Madden NFL 21 is a tale of two games, really. It introduces The Yard, the best new Madden game mode in more than a decade, situating itself nicely alongside the breezy and fun Superstar KO mode that arrived last year. But outside of these exciting inclusions that are well-suited for short sessions, Madden NFL 21 feels all too familiar, even for an annual sports sim. The tentpole modes that require a deep investment haven’t received meaningful updates, and the on-the-field gameplay doesn’t do much to move the series forward and is hampered by surprising technical issues.
EA Sports has done well as of late with recognizing that not every player wants to sink a dizzying number of hours into Franchise or Ultimate Team. With Madden NFL 20, EA added Superstar KO, a sudden death overtime mode where each player gets one possession. It returns in Madden NFL 21 largely unchanged, retaining its excellent high-stakes matches. With Madden NFL 21, EA has added a second casual game mode that is even better than Superstar KO.
The Yard is easily the most over-the-top game mode to ever appear in Madden. Inspired by backyard football, teams of six compete on an 80-yard field, getting three possessions each to try and score. You can play against the computer, team up with one or two friends, or see how you stack up online against other players. While it doesn’t feature NFL Blitz-esque hits, you can get really imaginative with the stripped-down playbooks. You’re allowed to throw unlimited forward passes behind the line of scrimmage, and many of the plays are set up to encourage this. Adding to this mechanic is the ability to snap the ball to any of your teammates. The Yard hinges on extravagant plays, as it requires you to move the ball 20 yards for a first down. Due to the limited number of blockers, there’s a delay before the defense can pass the line of scrimmage.