5-minute 1 vs.1, 2 vs. 2 or 3 vs. 3 matches with house rules. Both modes are welcome alternatives to the main Franchise or online modes and as a fun way to jump in and out of a match while earning rewards.
Getting back to Face of the Franchise, it takes only an hour or two (depending on whether you watch the cutscenes) to go from collegiate athlete to pro. Once you enter the NFL, the mode essentially becomes Franchise mode with additional cutscenes.
If you don't care for a story mode, skip Face of the Franchise and go straight to Franchise, which received the most updates of any mode this year. These long-awaited changes are all about adding depth, giving players more tools to tinker, upgrade and strategize.
No matter the sports game, Franchise is my go-to game mode. I'll spend dozens of hours in the menus, drafting, selling and upgrading players. Before even playing games, I'll choose a strategy based on the opponent and ensure my team is fit going into Sunday. Madden 22 lets you make these adjustments, and more.
Debuting in Madden 22 is the ability to manage your staff, including the offensive coordinator, head coach and player personnel. Each staffer has a talent tree where you use staff points to unlock abilities. For example, I used staff points on my offensive coordinator to gain one point in impact blocking for fullbacks. You can also set gameday goals and fire your staff member if they aren't cutting it.
You, as the general manager, can also dictate how hard your players practice before a game, but you need to take the potential for injury into account. This is part of the Weekly Strategy feature which lets you adjust your pre-weekend gameplan based on the strengths and weaknesses of the next opponent. When you enter your strategy plan, it'll show you what your opponent is best at on offense and defense then recommend a focus on how to combat those advantages. Don't agree? Set the plan yourself. It's simple to use and adds a layer of strategy that can have a marked effect on the game.
Missing at launch is a Scouting feature similar to what you find in FIFA. When it lands in the coming weeks (the update is scheduled for September), Scouting will let players send staff out to various U.S. regions to look for talent. Note: EA confirmed that in order to take advantage of the new scouting feature, you will have to restart your Franchise after the Title Update.
And finally, there is Ultimate Team, which now includes Strategy items to boost your team. You no longer have to manually change each players' chemistry — the entire team makeup can be adjusted with a few button presses. Also new is the ability to make halftime adjustments to Superstar X-Factors to counter your opponents during matchups. And lastly, MUT 22 adds Stats on Items in which each unique player item will have a stat attached that tracks their in-game accomplishment.
Madden 22: Should you buy it?
Madden NFL 22 received year-over-year updates its predecessor lacked, making it a worthy entry to the franchise. Still, those who abandoned the series and are holding out for something fresh should keep expectations in check; Madden 22 isn't a restart, but rather, a natural step forward; each game mode received updates (some more than others) with Franchise mode being the most exciting. Moreover, gameplay changes — particularly the momentum meter — and fine-tuned presentation enhance the on-field experience.
What can't be ignored are bugs, which will hopefully be ironed out soon. And while we're on the subject of updates, one of Franchise mode's most important new features, Scouting, is absent at launch. That said, I can't help but feel like Madden 22 is a few months, or perhaps only weeks, away from living up to its full potential. Perhaps it will go on sale, in which case, it would get our recommendation for fans eager to get back to the gridiron.