Next-gen Madden football is a sign you should wait on PS5 and Xbox Series X
Madden 21 on next-gen console hardware isn't the future I expected.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
The promise of a new generation of consoles is that they will explode our eyes with visual magic, present games that load fast and redefine our idea of fun... or something along those lines. When I plugged in an Xbox Series X and set it up a few weeks ago, I was impressed by its quiet speed, and some games like Dirt 5 looked amazing. Madden Football is the next-gen experience I was really waiting for because, well, I play Madden a lot.
Living with my virtual version of the New York Jets has been a 2020 act of decompression. Madden 21, which arrived earlier this year, didn't seem like much of an update at all. But a larger overhaul was promised for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, with new graphics and physics, and NFL stats that were supposed to fly by on screen like an actual broadcast game.
So far, Madden 21's next-gen update hasn't been nearly that exciting. To be fair, the game's new physics could lead to some overdue improvements in how realistic players move and perform. So far, I find it's often more of the same.
While Madden 21's play-calling layout has changed in the next-gen mode, with easier-to-access formations based on play types or featured players, I don't understand why that couldn't have come to Xbox One and PS4 players, too. That's hardly "next-gen."
Next Gen Stats, an engine used in real NFL games to compile information like player speed and elapsed time for a quarterback to release a football, are here for the first time and feel mostly invisible. These stats pop up during replays, if you stick around long enough to see the stats. I usually button-mash through replays, though -- I move fast through games, and want to see the next play as fast as I can.
The graphics look better, I guess, but on my 60-inch 4K home TV I can't make out a clear difference from my sofa 6 feet away. Madden 20 already looks good on the Xbox One, and I don't feel like Madden 21 in next-gen gets that much closer to feeling like a TV broadcast. Weirdly, close-ups of the players and sidelines can sometimes suffer choppy frame rates for me. That never happened on last-gen Madden 20.
The player physics is the "newest" thing, but I find players doing wonky things all the time. Frank Gore, the Jets' 37-year-old running back, somehow is unstoppable after 25 carries against nearly any defense. Interceptions accumulate like snow if you end up with more than two (for me, at least). Player momentum can sometimes seem too unstoppable, and other times oddly slow.
One thing that still hasn't changed in Madden: It doesn't coach you in greater detail through games, analyzing your errors, helping you learn. If Madden could be like a chess program, helping you learn strategy, it could elevate to a fascinating sports tool. I'm still as dumb a Madden player as ever. But I still love to play. You don't need a fancy new Xbox or PlayStation for it, though. Not yet.