Madden NFL 24 - title

Last year, I gave Madden 23 a scolding initial review due to an excess of bugs and A.I. problems, including the broken Interception A.I. slider that resulted in every QB getting picked off 5 times a game. However, after a couple months, many of the most egregious issues with the game had been fixed by EA, and I came to realize that I was still playing the game long after I have usually given up on it in previous years. And dare I say, I might even have been kinda sorta liking it.

In particular, I praised the game for actually taking critical feedback of previous years' games to heart and iterating and improving on old ideas that hadn't quite worked out. Targeted passing, tackle battle, throw-out-of-sack animations, and in-season college scouting were all mechanics that were introduced in recent years, but which weren't well-received in their debut games. Instead of completely abandoning those features, EA actually seems to have looked at the criticisms, re-examined those mechanics at fundamental levels, and improved them such that they all are both better-playing game mechanics, and also more closely model the sport of football. Further, the new motivations and tags feature managed to add a tiny degree of humanity to the player rosters, making the players feel slightly more like actual people with their own wants and desires, and less like simple commodities to be bought, sold, and traded by the old, rich, white men who run the NFL.

It seemed like EA and Tiburon were finally putting a degree of thought and effort into the game.

I eventually started to come around to kinda sorta liking Madden 23.

So if Madden 23 ended up being moderately successful at iterating on older ideas and actually making them work better, without really introducing a whole lot that was genuinely new, then I was open to the idea of Madden 24 potentially doing the same thing. If there's not very much new, but the stuff that is old just works better, then I might actually be willing to give Madden 24 a fairly positive review. And this seems to be the approach that EA and Tiburon took with Madden 24 ... except that it doesn't work better.

A patch for last year's game?

Almost everything new to Madden 24's gameplay takes the form of subtle, barely-noticeable upgrades to the "Fieldsense" and tackle physics mechanics introduced in last year's game. In Franchise, there are a few tweaks to free agency and trade mechanics, and coaching skill trees have been expanded. That's pretty much it!

This is little more than a $70 patch for Madden 23.

And ... OK ... that could be fine. I've long asked for EA and Tiburon to take a few years to rebuild Madden's fundamentals, instead of shoe-horning in new features that further complicate the mechanics and code base. If that results in a much better football game at fundamental levels, then it would be worth it. But this isn't better fundamental football. It's incremental, barely-noticeable upgrades over last year's game.

Supposedly, blockers are supposed to be smarter at picking who to block. Defenders are supposed to be able break on short routes, and supposedly can't make blind interceptions anymore. There's supposed to be new fumble recovery animations. The biggest supposed change is that defenses are supposed to be able to adjust better to the user's play-calling. But I just don't see much -- if any -- difference in any of these areas.

It's the same wonky physics that can be completely canceled if the game choses an incompatible animation, or which allows the ball to magnetically attach to players' hands.

It's the same play-calling logic that is overly-reliant on passing the ball 20+ yards down the field.

It's the same blocking and defensive logic that can be easily exploited with money plays or hot routes, and which never learns or adjusts to what the user is doing.

CPU QBs still run around and take massive sacks.

It's the same cheating, rubber-band A.I. that inflates scores and stats, and which isn't properly balanced for full-length, 15-minute quarters.

It's the same idiotic team-building logic that causes CPU-controlled teams to release their MVP franchise QB and then use up even more cap space to sign 5 over-paid, mediocre replacements.

It's full of the same stupid shit like quarterbacks dropping deeper into the pocket and taking 15 yard sacks against blitzes, defenses being completely incapable of defending inside-breaking routes, linemen being unable to block outside running plays, and all the same stuff that has been frustrating gamers for years.

And every one of those things listed above is something that was supposed to have been improved in this year's game. But I don't notice much -- if any -- difference.

In fact, about the only things that I notice that seem different about the on-field action is that there are now referees on the field again. And hey! One of the refs in each game is even a woman! So there's finally some tiny amount of gender representation in Madden. And the other change that I've noticed is that players like to push and shove each other around a lot more after plays, but the new refs never bother throwing flags for personal fouls.

Referees are back on the field, and there's even a few variations of women referees.

Oh, and I guess running quarterbacks are better at holding onto the football. So I'm a lot more secure in running designed QB runs, options, and bootleg scrambles with the likes of Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields. So that's something, I guess...

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Axis Football 24 - title

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I wrote previously about my trepidations regarding the free-to-play status of Modus Games' reboot of Maximum Football. I'm not going to retread that again here. Instead, I've poured over the announcement trailer, dev diaries, and other information about the game, and would like to discuss my impressions on how the game might play, based on the publicly-available information and video.

The announcement trailer shows a few clips of gameplay, but doesn't provide a whole lot more information.

There have so far been 2 development updates, in addition to the announcement trailer. All these videos show a little bit of gameplay, but not much. So I don't have a whole lot to go on. But I'm going to go through each video and try to identify gameplay issues that stand out to me.

Rebuilt gameplay

The first develop update, released last June, was focused on the gameplay goals of the development team. They say they want to focus on authentic, simulation gameplay. They threw away all the assets and animations from the original Maximum Football codebase (developed by Canuck Play) in order to rebuild everything from the ground up. This includes bringing in professional and college athletes for motion capture and shifting to the Unreal Engine (I think Canuck was using Unity?).

Dev Update 1 (June 2022) covers the main goals of gameplay.

The visuals certainly look a lot better than what Canuck Play was able to create. Player models and stadiums look a lot more detailed and realistic. The jury is still kind of our on whether the animation and control will be dramatically improved, because it's hard to get a feel for the animation and controls from a simple video.

