Six months since the Philadelphia Eagles snatched Super Bowl LII from Tom Brady’s greedy clutches, a new season of the NFL beckons, with a fresh crop of rookies all eager to ply their trade in one of the league’s 32 teams. EA Sports, as has been the case for decades now, has also returned with a new entry in its annual Madden franchise – but in its second year on Frostbite, what new features have taken to the field?

It’s hard not to be cynical when the publisher brandishes phrases like Real Player Motion, but there is a tangible difference to the way this iteration feels. A brand new animation package adds an unparalleled level of fluidity to the way that players move, meaning that when you hit the hole with running backs like Alvin Kamara, it’s intensely gratifying. Cuts, jukes, and spins are more rewarding than they’ve ever been, making pounding the rock just as entertaining as those long Hail Mary throws.

Of course, the improvements to the footwork translate to both sides of the field. Brushing aside the offensive line and attacking the quarterback for an all-important third down sack feels devastating, and the added mobility means that players like Cam Newton can authentically make a break for it following each snap. The game simply feels great on the field, and while a lot of the window dressing remains unchanged, it’s an immediately noticeable step forward which enhances every mode.

Among these is Franchise mode, which finally allows you to create your own draft classes and share them online. The functionality’s deep, and seeing as it’s been a popular request among fans for a while now, is sure to get a lot of use moving forwards. It’s not the only addition, though: schemes can make management a little more accessible, while a new archetype progression system allows you to build the kind of players that you need. There are fresh specialty positions like slot cornerback to play with, too.

Over in Madden Ultimate Team, the solo battles from FIFA 18 put in an appearance, allowing you to take on other MUT squads and earn Battle Points against the CPU. Competing at a higher difficulty will increase your score modifier, allowing you to work your way up the ranks and earn greater prizes each week. Another wrinkle in this year’s edition is the addition of yet another currency: Training points, which can be invested into upgrading each card.

In truth, the feature adds another layer to the already substantial grind, as you’ll need to invest into your best players in order to unlock simple features such as Scheme Chemistries, but it does allow a degree of personalisation that didn’t exist before. Otherwise, the usual roster of offline and online challenges remain, with the promise of themed updates right throughout the season and beyond. One such set of matches pertains to the Longshot mode, expanding upon the Homecoming campaign.

The plot is surprisingly good this year, improving upon the already likeable exploits of wannabe quarterback Devin Wade and his wide receiver comrade Colt Cruise. Exactly how developer Tiburon has convinced its corporate overlords to allow it to create a Life Is Strange-esque story is beyond us, but we enjoyed the three hour teen drama from start-to-finish. There’s more actual football and less dodgy minigames this time, although the lack of dialogue choices means it’s more linear.

Perhaps most impressive about it is how it plays up to its name, depicting the challenges that all young players face when breaking into one of the world’s most ruthless leagues. Wade, after getting drafted at the end of the previous campaign, starts out as a fourth-string quarterback at the Dallas Cowboys; meanwhile, Cruise begins the story as a free agent, waiting desperately for a call. The Kissing Booth’s Joey King stars as Colt’s estranged sister, while cover star Antonio Brown has a cameo role.

It does eventually fall into clichés, and the more scripted narrative flow means there are hard fail states should you throw an interception when the game expects you to get a touchdown, but it’s still way better written than it has any right to be – and well worth the evening that it’ll take to complete. Good Morning Football segments help to make the story feel more authentic, while some neat presentational flourishes help to sell the whole thing.

Elsewhere, the bog-standard Exhibition mode will once again allow you to play through the entire 2019 schedule with all of the teams, while returning commentators Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis will be on hand to provide additional flavour based on what happens week-to-week on the real-world field. Other light improvements round out the package, like the addition of custom celebrations similar to those in the recent FIFA games.

Conclusion

You’re right to be sceptical of EA Sports’ buzzwords by now, but Madden NFL 19’s headline Real Player Motion really does result in a more fluid game of football. The presentation may be familiar, but the game feels great on the field, and that consequently enhances all of its headline modes. Longshot: Homecoming may be short, but Tiburon’s teen drama is well-presented and well written, while Franchise mode includes some oft-requested features, like draft classes. Ultimate Team, meanwhile, continues to be a grind – but it’s an addictive one that’s made all the more compulsive by the roster of gameplay improvements made elsewhere.