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Jaire Alexander of the Green Bay Packers flexes after, presumably, an interception or deflection in Madden NFL 24 Image: EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts

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Madden has become the iPhone of video games

I can’t wait for Madden NFL 28

If you’re keeping an eye on the latest iPhone release, you’ve become accustomed to a certain cadence every summer: an announcement of a new model that looks kind of like the one you already have, but with some notable quality-of-life fixes that may or may not be splurge-worthy. You may have some complaints about your eventual purchase, as you may encounter a bug or two along the way, but you’ll be content with the minor upgrades. You’d probably prefer those changes to be bigger and industry-changing like they were years ago, but what you have now is a net positive, and that’s good too.

If you were keeping an eye on the latest Madden release this year, chances are, you’ve experienced something similar. This viewpoint may initially come off as cynical, but some of Madden NFL 24’s changes are small yet notable. Did those differences convince you to put down your copy of Madden NFL 23 in favor of 24? That all depends.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts throws a pass toward a slot receiver in Madden NFL 24 Image: EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts

Madden NFL 24’s gameplay is solid, filled with a bevy of small changes to its mechanics and play-calling. When you load up the game for the first time, you’re greeted with different passing options to cater to your level of expertise. The presence of NFL-branded Next Gen Stats has been scaled back, but the feature does pop up to help you decide your general offensive and defensive strategies at halftime. There’s also the long-running Coach Suggestions feature, which helps you choose your offensive and defensive strategies between every play. Stacking both can make the play-calling feel like a hat on a hat, but it also encourages you to find the perfect balance between the two.

If you’re new to the series, this may all seem a bit daunting, though I imagine the number of first-time Madden players is minuscule in comparison to the franchise’s hardcore audience, especially since Electronic Arts has had an exclusive licensing deal with the NFL since 2004. But that same complexity can be perfect for novice Madden NFL fans: Much of Madden NFL 24 is fully adjustable. If you take the time to experiment with all of the various dials and meters, you may stumble on your ideal Madden setup.

The foundation for this flexibility dates back to Madden NFL 22: You can either select the easier, high-octane Simulation option, or the meticulous Competitive mode. FieldSense, the revamped gameplay system introduced last year, also makes a return here. With its skill-based passing, you can throw high and low passes using the left shoulder buttons in combination with the familiar touch and bullet passes featured in virtually every Madden game. Getting the ball to an open receiver becomes that much more nerve-wracking, but also that much more gratifying when you complete the perfect pass.

An offensive tackle blocks a defensive end in the cross-Ohio rivalry between the Bengals and the Browns in Madden NFL 24 Image: EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts

The physics in Madden NFL 24 are smooth, except in some rare instances. On one occasion, I went for a dive near the goal line with a running back. The animation was true to life and uninterrupted. The only problem was that my player gained zero yards because of a nearby defender. Like in most years, videos of glitches have already gone viral on X, the website formerly known as Twitter — so much so that this is becoming as much of a tradition as the Madden games themselves.

The career mode formerly known as Face of the Franchise is now more stripped down, reminiscent of previous years’ career modes. Instead of a storyline where your created player is a veteran looking for his breakout season à la Madden NFL 23, they’re once again leaving college and entering the NFL draft à la Madden NFL 22.

If you enjoyed last season’s career mode, you might be disappointed, but putting the focus back on the college football world could be a sign of something bigger for the future of football video games, especially since EA Sports is planning to release its first college football game since 2013 next summer. The return of the beloved franchise in conjunction with Madden’s backpedaling could be a very aggressive hint that there will be integration between the two games next year, much like the way that many iPhone updates set the stage for more integration within Apple’s own ecosystem of devices, accessories, and software.

Christian McCaffrey gets tackled near the sideline by a Seattle Seahawk in Madden NFL 24 Image: EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts

And so, Electronic Arts iterates, and churns out yet another Madden, a quality product that, like each new iPhone, is usually better, but only barely necessary after last year’s. It works, and there are more features, and many of them will make it easier to play nuanced football — but the biggest innovations happen incrementally. Is the leap from one year to the next great enough to make the annual purchase worthwhile? Not necessarily, unless you prioritize having the most up-to-date rosters. You could reasonably hold off on buying a Madden game until EA Sports adds so many new features to future versions that your next purchase becomes a no-brainer.

But this season’s Madden could also be someone’s first, and the reason they become a die-hard fan of the franchise. Some of my most cherished memories are of playing an old copy of Madden NFL 04 with friends, sifting through franchise mode and drafting custom rosters without even playing a game until the crack of dawn. Every football fan has their favorite game, and will tell you that each year’s entry has flaws. Madden NFL 24 has flaws, as well, but it offers more customization than ever, even if it’s just barely more. I can’t wait to dive into Madden NFL 28.

Madden NFL 24 was released on Aug. 15 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on Xbox Series X using a download code provided by Electronic Arts. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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