Did latest 'Madden' video game create most dominant player since Michael Vick, Bo Jackson?

Senior NFL writer
Yahoo Sports

On the Mount Rushmore of the most unstoppable video game football characters of all time, there are only two locks: the “Tecmo Super Bowl” version of Bo Jackson and the “Madden 2004” version of Michael Vick.

This is not up for debate, even though NFL Fever’s version of Randy Moss — in which the deep ball was practically automatic — probably deserves to be in the conversation somewhere.

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Regardless, Video Bo and Video Vick are the standards by which all impossible-to-stop video game NFL players have been judged for over a decade now.

But now 15 years later, there may be another who proves worthy of joining that type of rarefied air: Patrick Mahomes in this year’s “Madden.”

“I don’t think it’s a crazy thought, based on what we’ve shown,” Clint Oldenburg, a senior designer on the “Madden” gameplay team, told Yahoo Sports. “He’s actually really fun to play with.”

Could Patrick Mahomes join rarified air among video game greats? (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
Could Patrick Mahomes join rarified air among video game greats? (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

It makes sense, you know. After all, Mahomes produced video game numbers in 2018, tallying over 5,000 yards passing and 50 touchdowns on the way to becoming the NFL’s youngest MVP in 35 years. And Mahomes was also announced as the coverman for this year’s game, which would justify the addition of a few of Mahomes’ trademark moves to the game.

But when the “Madden” team decided to unveil “X-factor” player traits as this year’s “New Feature Designed to Entice People into Buying the Game,” Mahomes also became a mortal lock to not only be the game’s highest-rated quarterback (even greater than the G.O.A.T. in real life, Tom Brady) but also someone capable of performing the type of video game feats fans of the game haven’t seen in years.

“I think the idea was to basically just make these guys seem as unstoppable at times as they seem in real life,” assistant producer Dustin Smith said.

And given how unstoppable Mahomes was at times last year — from his left-handed tosses, to his whirling dervish scampers and no-look heaves — it stands to reason that Mahomes would have some of those same abilities in the game, courtesy of the new “X-factor” player traits.

A Mahomes skill, for example, is “Bazooka,” which is unlocked when he completes a certain number of passes of 30 yards or more during a game. Once unlocked, it increases his pass distance on deep throws by 10 to 15 yards which is really something, considering his arm strength is already rated a 96 (out of 99).

Other in-game traits that Mahomes can activate include “no-look deadeye,” “redzone deadeye,” dashing deadeye” and “escape artist,” the latter of which gives him boosts that allow him to escape the oncoming pass rush with ease.

Patrick Mahomes is the cover-star player of the 2020 edition of the Madden video game franchise.
Patrick Mahomes is the cover-star player of the 2020 edition of the Madden video game franchise.

When combined with his 81 speed, 87 acceleration, 88 agility and 80 elusiveness, those comparisons to ’04 Vick — for whom games with 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing became commonplace in American living rooms — are more tantalizing, even if the in-game and real-life versions of Vick were faster.

“If he gets close to ’04 Vick, then I think we’d actually be pretty proud of that because we created a player as iconic as that, that people are having a lot of fun with,” Oldenburg said.

While Bo and Vick were unstoppable, this year’s “Madden” team insists it took great care to ensure no player would dominate the game to that degree.

“Mike Vick comes up all the time when we’re implementing, and we learned a lot of lessons as a team from that experience, even those of us that weren’t on the team at the time,” Oldenburg said. “Vick was such a powerful force in that game that we actually, over the years, have put in a number of different things to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Because today’s gamer doesn’t want something so unbalanced.”

To that end, Oldenburg said, all of Mahomes’ aforementioned “X-factor” abilities can be deactivated by defenses if they accomplish certain objectives, like sacking or intercepting him. What’s more, Mahomes’ abilities can be countered by superstar defensive players with some “X-factor” traits of their own.

There’s also a belief that the newly amped up defensive pressure — gamers will have a matter of only seconds to get the ball out, just like real life — and recalibrated quarterback contain scheme will give defenses a fighting chance.

“What we’re even more proud of is when players are using those counters to their advantage, and showing the skill necessary to shut down [superstars],” Oldenburg said. “That’s going to make the game feel more authentic and feel more fresh each time you play it.”

Interestingly enough, the designers wonder if there are other players in the game who might seize the “he’s unstoppable this year” crown from Mahomes. Take Brady, for instance, who has X-factor traits that make playing the game from the pocket much easier for him than it would for any other quarterback.

When Brady gets in the zone, for instance, he has a trait that allows his first open receiver to be highlighted from the pocket. He also has a trait that, when activated, gives him four extra hot routes that he can assign to any receiver, and a trait that allows him to make pre-snap adjustments and audibles two times faster than other quarterbacks.

“I think the one thing I’ve heard most around the office this year is that [Tom] Brady is finally super scary, in game,” Smith said. “Like, I don’t need a running quarterback when I can really just demolish you and tear you apart with Brady.”

Fans will have to wait until the game’s Aug. 2 release to get a better feel for which player has the best chance of being the evolutionary Bo or Vick, but to his credit, the 23-year-old Mahomes — who grew up playing “Madden” and still does — understands how rare and significant that is.

“Hopefully my guy is really good, hopefully I play really good in the season again and he keeps getting better,” Mahomes told Yahoo Sports. “But it’s going to be hard to beat that ’04 Mike Vick, for sure.”

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