Can’t believe it’s been 25 years since the release of EA Sports John Madden football. That also means it’s been 25 years of taking your favorite team to the Super Bowl, 25 years’ worth of touchdown dances, 25 years of beating your friend to the verge of frustration, and 25 years of rage when the AI gets the best of you. Twenty-five years is a long time, and while it may be a yearly sports franchise, creating a game for that long without it ever taking a year off is pretty impressive when you consider the different consoles it went through. As we look to the here and now, the last Madden of this current generation is finally here. Before it goes next-gen in November, let’s find out if Madden NFL 25 dances its way into the end zone or stumbles short on the 1-yard line. This is our review.
Madden NFL 13 brought us a smoother gameplay experience with the help of the Infinity Engine. While it certainly had its bumps and random moments, it was certainly a huge improvement for the franchise that helped out the running and passing game. As with every unique game engine in the EA Sports world, the second version is normally the more polished and smoother version of the original. So with that, we welcome Infinity Engine 2. Having already played on this engine in NCAA Football 14, I knew what to expect come M25 and it does a good job in smoothing out the gameplay experience while also revamping the running game with the addition of the precision modifier.
By pressing LT (L2), players can utilize the new precision modifier to gain almost full control of their halfback like never before. With new spins, dives, jukes, hurdles, and stiff-arms; the combinations and ways to get past a defense are awesome…if pulled off with the right running back. If you’re running with someone like Adrian Peterson, those moves, if done correctly and timed right, will obliterate a team’s defense. However one thing I found useful when running down field whether you’re a running back or wide receiver, is the use of stumble recovery. When a runner gets knocked around by a defender or two, they begin a stumble animation that lets you do one of two things: regain your balance or push forward to gain a few more yards. If someone like Patrick Willis is about to take your head off and you’re in the middle of a stumble, you can choose to dive forward by pressing up on the right stick to avoid the possible bone rattling hit while gaining the first down.
The fatigue meter is a nice touch to try and balance running backs from abusing the precision modifier as the more they use it, the more of their fatigue bar is used. The more fatigued, the less chance they have in accelerating down field for a touchdown. That doesn’t mean the running game isn’t overpowered though. Even with the fatigue bar to try and balance things out, the running game in general has more at their disposal compared to the defense.
The passing game feels unchanged, which isn’t a bad thing, but when you add the Pistol offense in a league that is starting to increase in scrambling quarterbacks like RGIII and Russell Wilson; you’ll run into one of the most broken formations in Madden ever. That’s not to say you can’t stop it. A simple defensive switch prior to the play can stop it in its tracks, but that isn’t always a guarantee.
My main issue with the passing game however is the AI. They are way too accurate in the game, even with sliders. I played a game on Ultimate Team against the Detroit Lions, the same ones in the game with no roster changes, on Pro difficulty. Matthew Stafford destroyed my secondary with a total of, get this, five passes. He was five for five with 204 yards and 2 touchdowns. Even more, this was in the first half alone. Don’t get me wrong, Stafford is a good quarterback with some dangerous receivers like Calvin Johnson, but for someone like me who plays on All-Pro difficulty and made Tom Brady look like Tim Tebow the game before on the same Pro difficulty, this was ridiculous. Stafford almost went perfect in the game we played except at the very end of the game when he threw three incompletions and a pick. I sat in my chair baffled at how this could happen after the way he overpowered whatever defense I had in that game only to completely flop at the end.
The other thing I noticed is how odd the QB’s act. When playing against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on All-Pro difficulty, he would do exactly what Peyton Manning does, audible plays all the way to the last few seconds before snapping the football. What was weird though was how most of the time every play ended up being a running play and not a passing play. By the end of three quarters, he had thrown the ball five times for 48 yards. What? Once Denver got the ball in the fourth quarter, he completed eight passes in a row on the way to a touchdown drive. Again, what? Where was this Peyton the first three quarters? If Matthew Stafford could have his way with me to start the game on Pro, why wasn’t Peyton on All-Pro? Heck, Josh Freeman was tearing me a new one and on the same Pro difficulty as when I faced the Lions. Quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers played fine and RGIII scrambled all over the place. Yet this wasn’t consistent with everyone and sometimes it made no sense when you looked at the stats in-between half’s or at the end of a game to see how they did.
I guess with everything I just typed, you can say that AI tendencies are hit-and-miss, difficulty is random, and in the end, computer controlled quarterbacks are ridiculously accurate.
Outside of running and throwing, receiving the ball whether on offense or defense can be a bit frustrating. With the help of the Nike Skills Trainer, players will learn how to catch a football on offense and defense. So whether you’re going for a touchdown grab or going for a pick six, you’ll know how to handle it if the situation arises. Though more times than not, grabbing the ball and holding onto it provides some control gripping frustrations when you see your player drop the football on an open pass/pick. Aside holding on to the football, I noticed that receivers do their best to catch a ball before getting out of bounds. They don’t however try to stay inbounds to keep the play alive. Whether it’s me or the opponent, you’ll see players step out of bounds without realizing where they are when they could have extended the play a few more yards.
I mentioned how Stafford or the computer in general tends to have their way with the secondary and the main reason for this is because there are some problems with it. On a post route or corner route, defenders are constantly outrun and curl routes are as easy as ever to exploit. I would know because I love using the curl route. Up-the-middle plays though aren’t as simple and timing is everything as zones will cover the space nicely at times. Sending a tight end up the seam is still pretty effective, and online, tight ends are your most reliable receivers in the game. Zones are just too soft and most of the time when you decide to do man coverage, it almost feels like the receiver has the edge. It’s not impossible to stop passing plays but it is a challenge when the game feels more focused on the offensive side of the ball then defensive.