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Madden NFL 23 - title

I have a confession to make ... a confession that I don't make lightly...

I'm actually kind of enjoying Madden 23.

No, I'm not ready to say that Madden 23 is better than NFL 2k5 or All Pro Football 2k8, or Madden 2006. Nor am I going to say that it currently represents a "good" football simulation. I wrote a scathing review back in September, and I stand by that review. Especially as a time capsule of the messy state of the game at release. Don't worry, I'm not about to become a Madden apologist or fanboy, and my criticisms of the series (such as my video series "How Madden Fails At Simulating Football") will continue into the foreseeable future.

Madden 23's biggest issue at launch was the broken "Interception" A.I. sliders that caused both CPU and user DBs to make frequent impossible interceptions. This one bug completely defeated the entire purpose of the new passing mechanics. It doesn't matter where I place the ball, or how hard I charge the accuracy meter, if a DB can, in a single frame of animation, overcome 5 yards of separation to make a blind swat or interception. It took until October before that was fixed, and the game was made reasonably playable -- which is, frankly, inexcusable.

And beyond the broken Interception sliders, there's still a litany of complaints which have not been fixed, and which I do not expect to see get fixed anytime soon.

But I'm not here to complain about all of these problems -- many of which have been in the game for years now. And I don't blame you if any one of these, or the combination of them, makes Madden 23 dead on arrival for you. I'm not going to try to convince you to give Madden 23 another shot, and I still recommend that if you do buy the game, that you please buy it pre-owned so as to continue to put financial pressure on EA to show consistent improvement. Believe me, there are plenty of people eager to get rid of the game on eBay.

Instead, I want to express my surprise that I'm still playing the game. I want to share some of my observations about the gameplay. And I want to highlight some of the subtle indications that EA and Tiburon might actually be learning from past failures and criticisms of the game -- including criticisms that I, myself have levied against them.

I've posted this as a video on YouTube already, and I'm not going to transcribe the entire video here. I will instead just summarize my thoughts on the game (as of the time of this writing), and will encourage you to watch the full video for a more detailed explanation of how I feel about the present state of Madden NFL 23.

The full video is available on YouTube.
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Axis Football 23 - title

One of my pet peeves with sports games is that they like to make the game sound newer and more advanced than it actually is by putting next year in the title. The Madden that releases in 2022, and which is based on the 2022 NFL season, isn't called Madden 2022; no, it's called Madden 23! Same goes with other big-budget sports games, with the sole exception possibly being video games based off the Olympics (do those even get made anymore?).

One of the things that I liked about the slate of indie football games (Maximum Football and Axis Football) is that they used the current year in the title. There was no confusion or misunderstanding when saying "the 2021 version of Axis Football" -- it's called Axis Football 2021, and it was released in the fall of 2021. But if I say "the 2021 version of Madden", you might wonder if I mean Madden 22, which released in 2021; or Madden 21, which has "2021" in the title, but which actually released in 2020 and is based off the 2020 NFL season.

Well now Axis Football has adopted the same numbering scheme as its big-budget cousin, and they have skipped Axis Football 2022 in favor of releasing Axis Football 2023 in the 2022 calendar year. Sigh... I'm not sure what Axis Games' reasoning for this is. Maybe they felt pressured to adopt the same numbering convention as the big-budget sports games. Perhaps the more sensical numbering scheme was actually confusing people: "Why is there a Madden 22, but no Axis 22 yet?" Whatever the reason, there is no Axis Football 2022, and we instead are going straight to Axis Football 2023.

The leap I've been waiting for!

But my disappointment with Axis Football 2023 basically starts and ends with its title. This is probably the biggest single-year jump in gameplay quality that I have seen from this series since I started playing Axis Football way back in 2018. Axis Football 2023 looks and feels much more polished than in previous years thanks to the developers finally addressing the lackluster catching and pass defense animations that made throwing the ball in previous years feel like such a crap shoot.

Receivers and DBs play the ball more realistically.

The new animations make pass catching and pass defense so much more readable. I can actually understand why a particular pass is caught, incomplete, or intercepted because the ball doesn't just hit the receiver's body and either stick to it or fall to the ground. I see receivers leaping to catch overthrown passes. I see them reach down to try to catch underthrown passes. I see defenders putting an arm out to swat the pass.

It's much clearer why passes are complete or not.

On top of that, the receivers actually have momentum when they perform their catching animations, and that momentum will affect how quickly they can turn upfield -- if they can turn upfield at all. The momentum on catching animations serves to limit the amount of run-after-catch yards that lead to inflated passing stats and scores in previous versions of Axis Football. Now, if a receiver has to come back towards the line of scrimmage to catch a pass, he won't be able to instantly pivot back upfield for extra yards as soon as he catches the ball. He'll continue to take a couple steps towards the line of scrimmage before being able to plant or turn and head upfield, which gives pursing defenders a chance to converge and tackle him before he gets going.

Similarly, receivers running horizontally across the field will also have to follow-through on their catch animation and preserve their momentum, which prevents them from immediately turning upfield. Receivers running towards or along the sidelines will also often have their momentum carry them out of bounds, which makes throws to the sideline (such as quick outs or hitting a running back in the flats) feel much less exploitative than in previous years because the receiver will likely be forced out of bounds instead of being able to instantly turn upfield for 10 or 15 yards.

Receivers retain their momentum after catching the ball, limiting yards-after-catch.

Put simply, the passing game actually looks and feels more like real football, and it elevates Axis Football tremendously!

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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