Madden NFL 25 Review
Madden NFL 25. Didn't think we'd see that game for another dozen years. EA Sports has broken with the traditional year-based naming scheme for its flagship game franchise in honor of its 25 straight years of releases. To put that into perspective, the first Madden game was available on the Apple II. That kind of staying power in such a fickle industry is pretty impressive, to say the least, and so EA Sports certainly has earned the right to celebrate the quarter century milestone. Which all makes it a little odd that outside of the big '25' on the game case and loading screens which feature screenshots from older Madden games that marked some sort of milestone for the series there's not all that much celebrating going on in the game. Outside of the moniker that's missing a '14', you have what has become the standard for the franchise in recent years - some incremental improvements, some changes made for the sake of changing, and some things that should have been changed but weren't.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those gamers who come out once a year to complain loudly that the latest Madden game isn't a radical departure from the previous iteration and then disappear again until the following August. If the game plays a good game of football and I have fun with it, then it's a good game. Whether or not you want to spend money on this year's Madden game when you already own last year's game falls within the realm of personal choice and not game quality.
That being said, does Madden NFL 25 play a good game of football? The short answer is 'yes', although there are some aspects of the game that could be better. This is the second year for the Infinity Engine, the physics engine introduced last year to replace canned player animations. It's been refined this year so that it doesn't generate the ragdoll moments you'd sometimes see in last year's game. The result is a football game that looks quite realistic, with plays that never unfold quite the same way twice. The player animations are smooth and make the athletes actually look athletic, while also conveying a sense of the force behind the hits and tackles. Unfortunately this realism doesn't extend beyond the sidelines. The same animated sequences are shown every time there's a break in the action and their repetitive nature takes some shine off of the game's realism. For example, every time a timeout is called you're shown one of the same two scenes of a coach giving a player a drink out of a water bottle. It just feels lazy. And then there's the play-by-play, which isn't tied to the game's visual realism but does also fall under the repetitive category. The announcers don't have a lot to say and so they repeat themselves endlessly, and what they say often doesn't correlate to what's happening on the field. Honestly, I'd rather just hear the stadium announcer. It would make it feel more like I was at the game than watching it on TV. And while I'm on the topic, the stadium sounds could use some work, too. The crowd sounds too muted and too mellow. I'd love to hear the stadium really rock after the home team makes a big play or defensive stop or sit in stunned silence when the visitors do the same, and why shouldn't the quarterback get booed after throwing three picks? There also needs to be a greater variety of stadium music between plays as you'll hear the same opening bars of the same small handful of songs played endlessly.
Enough about atmosphere, let's move on to the football. The running game has seen an upgrade in the new precision modifier system. All of the various action buttons that you're familiar with are still here, X to dive, A to stiff-arm, etc., but you can now further modify these moves by also holding down the right trigger. A precision dive will have your runner stretch the ball out to squeeze out those extra inches needed for a first down or touchdown and a precision stiff-arm will push the defender away with a shove. Add the trigger squeeze with truck stick moves and you can pull off spin jukes, jab step spins, and other tricks that will leave defenders grasping at air. The controls aren't just a gimmick; they really do add another dimension to the running game without breaking the game's balance.
The passing game hasn't been given a corresponding upgrade, although defending against the pass is a bit different this year. To defend against a pass, hit B when the ball is in the air and then hold Y when it reaches the apex of its flight. I have to say that I'm not much of a fan of this system. It feels less like I'm defending against a pass and more like I'm playing a timing mini game. And this new scheme hasn't changed the fact that interceptions still occur too frequently in the game. You know that things aren't right when Joe Montana can cover Brandon Marshall and take a pass away from him, which is something that actually happened to me during an online game of Madden Ultimate Team.
Speaking of Madden Ultimate Team, obviously the trading card focused mode makes its return this year. Once again, you can purchase (either with coins earned by meeting goals within the mode or with real money) 'packs' of player cards and then use them to create a lineup that you can take online against other gamers or against the CPU in a series of game challenges. The online ladder system is rather sophisticated, using a multilevel tier system similar to that used by European soccer leagues. You must play your way to a higher tier and then play well enough to stay there. Each series of games that you play comprises a 'season', and if you win enough games you'll make it into a playoff bracket. This way you don't need to organize a formal league and make sure everyone keeps up with the schedule. It's all a lot of fun and I spend most of my online game time in this mode.
Of course you're going to be hampered (or helped) by the quality of your players and it can take a bit of time and effort to put together a strong roster, especially if you're trying to make use of the mode's new team chemistry feature. Some offensive and defensive players are marked as preferring a certain play style such as "Ground and Pound" or "Zone Defense". Collect players that match your team's style and you'll get a bonus in terms of your team's rating. It's a way to introduce a level of deck building into the game beyond simply starting the players with the highest ratings. Roster management is somewhat of a pain - there's no easy way to see your active roster and your reserves at the same time, and so trying to figure out which cards to move between the two takes a long time. The game has added a one-button "best lineup" option, but it sends every player who's not starting to your reserves and it can leave empty spots in your lineup.
The game's 'Connected' modes have been consolidated so that player, coach, and the new owner mode all fall under the same umbrella. You can compete on your own or connect with other gamers to form a league. The new owner mode is like coach mode plus, adding a layer of financial management to the game. A good mode for spreadsheet fans and those who want to finally move a franchise to LA. Those who want to play the create-a-player career mode but are short on patient may be happy to hear that this year's game has accelerated player progression to the point that you're virtually guaranteed to be a rookie superstar. These modes are all quite full-featured, but I have to admit that I miss having a simple season mode where I can just play through my favorite team's schedule and hopefully lead them to the playoffs.
Madden NFL 25 is a good football game and is fun to play, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. I know that it would never happen, but it would be interesting if Madden NFl took a year off and just sold a DLC package to update rosters, uniforms, and schedules while the developers took two full years to develop a new game. If you have last year's game, then you don't necessarily have to 'upgrade' this year. However, if you have stayed on the sidelines for a year or two and are interested in jumping back into the game, there's no reason not to pick up Madden NFL 25.
Final Rating: 82%. A good football game that could still be better.