After loud backlash from the community against the game last year, developer EA Tiburon tried to turn things around by placing more emphasis on the franchise and making more significant improvements to gameplay. Madden NFL 22 takes the field with a lot of potential, but its inability to differentiate itself from its predecessor and its many fiddling around wipes away much of the goodwill it garners.
Franchise mode remains a focus after EA Tiburon’s move to expand the mode after last year’s release. In addition to the post-release updates implemented by Madden NFL 21, this year’s mode simplifies the user interface and gives you easy access to league news or information about your upcoming opponent. I like the new trainer progression system that allows you to unlock perks like attribute boosts, better negotiation skills, and extra experience points for players.
However, my favorite franchise addition this year is the improved weekly strategy tools. Here you plan for the respective team you face on both sides of the ball and determine the intensity of your exercises. While full drills provide stat boosts, chances are your players will get confused upon entering the game. I found it helpful to gauge your opponent’s strengths and then apply temporary boosts to counter them.
When you finally hit the field, the football action is solid but familiar. While I still noticed animated animations, silly flaws in the AI, and players running into each other after the game, better blocking and tackling make the trench warfare more realistic. The feeling of a pocket closing around your QB is almost palpable, and I’m glad it’s easier than racing through the tracks as a halfback. These incremental improvements add tiny to the experience, but they still don’t advance the game enough to distinguish it from last year’s title. My favorite additions, however, are the new atmosphere and dynamics mechanics.
I love to watch how the new swing knife reacts to the action on the field and creates advantages for the controlling side. These modifiers often come in the form of obstacles to your opponent, like hitting their stamina or hiding their receiver symbols. Whenever my opponent stole the momentum, I always did everything I could to use his advantage. If the gauge is strong in favor of one side, the camera will wobble even before it clicks into place, reproducing the discomfort your screen players experience.
These mechanics carry over to Face of the Franchise, the series’ single player career mode. This year you can play as a middle linebacker on the defensive side. I’ve enjoyed Madden’s Offense more and more, but I liked following in the footsteps of the Defense Field General with a new camera angle and more instructive skill in the game. Even when you’re in the middle of the action, not every play gets in your way, which means your game calls are more important to your team’s success than if you play quarterback where you touch every snap.
I like playing a hip rookie who gets into the league and tries to turn a struggling franchise through weekly gaming and unique scenarios. From week to week you will be faced with special situations, such as honors. I found it rewarding to advance my player by making decisions about how they spend their free time, even if the story is largely forgotten. Once you’re through the beginning, most narrative beats are awkward cutscenes where voicemails are played through an animation of my character on their phone or through uninteresting text conversations. In the run-up to a major rivalry game, I even had to act out a puzzling scene in which a trainer asked me multiple-choice questions about the history of the New York Jets. I love career-oriented single player modes in sports games, but sequences like this make my head scratch.
While I appreciate the new ability to play on defense, the most fun I found was in the mode that started as quarterback under the middle. Nothing beats the excitement of calling the right moves, driving across the field and completing important passes at key points in the game. While the core experience is enjoyable, Face of the Franchise fumbles due to glaring technical issues. Seemingly interrupted cutscenes left characters staring awkwardly after the dialogue ended, and some practice mini-games fell apart when players didn’t appear on the field. The worst mistake, however, came in my first game as a linebacker for the Chargers. The Washington Football Team didn’t come into being, instead I played against a double Chargers team. Glitches are present in other modes, but are particularly noticeable in Face of the Franchise.
Those looking for faster experiences still have The Yard, Superstar KO, and the standard online suite. The Yard offers more challenges thanks to increased campaign missions, and the cross-progression for your Face of the Franchise avatar provides an incentive to continue your career in this supplement mode. While I appreciate the freedom to invest hours in The Yard or Ultimate Team, this year’s tweaks don’t encourage me to spend more time in these modes.
Despite some technical issues, the on-field action in Madden NFL 22 continues to improve in small increments. However, the upgrades and improvements are largely overshadowed by the problems of the game and the general stagnation of the series, making it difficult to recommend for the first week.