Linebackers play and feel a lot better than they used to in years past and this is good to see. This is probably the best in the series to be honest. Reaction times are spot on and lineman covers their jobs well. Trying to sack the quarterback is challenging so when you do get in for the sack, it is a satisfying feeling (as it should be).
For every good thing, there’s a bad. Infinity Engine 2 still provides a few hiccups on both sides of the ball and sometimes animations take a weird turn but overall the game runs smoother and better than last year. Even with the issues on defense or the overly accurate QB’s, it’s still an enjoyable game of football, especially against a friend. I’m sure if you find the best slider in the Madden Share , you can tweak the game to your liking until a patch is released for any current issues.
Connected Franchise makes its return in M25 and not too much was changed when playing as a player or coach, which is fine in a way. The most notable change to them is the experience point system that was re-done to help boost your progression to help make things speed up a bit and not feel so slow or grinding but still challenging enough when completing certain tasks. Players will also have a third option when starting Connected Franchise and that’s the ability to become an owner. You still progress in EXP like you do as a coach or player to try and be the best owner in the NFL, but you do all this by managing every aspect of the team. Everything from the players, staff, making fans happy, media interviews, and even setting the price of hot dogs and fries; you are in charge of it all.
You can even rebuild your team’s stadium, upgrade it, or relocate the team altogether. Don’t think the Oakland Raiders should stay in Oakland? Why not move them to London? How about Los Angeles? There are 17 different locations to choose from and they are all viable locations with real interest in having an NFL team. They even tell you about the fan base, amount of money being put into the relocation, and the names of the teams you can choose from when moving the team. While you can’t fully customize the teams or jerseys, they give you options for everything. The only thing I would want to customize is the name of the stadium, but that’s just me. If you decide to build a new stadium for a team, they give you a regular option and a deluxe option. The stadiums are nicely design and all look like something that could be built for an NFL team in the future.
Owner mode is a fun and engaging mode that fans are sure to enjoy and will take a lot of your time. Trade logic seems to have improved a bit as the game lets you know if what you’re offering is a good or bad trade for the AI. It’s still hit and miss but it’s not too bad. The only thing I found weird was some of the simulation results. Seeing the Jets compete at a high level with the Patriots in the upcoming season was laughable. Come on, the Jets are going to suck this year. We all know it.
The one mode I spent the most time on last year, and spent too much money on to the point where I needed to hide my wallet, was Madden Ultimate Team. The concept of collecting cards, completing challenges, and collecting the best cards in the game is alive and well. To give the mode some spice, EA included team chemistry. When you start, you will choose a team captain who will specialize in a certain chemistry. With Andrew Luck, I specialized on the Short Pass on offense while focusing my defense on the Pass Rush. Almost every card you collect will specialize in a certain way and it’s up to you to help get the chemistry of each player on par with one another. The results of who you put on your team will show when you play a game as they will utilize their strengths against any team you play. Head-to-head seasons also let’s players take their team online for a 10-game season to try and make the play-offs and win the Super Bowl. The more you win, the further you get. Pretty much the same thing they added in NCAA 14 but in NFL form.
Outside of MUT and Connected Franchise, there’s a little bit of everything else you’ve seen the last few years. Play now, Nike Skills Trainer which you’ll go through once (gold is difficult to get), GMC “Never Say Never” moments which allows you to play various moments from weekly NFL games, 3 on 3 Online Team Play, and Online play. Quick note about online, in the few games I played, home and away, I did experience lag. Some more than others but it wasn’t game breaking. A bit annoying yes, but nothing that caused me to throw my remote 80 yards into my TV screen.
Also, for those who were very disappointed that you couldn’t import NCAA Football classes to Madden, no worries. It has returned and you are able to import your draft class from your NCAA 14 save file into M25.
Madden’s presentation is at its best this year, even if it looks familiar. The tile like menu design is very nice and something I hope other EA Sports games utilize as they are easy to read and navigate through. Once a game starts, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms still provide the best commentary in the series and new sideline reporter Danielle Bellini does a great job giving us on-the-field reports during the start of game, halftime, and injury news. Something Madden 25 does right and makes you feel like you are watching an NFL game, is the product placement all over the presentation. By the time you get to Madden NFL 25 on the next-gen console, you’ll order a Papa John’s pizza, eat a Snickers, and possibly pick up a new car at your local GMC dealer while drinking some Gatorade.
There are still a few glitchy moments that are most noticeable with the camera. Sometimes it will pan in and out at random for no apparent reason. Certainly something that needs to be fixed as it can cause a quick distraction at the worst time possible. I also dislike the new camera angle they introduced in the demo and that is set to default once you put the game in. I changed that as soon as I started the game. At the end of the day, this is probably the best we are going to get out of Maddens presentation and that’s not a bad thing. The new sounds and music during games is spot on to what you hear on a Sunday afternoon and the package altogether is what we’ve come to expect when watching an NFL game. Anyone who has an issue with it needs to look at the EA Sports NHL franchise because that presentation has barely been touched since 2006. Not to burn the NHL franchise on purpose (it is my favorite game), but I had to make a point.
For the 25th anniversary of Madden, and a few months away from a new beginning on the next generation of consoles, some might look at the current M25 and feel disappointed. Look, if you enjoyed Madden 13 last year, you’re going to enjoy Madden 25. Tweaks were made here and there, owner mode is going to take a lot of your time, and Ultimate Team is sure to suck some money out of your wallets. Knowing everything you do here can switch over to the next-gen port later this year, it’s up to you on whether or not Madden NFL 25 is worth your cash.