EA Sports has made it standard practice to release new versions of their games on a yearly basis. Madden NFL 10 is followed the next year by Madden NFL 11 and then Madden NFL 12, Madden NFL 13, and now Madden NFL 25. Okay, they changed the numbering system this time out, but that’s because this is the 25th anniversary of the premiere sports title. I am happy to report that it is better than the 24th version. Maybe not a lot better, but better. It isn’t without issues and it may not be better enough for you to go out and upgrade, but it’s better.
One of the main deficits last time out was the lack of an owner mode. That has been reinstalled for this year. Oddly, it is found within the Connected Careers area of the game and, as Connected Careers can be played offline (and consequently not “connected”), it feels as though it exists within the section solely in order to make the section offer more stuff (and to maybe therefore not have to admit that Connected Careers is kind of not the greatest way of titling/organizing stuff). You can certainly play online as well once again this year, and that too is in Connected Careers (which totally makes sense).
The menu screens within the game have been changed, and while I didn’t care for them last year, I’m not sure this year is any better. The idea seems to be to throw a whole lot of things at you at once, again to make things appear robust, rather than in an attempt to make all the various things you can do obvious. Or, perhaps, the issue is that you can actually do an incredible number of things (and you can), and that EA Sports’ ability to add things to the game has greatly outstripped their ability to display it all. That actually feels more possible but doesn’t make the situation any better. Hopefully next year’s iteration handles menus more clearly (I won’t ask about them offering a real manual, but that would be nice)
EA will tell you that the biggest and best change this year is the addition of the “precision modifier” during play. If anything could possibly sound less impressive, I’m just not sure what it would be. The precision modifier allows you to not just spin, but to cover the ball when you spin; to not just escape someone going for a shoestring tackle, but to hurdle defensive players in their entirety; to not just stiff arm someone, but to shove them back.
It sounds small–it is small–but with practice it really makes a difference. And, it is wrong to discount the importance of small tweaks.
As much as I might rail against the menu system, the way things are organized and the way they’re displayed, the meat and potatoes of Madden is on the field football and it is something that the franchise excels at. They don’t need to rework the entire game on a yearly basis, they need to tweak it to provide a better experience (maybe blocking will get better down the line). So, last year’s Infinity Engine is back as Infinity Engine 2 and it works better than it did last year. Impacts feel more realistic and nuanced. It is a definite improvement.
Yes, these incremental changes make it less sexy to sell and make it seem like a less than necessary upgrade, but it is what’s required to make the game as good as it can be, and whatever issues I have with the menus mostly disappear when I get my team out onto the field.
One really does feel far more in control of what is happening with the ball carrier now, with the precision modifier, than before, without it. Additionally, unlike so many other changes that could be made to the game, the modifier doesn’t have to alter how one plays. For a few years, EA released what felt like a dumbed-down version of the game for the Wii and within that title one could make the controls even more simple – those who wanted to worry about fewer things when carrying the ball could do so, those who wanted as much control as possible could have it (within the limited confines of the Wii version). The modifier is similar – don’t want to use it, don’t use it. You won’t get everything out of your players, but you’ll get a lot. If you choose to be a super-user and go for it though, you’ll get even more.
As for the graphics, they are good but they aren’t spectacular. I don’t think the title’s problem is that it’s hit the uncanny valley, but there’s something wrong about the way the coaches look. Additionally, on more than one occasion Madden had trouble figuring out where someone’s head ended and their cap began, leading to some truly funky images. Plus there are some uncomfortable moments where players lie on the turf on top of one another and shake and twitch uncontrollably. Presumably they’re both getting up at the same time and failing, but it isn’t good. Then there are the fans. For a game that does other things so well, why exactly so many fans look exactly the same and do the exact same thing at the same time, I can’t imagine. Maybe if they were going to go that route then shots of the fans in the stadium could be eliminated.
Plus, there are the ever-present issues of play-by-play and color commentary. Why Phil Simms and Jim Nantz say the things they do when they do regularly baffles the mind. Having listened to Nantz and Simms call real games, I can say that I don’t always agree with them, but listening to them in Madden is incredibly frustrating. They are, regularly, just plain wrong. Plays that work are called out as being problematic on a regular basis and plays that don’t work are sometimes glossed over. I know this isn’t because Nantz and Simms are bad at their job, it’s because play-by-play seems to be the single hardest thing for sports videogames to accomplish. Oh well, maybe next year.
The ultimate question is, of course, if you should buy the game. My recommendation is that if you’re planning on getting either an Xbox One or a PS4 and can do one of the buy-the-game-now-and-for-$10-extra-get-the-next-gen-console-one-too then yes maybe you should (I know that this has been announced for the Xbox One). If you’re not planning on upgrading your console and have last year’s version, that’s good enough, even if you want to play as an owner (wait for it to get better next year). There is a lot that makes Madden NFL 25 better than Madden NFL 13, but maybe not a lot better.
In conclusion, take the below score with a giant grain of salt. Consider it the straight score, not the I-have-last-year’s-and-like-it score.
Madden NFL 25 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. It can also be found on Xbox 360 (and next-gen consoles in the near future).