Madden NFL 24 (Multi)
FILLING its sports hole with a glut of international oddities, Channel 4 launched with the UK's first ever coverage of American football. Giving Songs of Praise stiff competition of a Sunday teatime, your da may have bemoaned its man mountains as sissies for wearing helmets, but unlike Sumo and Kabaddi, our mid-80s fascination with all things gridiron stuck.
Super Bowl parties were suddenly a thing, even if you were too young to neck Bud at 4am, and while the fashion for silky NFL bomber jackets and baseball caps has thankfully waned, Yank football enjoys a dedicated fanbase on these shores – and keeping the home fires lit on the gaming front is Madden NFL.
The only game in town for pigskin patrons since the 1988 original, John Madden Football has been around for so long it's cursed: when EA stopped slapping the increasingly desiccated Madden on the game's cover in 1999, every subsequent player to grace the box has usually ended up with season-wrecking injuries.
But not even career suicide can stop this juggernaut, and in 2020 EA extended its exclusive rights with the NFL until 2026 for a reported $1.5 billion.
Still, the series has faced declining review scores for over a decade, with critics bemoaning its lack of significant changes from one year to the next.
Playing out less like rugby than armoured chess, Madden 24 offers the same testosterone-sweating action, but with an even glossier veneer and just enough tweaks and updated rosters to keep the faithful on board.
Much of the gameplay is as expected, if more arcade-like. While series vets will opt for classic controls, a modern system introduces real-time accuracy gauges for passing. Overhauled AI means players mirror the decision-making patterns of their flesh-and-blood inspiration – casual thumb bandits will never notice, of course, but for those who know their Patrick Mahomes from their Justin Jefferson, it's a welcome layer of realism.
A wealth of returning modes include a re-imagined Superstar, where players embark on a dynamic journey with their custom character, and Franchise, where you drag a team to glory as either player, coach or owner.
As with Fifa, Ultimate Team is given pride of place – a cynical cash-cow where players collect and buy player packs to build a franchise and go head-to-head online. As ever, its microtransactions are pure gougery, with the top-tier costing more than the game itself.
Of course, it all looks and sounds incredible, with the new FieldSENSE system offering enhanced physics (there are over 1,700 tackle animations alone) and a licensed, hip-hop-heavy soundtrack giving way to solid commentary from Charles Davis and Brandin Gaudin.
Given last year's Madden is considered one of series' worst, NFL 24 needed a punt up its well-padded backside. While hardly reinventing the wheel, it's a step in the right direction for armchair jocks, smoothing 23's rougher edges for the thrill of any given Sunday. We're still a far cry from Madden's heyday, but this will surely be trumped only by Call of Duty in the Stateside charts.