Before you read any further, I want you to close your eyes and think of the Buffalo Bills of the 1990s. They were one of the NFL’s best and most dominant teams, packing a powerhouse of star players and coached by the brilliant mind of Marv Levy. The Bills battled their way to four straight Super Bowl appearances, and yet, for one reason or another, always fell short of winning it all.

Now, open your eyes and think about Madden football for the PC and how, time and time again, suffer the same fate. Consistently among the top-selling franchises in the industry, you would think Madden can do no wrong. After all, millions of sports nut wait patiently for the next version to come out hoping this will be the one to take it all. But just like the Bills, Electronic Arts always finds a way to mess up just when victory is close at hand.

This year’s Madden has a look and feels slightly superior to last year’s version. The obvious graphics are crisper, more detailed, and differentiates the different types of player models. The game feels a tad faster thanks to the new animations. Players can once again shake off tacklers, elude the outstretched arms of a would-be defender, and juke their way to the end zone. The ability of the game engine is put to good use as it keeps everything moving along nicely with very little slowdown.

Madden 20 plays and controls well, too, especially when two human players match up, though it doesn’t shed some of the glaring issues that plagued last year’s version. Running the ball, for example, still seems like a robotic chore than a productive play call. This is especially true on screens and quick outs near the sidelines where the predetermined player animation kicks in and send you out of bounds, rather than allowing you to run up the field to actually gain some yardage.

The in-game sound effects are robust as ever for the series, but the commentary seems to go continually nowhere, with phrases oftentimes repeating itself. The presentation, however, is where the series shines. From the panoramic stadium views to the player introductions to the end game box scores, everything is represented accurately and makes you feel as if you are watching an NFL game and not just playing it.

Depth is another area that Madden does well. With comprehensive statistically tracking, a full season, playoffs, and a franchise mode, Madden 20 lets you test your GM skills as you wheel and deal players in your quest for Super Bowl glory. The latest features, Face of the Franchise and Superstar X-Factor add additional depth to satisfy even the most fickle gamer.

Despite all the new features and EA’s claim that this is a new and improved game, it only feels slightly better than last year’s version. The canned animations are great to look at when viewing it in real-time, but pause the game and you’ll see how unrealistic it can be. The AI is as brain-dead as ever with defenders never playing the ball or defending the goal line. Instead, they freeze into their position only reacting when the ball is caught or when the runner is within their ‘line-of-site’. It’s hard to imagine that after all the years of technological progress, we’re still playing with an AI that is no better than it was during the early 16-bit days.

Most people will just say I’m nitpicking, and that may be so. But you can’t help but believe that had the AI been given a little bit more thought, the animations worked out, and the running and passing tweaked just a little, this game could have been a classic. Instead, Madden 20 ends up more like the Buffalo Bills who we all rooted for but was never able to win it all.

But since there are no existing football games to challenge Madden, I suppose Electronic Arts isn’t worried about what place they come in, because they know we will gobble up anything they throw at us. And that my friends, is the real shame.

PROS
– Great graphics and sound
– Best football game on the PC considering it’s the only one on the PC

 

CONS
– Weal AI 
– The canned animations look silly up close
– Repetitive commentary

OVERALL
– Slightly better than last year’s version, but not enough improvements to justify the cost. 

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