Going into this year’s NFL season, there’s one team that I just don’t know what to think of.
It’s the Las Vegas Raiders.
They’ve probably got just enough talent in the form of players like Davante Adams, Maxx Crosby, and Josh Jacobs to avoid being in the league’s basement and land a great draft position, but still more than enough holes on the roster that predicting them to finish much better than their 6–11 record from last year or go on a deep playoff run feels unwise.
The main thing they did this offseason was swap long-time quarterback Derek Carr for Jimmy Garoppolo.
To me at least, they feel a lot like this year’s Madden.
The first snap
Unlike its predecessor, Madden 23, which kicked things off with the John Madden Legacy Game, an all-star encounter designed to honour the life of the coach who serves as the series’ namesake, Madden 24 just dumps you at the main menu and says ‘there you go.’ This does mean that you get to hand-pick who your first game of the new year will be between.
Unfortunately for me, my Kansas City Chiefs vs Buffalo Bills marquee matchup began with back-to-back fumbles, one of which was very much my fault, to be fair.
In a pleasant change, Madden 24 marks the first time in a while that the PC version of the game has been the current-gen version, meaning it benefits from the FieldSENSE gameplay system that arrived on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S last year. This meant I had access to some new skill-based passing mechanics, which made playing as a quarterback a lot more fun and accessible for me than it has been in years past, even if I am still prone to throwing regular bone-headed interceptions in pressure situations.
This year's game also employs some new “SAPIEN Technology” designed to give players more realistic-looking bodies and movement animations. While this might have had an effect on some snaps, I still encountered plenty of plays where tacklers, despite packing a wider range of corralling animations, would still just kind of bounce off of their their target, resulting, when plays were over, in some piles of bodies that’d just kind of flopped to earth next to each other.
That said, realistically animating the sheer carnage that most NFL plays entail, I imagine, is a very daunting and difficult task, so props to the developers for the work they’re putting into it.
Please don’t make me mash buttons to bench press
In order to get some more games under my belt, I headed straight for Superstar mode, which is the artist formerly known (in last year’s edition), as Face of the Franchise. Madden 24’s edition of The League, which sees you pursue individual stardom in the NFL using a created player, has undergone a few noticeable tweaks. Rather than being cast as a four-year league veteran attempting to kick start their career by signing with a new team, this time you begin as a rookie going through the traditional draft process. Albeit, it's one which is light on cutscenes and designed to catapult you into full NFL action pretty rapidly.
As will become a bit of a recurring theme in this review, the main gameplay additions to the mode this year come in the form of training mini-games, with the draft combine having its own group of quicktime event-style workouts that affect your draft position. I found these in particular much more annoying than fun, mainly due to how bad I am at timed button pressing, with the fact their controls don’t mirror those of the on-field action leaving me wondering why I should even try and improve on my disastrous first set of results.
The training camp-oriented minigames, that now form one of the activities your player can engage in to boost their stats between proper games once the mode actually gets into full stride, are a lot more of a positive addition. These actually fulfil the role of helping you prepare to take on game scenarios, by practising a range of drills relevant to your position. In my case, this meant the likes of running attacks against different numbers of opponents or trying to evade a band of would-be tacklers chasing me around an obstacle-littered field for as long as I could.
Having chosen to play as a running back as I did last year, in an effort to gauge whether the position still felt a bit too overpowered in the early going, I’m happy to report that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers well and truly put the beatdown on my player in their second game. This encounter, which saw me still able to gain yardage in small chunks, but unable to regularly repeat my usual go-to plays too often, suggested that the game’s advertised improvements to AI run defence have worked as planned, which is good.
Life in cap hell
Ah, Franchise mode. You never cease to teach me invaluable lessons about how it feels to be a rich dude in charge of a bunch of sportspeople you’re desperately trying not to pay what their labour is worth or wring everything out of so that someone doesn’t walk onto the sideline and confiscate your headset. This year, taking on the role of an erstwhile coach or owner comes with an increased emphasis on the financial realities of roster-building, in the form of the ability to restructure player contracts and make use of fifth-year options.
If my experience behind the controls of a Seahawks team with some beefy deals, but also a fairly reasonably-priced quarterback and plenty of starters on rookie deals, is anything to go by, Madden’s developers have definitely succeeded in emulating the panicked belt-tightening of someone who’s trying to win a Superbowl on an enforced budget of about five dollars.
By the end of my first season, no matter how much restructuring I tried, I couldn’t hold on to some solid starters who needed new deals. By the end of year two, I was watching an ageing, but still quite good, Quandre Diggs sit and wait for an offer I couldn't make, unless I wanted to clear significant space by offloading a star like DK Metcalf for nothing but draft picks. Odds are I’ll soon get better at using these new features, along with the expanded number of moving parts that can now go into trades, to better manage my cap situation, but my experience so far has been a bit like playing a recession simulator.
Speaking of trades, I still encountered a few moves that didn't make realistic sense, such as the contending Cincinnati Bengals being willing to deal me their starting center midway through a season, with no immediate replacement coming back their way or already on their roster. I also still saw some star free agents inexplicably sign with teams that definitely didn’t meet their wishes very early on in the negotiating period.
Plus, this year’s changes to prospect scouting and drafts still seem to have had little impact, and the overhaul of team relocation pales in comparison to the offerings of games like NBA 2K. The latter is at least a bit hilarious though, with its fan interest gauges having suggested that the team name ‘Armadillos’ might appeal to folks in snowy Alaska, despite the animal, to my knowledge, usually living in hotter climates.
On a positive note, the training camp minigames I mentioned earlier play a larger role in Franchise mode than they do Superstar, giving you a way to try and develop players during the pre-season and as part of newly emphasised weekly game-planning sessions for each different opponent. That said, the latter system did seem to misidentify a team’s main offensive or defensive threat personnel-wise a few times.
Switching up the opposition
As previously stated, I’ve never really been an Ultimate Team guy, but Madden 24’s version mainly just adds in a tutorial to help better explain things, which is useful since the mode seems to have gained more named moving parts than the average space shuttle.
Superstar KO, the brightly coloured and obnoxiously narrated online mode that has you pick three or four star players to add to your team before jumping into it, seems to have evolved in a positive direction. Rather than anything confusing, the idea behind it is now a simple battle to score the most points in a very limited number of possessions, which can produce some fun and nicely brief battles to score the first touchdown.
As a result of this change, alongside the new passing systems, I actually feel like I might give the mode more than a passing glance this year, which is nice. Especially since The Yard has morphed into Superstar Showdown, and seemingly done away with playcalling.
Missing the playoffs
Overall, Madden 24 is a decidedly mixed bag. Despite the PC edition finally gaining current-gen status, the list of year-on-year revisions and additions comes with some positives and some negatives, but certainly nothing that moves the needle for the series.
Much like this year’s Las Vegas Raiders, it feels to me a bit directionless, unsure of what it wants to be and how it might get there. Though, if you’re in need of an American football related distraction, I think it’s still just about hitting the 7-10 mark.
Reviewed on PC. A code was provided by the publisher.