Madden NFL 21’s The Yard Brings an Enjoyable Injection of Arcade-Style Football
Madden NFL 21 has added a new mode this year called The Yard, which seems to bring some much-needed diversity to the larger game's package.
I miss arcade-like sports games. Fifteen to twenty years ago, there still used to be a litany of them on the market. Games like NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, and MLB Slugfest were some of my favorites growing up and remained classics that I would return to frequently over the years. Nowadays, the subgenre feels all but extinct, with sim-style titles like MLB The Show and NBA 2K making up for most of the sports games we see being released on an annual basis.
Fortunately, in Madden NFL 21, EA is looking to inject some more arcade-style gameplay with a new game mode it’s calling The Yard. Pitched as a 6v6 mode where all players play both sides of the ball, The Yard brings a much-needed addition of pure fun to the larger Madden experience. Based on my early playtime with the new experience, it looks to be one of the more novel new modes that Madden has seen in recent years, but whether or not it will have legs remains to be seen.
The Yard offers a few different takes on the classic backyard football style of play that you likely grew up playing in your own neighborhood. Before you get into any matches though, you have to create your own unique avatar that will by default always be one of the six players on your team. However, what’s cool about your own character is that they aren’t locked-in to a single position on the field.
For instance, if in one game you want them to play a QB that is as elusive as Lamar Jackson, there is a playstyle you can choose from to gain those types of attributes. Conversely, if the next time around you want your avatar to be burning defenders on routes like Odell Beckham Jr., you can do that too. Your own character doesn’t fit into a single mold and each different “prototype” that you choose from can be upgraded the more you utilize it.
The same can be said for the other five members of your team when it comes to playing different positions, too. Again, with every player taking part on both sides of the ball, occasionally, you’ll have some star players on your roster that are playing a role that you normally wouldn’t find them in. In one match, I had Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers playing both wide receiver and cornerback. Sure, this might not be ideal, but it also is just genuinely a bit more fun to throw bombs to players who shouldn’t be making slant routes.
The Yard also has a variety of different scoring modifiers compared to what you’d find in a typical game of football. While touchdowns still net you 6 points, there is no kicking, meaning you always have to choose to go for a PAT of the 1, 2, or 3 point variety. Additionally, you can gain more points for interceptions, touchdowns that score off of double passes or laterals, or TDs that travel over 40 yards. I had a few close matches where some late-game interceptions quite literally sealed the deal for my opponents and they went on to win by 1 point.
Gameplay isn’t all that similar to Madden’s standard fare, either. The Yard allows you to have unlimited passes behind the line of scrimmage, meaning that as long as you aren’t being tackled and have some different players you can dump it off to, it will be allowed. You can also direct-snap the ball to any player on the field, not just the one that you have assigned QB. This makes plays much more creative and allows you to think a bit more outside of the box to get the edge on the team you’re facing. Conversely, those on the defensive side of the ball have to wait for certain amounts of time before they can cross the line of scrimmage and rush the quarterback.
Lastly, each level for The Yard has slightly different modifiers and challenges of its own, too. Currently, there are four different fields in which you can play games on in The Yard, with each one giving you different goals. For instance, some stages give both you and the other team three drives each, with the winner being the one that has the most total points after both teams have possessed the ball that many times. Other levels, however, are a bit more difficult and will give you one drive to score or will ask you to score from certain positions on the field with only a fixed number of downs to do it.
While I largely enjoyed what I have played of The Yard, I do have a couple of reservations. For starters, since this game mode is going for something a bit laxer compared to typical Madden game types, I would have preferred for players themselves to feel a bit more arcade-like in how they control. Even though The Yard is offering up something different in the grander Madden NFL 21 package, the gameplay itself still feels obviously similar to all of the other modes. As such, that translation of sim-like gameplay controls to a more arcade-driven experience is a bit awkward, at least at first.
I also think that simply facing the computer in The Yard could get old relatively fast. Fortunately, multiplayer is included in this mode as well, with each team being able to consist of up to 3 different player-controller characters. I only was able to get in a couple of matches in multiplayer, but this is really where I found that The Yard was hitting its stride. Getting a crew together to play against one another in The Yard seems like a ton of fun and I’m looking forward to trying to give it a go with some of my friends.
Lastly, I do have to make mention of some of the uniforms and cosmetics that have been included in this mode seem like a prime way for EA to try and generate more revenue off of microtransactions. The inclusion of these different uniforms from various brands around the globe, yes, does add some nice variety to each player’s look, but I’m also cautiously wary of how it’ll be implemented. It remains to be seen how The Yard will be monetized, but I’m hoping it’s not too egregious by any means.
The Yard likely isn’t going to be the main selling point of Madden NFL 21 by any means, but it’s a nice addition to what the game offers. If you’ve been looking for something new that will scratch that NFL Blitz or NFL Street itch from the past, The Yard does a great job of doing exactly that. Hopefully, it only continues to improve over time once the game releases.
Madden NFL 21 is set to release later this month on August 25 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. It will also be coming to next-gen platforms in PS5 and Xbox Series X when each arrives later this year.