I sometimes wonder what EA can actually do to improve upon their yearly sporting franchises, yet every time I play a new one I find myself impressed with each new enhancement they manage to bring. The Madden series in particular stands out – last year it was the addition of a new story mode as well as a new gameplay engine for example, whilst this year it’s an emphasis on more natural player movement. Sure, that might not sound like a big deal, but, along with all of the other minor changes that’ve been made to the game, it helps make Madden NFL 19 one of the most enjoyable and realistic entries that has ever graced the franchise.

So the big addition this year is known as ‘Real Player Motion’, which essentially gives you full and flexible freedom with how you control each player whilst also maintaining a sense of realism. Whether that means cutting in and around your opponent when dashing to the touchline or making your way across the field to hit a touchdown-saving tackle on your gasping opposition, it’s designed to feel natural and realistic with an emphasis on body position and momentum.

The series has been a little bit guilty of feeling a bit automated with player movement in the past, with players essentially fixing to a set line or animation and following just that. It eliminated any sense of identity, with players all utilising the same mannerisms and animations regardless of who you were controlling or the situation you found yourself in. With Real Player Motion though, there’s a unique sense of individuality to almost everything you do, with player’s stats playing as much of a role as their body position, running direction or speed. Everything just feels a lot more natural in-game, with a bigger focus placed on actually moving your player strategically instead of just finding a fixed line and bolting for it.

Madden NFL 19

It ends up making the game feel quite different to play, but without completely changing the formula. There’s just a lot more freedom and fluidity in your movement, whilst the new and improved animations make everything feel all the more authentic – it certainly makes some of the hard-hitting tackles look a lot more realistic (and even a bit more bone-crunching). I’ve resented not being able to get that inch-perfect manoeuvre in the past or seeing a player unnaturally glide past me, but Real Player Motion just alleviates those issues.

Be warned though: it does add an extra degree of skill to the game and it’ll take a little bit of getting used to. I’d say it doesn’t make Madden NFL 19 any easier or harder than previous entries in the series, but it does change things up enough that if someone hasn’t played the game yet it’s easy to get the upper hand over them.

Madden NFL 19

Fans of Madden’s narrative-focused mode from last year will be pleased to see it has returned in Madden NFL 19, with ‘Longshot: Homecoming’ continuing the tale of Devin Wade and his best friend Colt Cruise. The formula hasn’t stagnated at all either, with the tale still as emotionally-driven as it was before – don’t get me wrong, there’s still some humour and over-the-top situations thrown in for good measure, but it’s easy to find yourself completely absorbed into it. Admittedly, it doesn’t have the same impact as it did the first time around (we’re used to narratives in our sporting titles now, right?), but it’s still a great addition to Madden NFL 19 and one that all players ought to check out.

Those who just want to jump straight into the football will be glad to see that all the traditional modes are still in place. They’ve had minor tune-ups too, though there’s nothing too significant that completely changes the way the game plays too much.

Madden NFL 19

One of the changes that’s emphasised is found in the Franchise mode within the Player Archetypes: a series of stats that see each player’s positional abilities broken down into individual skills. For example, whilst your Quarterback might be highly skilled in playing a Scrambler, they might be completely useless as a Field General. Typically, this is something you can just work with, but with an extra emphasis placed on your Coach Scheme and how players fit into it you might have to take a closer look at each player’s individual skills. When you choose both your offensive and defensive schemes, they’ll often cater to very specific Player Archetypes. If your players in this position’s Archetypes don’t fit your playstyle, you might find yourself forced to rotate the squad or even pull in new players all together.

It’s an intriguing system that adds a fair bit of strategy to the game, both in how you play and how you handle player changes. It’s up to you to decide if you make a strategy that caters for your team or instead a team that caters to how you want to play, and it makes the Franchise mode feel a lot more tactical than it did last year – you’ll certainly have to take a more hands-on approach with your team and strategy than ever before.

Madden NFL 19

One neat addition to the mode is found in the Draft, which can now be customised to include real players or those of the player’s liking. It’s a neat little addition and something that fans will appreciate, even if it doesn’t really change how anything plays out all that much, and being able to put in real-life up and comers certainly adds to the authenticity.

Ultimate Team returns with some minor improvements too, though nothing overly significant as far as gameplay is concerned. The overall design is a bit more streamlined so it’s easier for newbies to get to grips with. Solo Battles have been included too, so you can take on CPU teams as opposed to real-life players – it’ll give you a chance to gel with your team whilst not having to deal with the pressures of a veteran player, though the carefully thought out teams you face off against can offer a stern test too.

Outside of the core changes, a lot of Madden NFL 19 remains the same. You’ve still got your choice of Arcade, Simulation or Competitive play to suit different players’ needs, with each choice still feeling great to play. Whether having an arcade experience or an authentic one, the football itself is brilliant.

Madden NFL 19

The same can be said of the visuals too, though that’s nothing new really – the Madden series has always shone as far as looks are concerned, and Madden NFL 19 is no different. The extra smoothness that Real Player Motion’s animations bring feel more fluid than ever though and it makes the action feel all the more faithful to the sport, but otherwise it’s more of the same. On the audio side, the commentary is still great, though it can get a little bit repetitive with some lines seemingly coming straight over from previous entries in the franchise. It’s not unbearable, but it certainly did feel noticeable as I ploughed my way through a few matches in the game.

Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: EA
Format(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC