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Madden NFL 21 trailer reveals new gameplay mechanics, release date

Free next-gen upgrade available on PlayStation as well as Xbox

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Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Madden NFL 21’s first gameplay trailer showcases the latest efforts from developer EA Tiburon to make the action more realistic on both sides of the football. The game is set for release Aug. 28 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC (via both Origin and Steam), and Xbox One, with PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions set to follow later this year and a debut on Google Stadia set for this winter. The release date is later than usual — EA has been launching Madden in early to mid-August for the past couple of years.

The trailer arrived Tuesday morning, more than a month after EA offered a brief glimpse at Madden NFL 21 with “in-engine” footage captured on the Xbox Series X. Mid-June is much later than EA usually lifts the lid on Madden, but the coronavirus pandemic has thrown everything out of whack this year. In addition, EA pushed back the release of this trailer from its originally scheduled debut on June 1, out of respect for the ongoing worldwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd in late May.

For Madden NFL 21, EA Tiburon is aiming to deliver “improved ball-carrier mechanics” that provide more control for receivers and running backs, EA said in a news release. Presumably, this will also apply for quarterbacks who like to run the ball themselves, like Madden NFL 21 cover athlete Lamar Jackson. The trailer shows this off with clips of Jackson juking a defender and New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley hurdling over one.

Defensive players aren’t being left out in the cold. EA Tiburon is looking to “make the pass rush positions more responsive, and fun to play,” according to EA, by changing the mechanics of playing on the defensive line. The studio is also working to improve open-field tackling by making it more realistic. (Maybe don’t rely on the hit stick so much, folks.) And when you do bring down a guy with a perfect wrap-up technique, Madden NFL 21 will let you control how you celebrate the stop.

Outside of game mechanics, EA is promising a collection of improvements in how Madden looks — and not just from a pure graphics perspective. “Some of the biggest changes,” said EA, “will arrive in the overall authenticity and presentation with new on field camera shots and improved player awareness of their positioning and surroundings on the field.” And EA is also bringing back Face of the Franchise, the story mode that debuted last year in Madden NFL 20. This year, Face of the Franchise: Rise to Fame will start at the high school level, letting players create a quarterback — with the option to switch to a running back or wide receiver in college — and make their way toward the NFL.

cover art for the MVP Edition of Madden NFL 21 Image: EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts

EA also announced Tuesday that through its Dual Entitlement program, it will offer a free upgrade to the next-gen console version of Madden NFL 21 for PS4 customers as well as Xbox One players. As the company quietly revealed earlier this month, it has extended the program’s window of availability — now, customers can upgrade from PS4 to PS5 or Xbox One to Xbox Series X anytime before the release of Madden NFL 22, at no additional cost. EA is promising that it will deliver “distinct Madden NFL 21 experiences across current and next generation platforms.”

Some edge cases won’t be eligible for the promotion: For instance, said EA, “Physical discs cannot currently be used to upgrade to discless consoles.” In other words, if you buy a physical copy of the game on PS4, you won’t be able to get a free digital copy of the PS5 version if you have the Digital Edition of the PS5, so maybe go digital just to be safe.

Madden NFL 21 will be available in a Deluxe Edition, and an MVP Edition featuring unique box art with a black-and-white photo of Jackson, the reigning NFL MVP. Customers who pre-order the Deluxe Edition or MVP Edition will be able to start playing three days early on Aug. 25. The former costs $79.99, while the latter costs $99.99. Each one also comes with a host of content for the Madden Ultimate Team mode.

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