LOVED IT: Precision modifier feels great, high level of overall gameplay, high production values
HATED IT: Preorders limit Connected Franchise fun, messy menus, still hasn’t evolved with real football
GRAB IT IF: You aren’t waiting for the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. If you’re a next-gen early adopter and you can be patient, though, you might as well save a few bucks and wait and see what the future has in store.
They changed the naming style, and they changed the loading menus, and they even changed their annual national cover vote to reflect their quarter-century milestone.
But they still haven’t truly changed the game. And for Madden 25, that means an average video game in a special anniversary year.
Don’t get me wrong. The 25th edition of EA Sports’ long-running Madden NFL football series is still the best football video game in town (partly because it’s the only football game in town), and EA makes several little refinements to push the game forward.
By Madden standards, this is the best game yet in the series and a solid step forward from Madden 13 and the debut of the Infinity Engine. At its best, it can be a fabulous experience, with beautiful animations, a satisfying run game, and fun multiplayer.
By sports game standards, however, this is a game that lags behind the pack and is increasingly unreflective of the professional game it represents. At its worst, it’s hamstrung by iffy commentary and glitch post-play animations. Its Connected Career Player Mode completely misses the point of stepping into the RPG shoes of one player, and its menus and interfaces are so sluggish that I was done trading after 10 minutes even though I’m the kind of Franchise gamer who always turns a squad upside-down.
It’s a game that’s increasingly unreflective of true NFL football, too often concerned with selling things to gamers instead of making the game fun. Case in point: Connected Careers’ new Owner Mode. Like the Player and Coach Modes in Madden’s franchise mode, the new Owner Mode lets you create your own owner, choose an existing one, or play as a legend and guide him through multiple years in a quest to reach the Hall of Fame.
Except the two legends in this game, Art Rooney and Eddie DeBartolo Jr., are locked to anyone who didn’t preorder the game. A host of legends, actually, throughout all three modes – including popular greats Joe Montana, Franco Harris, and coaches Bill Walsh and John Madden himself – are locked behind preorder walls. So if you waited to actually read reviews on Madden 25 and didn’t preorder but hoped to play as Mike Ditka? Well, you’d better preorder the game next year.
It’s a shame, too, because the legends of Connected Careers are easily the highlight of the mode, despite the mode’s flaws. Overall, Connected Careers is light years behind NBA 2K series’ My Player mode; the latter tries to lend authenticity to your character’s life both on and off the court, while the former still feels fake, a collection of menus that lacks meaningful interaction between coaches and players.
But there’s something special and intriguing about moving these legends onto current teams and seeing how they’d fare. Would Randall Cunningham’s athleticism help him beat out Robert Griffin III if he were in Washington right now? Could Barry Sanders be that missing element in Detroit today? Wouldn’t Isaac Bruce be a great slot receiver in today’s NFL? And wouldn’t Jerry Rice’s precision route-running work well with Tom Brady’s pinpoint passing?
Rice, however, is behind a preorder wall. Sigh.
Other walls exist, too, and they’re starting to sabotage the on-field game. Madden continues to limit positional flexibility, ostensibly to preserve the fairness of the online game. But the NFL is in a state of transition, versatility growing paramount. To this end, Madden 25 delivers a heavy dose of read option plays, but it doesn’t give you true personnel freedom.
The Jaguars drafted Denard Robinson as an “offensive weapon,” but you can’t move him from QB to RB in Madden. Everyone talks about Tim Tebow at tight end, but unless you change his position in Madden (and eliminate him from playing QB), you can’t do that either. The Giants drafted strong safety Cooper Taylor for his versatility and there was talk he could see action at linebacker; once again, you can’t throw him at linebacker unless you switch his position and erase his safety eligibility.
All of this undermines a game that’s solid on the field. Sketchy animations aside, this is a great-looking, detailed sports game, and the camera angles and closeups during replays are fantastic. It’s then that you’ll actually recognize the work that went into making Barry Sanders’ head look like Barry Sanders’ head within the helmet; the top players are all detailed and realistically mapped.
The controls are tight, and the running game has never been more satisfying.
The introduction of the left shoulder button as a Precision modifier takes emphasis off the eternal speed burst, letting you gear down as a runner to make a more careful, elusive cut or juke. Combined with the upgraded interior run-blocking, the entire ground game feels far more fun. Whether you’re a dynamic speed back or a Marshawn Lynch-type banger, you’ll find a rushing niche in Madden 25.
The improvements to the run game make everything much stronger. NFL coaches base entire game plans on their ability to run the ball, and now, instead of leaning super-heavily on the pass, you can use the run to open plays over the deep middle. It’s a two-way street; your defensive sets will often have to be geared toward stopping the run first.
There’s still so much content here, too, that you can lose yourself in this game for months. It’s worth going through the Skills Trainer, too, if only to learn the read-option tweaks and those new rushing adjustments. Online play is solid as always, and while Connected Careers lacks focus, it does offer, oh, thousands of different gameplay experiences, based on the players or coaches or owners you choose to handle and your play-style. It’s still a great multiplayer franchise option, too.
Madden 25 does its best to remind you of how far this game has come, with loading menus that show the gradual progression of the franchise. And while improvement has obviously slowed in recent years (or at least somewhat missed the point), this game is far superior than Madden 11 or Madden 12 or Madden 13.
For better or worse, that makes this the best Madden yet.
Reviewed on Xbox 360
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