I’ve been playing Madden NFL 24 for a few days now, as have perhaps millions of others. The game’s Deluxe Edition grants players three days of early access to the full game. There’s also an EA Play trial that gives any subscriber up to 10 gameplay hours to do whatever they’d like before it officially launches on August 18. We can’t determine how many people have taken advantage of these ways to play already, but we can safely assume it’s a lot. You can ask virtually any one of those people what they think of the game this year. You can find countless hours of gameplay on YouTube, podcasts breaking it all down, and plenty of chatter on whichever social media platform you prefer, but you can’t ask me yet. I’m not allowed to tell you. As I’m handling GameSpot’s site review of this year’s American football sim, I’m under embargo for a bit longer.

That’s weird, right? But in the sports gaming world, it’s par for the course. Sports games continue to exist in a unique space where they dominate sales charts annually even as reviews for most of the popular series are mixed at best and negative at worst–and have increasingly come after launch due to the way these games’ servers are unavailable until launch, even for critics. As a result, sports games seem to be review-proof. Feverish football, soccer, baseball, and basketball fans are, in the vast majority of cases, going to buy the latest version of their favorite series no matter what I or anyone says, especially if we’re saying it after they’ve been tempted with the chance to just buy it and start playing already.

In the case of Madden NFL, the series’ aggregate review scores have been heading in the wrong direction for over a decade, with critics routinely in agreement that the series isn’t doing enough to merit a full release every August. I would even suggest that Madden does noticeably less than MLB The Show or NBA 2K in terms of sweeping and exciting changes from year to year, and those games are not always critical darlings themselves. But it doesn’t matter one bit. Madden NFL 24 will undoubtedly finish as one of the best-selling games in the US this year, squeezing in at the top with Call of Duty and EA FC, the new brand name for its series formerly known as FIFA.

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