Outside of Halloween, this is possibly my favorite time of the year. The weather is starting to cool off, baseball season is in full swing, and children are going back to school, meaning that my late night gaming sessions aren’t filled with people who claim to have intercourse with my mother. However, the best thing is that we are now only 15 days away from the start of the football season, which means that right now there is a 100% guarantee that someone, somewhere in America, has his hands raised above his head and is yelling the word “football.”
Now, while Madden NFL 25 may not be quite as good as the real thing, this year’s offering is easily the best to date. And I think that’s enough to warrant taking off my shirt and yelling “football,” no matter how many times my neighbour may protest.
Let me start off this review with a bit of a resume. I am a hardcore Madden fan, this isn’t any secret around the We Got This Covered bunker. According to my Raptr feed, I’ve logged almost 500 hours in the game while playing in two of the more competitive leagues to be found on the Xbox 360. Granted, many of those hours have been spent tearfully wailing into my microphone at players such as Dysastrous and Greenaholic as they crush any playoff dreams I may have. But still, the point remains that unlike many outlets that will surely take the cop out and claim this is the same game with new physics, I’m in a unique position to tell you exactly where the formula has improved.
Starting off, the new physics system that was implemented last year has seen some much needed tweaks. If you remember my review from the previous iteration of Madden, one of the first plays I saw from last season involved DeSean Jackson taking a particularly brutal hit that set my expectations a bit too high. This year, while the physics system does still leave room for some absolute car wrecks of collisions, it is a bit more subdued. A common occurrence last year was for players to get tied up after the play, resulting in 5 or 6 players simply falling over themselves in a pile vaguely resembling films we can’t mention on this website. This year, players react and respond to the world around them very much like you and I do, side stepping or stumbling without completely face planting when meeting any sort of resistance.
One minor change they’ve made to the physics is something that new players may not even notice, but I honestly feel it’s one of the most important changes we’ve seen come to the series in almost a decade. For the first time, your ball carrier will be cognizant of the game going on around him. What this means is that when you try to run up the middle, you won’t run into the back of your offensive line and simply lose all of your momentum ala Mark “Butt Fumble” Sanchez.
Instead, you’ll automatically use your non-carrying hand to push past your own players and defenders being blocked. Normally, power running to the inside was abandoned in serious play since unless you have a dominant line, you’d make it about 2 yards before you’d be locked up. This opens up a completely new game for players, and ushers in the triumphant return of the power back.
With this refinement, the running game has given an unparalleled level of control back to the player. Players can cut up or down the field on a dime, much like their real life counterparts, by simply pushing the left stick in other directions abruptly. This little stutter step gives players like MJD the ability to showcase their skill set by making these seemingly tiny adjustments that turn a 3 yard run into a 50 yard sprint downfield.
EA has also introduced the “precision modifier” into the mix this year, giving the ground game a brand new weapon. While holding the left trigger or L2 button, you’ll slow down your run, but set up for a wildly exaggerated and insanely powerful version of standard running moves. Your jukes will dramatically fake one way before springing the opposite direction, your spins reach F2 tornado classification, and even the Juggernaut would be envious of the truck move.
I have to admit that I don’t usually use the stiff arm based on my play style, but I may have to work it in more often this year simply due to the fact that it comes off as a chokeslam that even The Undertaker would be proud of. It’s hard to aptly put into words the brutality of this move, however, if any of you remember the Vikings/Eagles playoff game where Tavaris Jackson was absolutely destroyed by Chris Clemons, you’ll have a very good idea of how this one plays out. If you somehow managed to miss that, take 50 seconds out of your day to watch this video and fully appreciate the fact that a 225 pound man can be elevated quite high.
You’ll be able to practice all of these skills in the provided skills trainer. If you played this year’s NCAA Football, you’ll be pretty familiar with how this works, but will probably appreciate the lack of the garish Nike logo plastered everywhere. While most of the trainers will be review for experienced players, they do offer a legend card for Madden Ultimate Team if you get a gold medal in each respective trainer. I will admit, a few of them were frustrating since you need to play perfectly to get that gold, but I do feel that I’ve got a pretty firm grasp on the new moves as well as the overall flow of the game.
Another minor thing that ends up being massive is the re-introduction of the stamina bar. Each player has a limited amount of stamina represented by a yellow ring underneath them that depletes as you hold down the right trigger or R2. This seems to go a bit faster than you would expect at first, however, it does add another layer of strategy to moving the rock. You can use it immediately out of the backfield to get some initial separation, however, if you hold off a few steps and try to make a move first, you could break open a massive run downfield. It’s a very simple mechanic that’s been implemented almost perfectly.
The other massive change you’ll see on offense is largely in thanks to the new breed of speedy QBs. Many playbooks include the pistol formation, and there is a large amount of attention given to option plays. This is both good and bad I feel. The good is that it does open the game up to new ideas and gives teams better ways to use their weapons, however, after playing online a few times pre-release, I was already seeing the option play being fairly abused. Note that the only people playing pre-release were journalists and a select few players that had either been gifted copies, won them in contests or were famous enough online to warrant it. I’m honestly not looking forward to playing another ranked matchup where almost half of the plays called are option plays.
On defense, you won’t find any radical changes, but you will see tweaks to mechanics that have already been in play. Ball-hawking has been turned down a bit since last year. However, you can still expect to throw a lot of interceptions to defensive backs who seem to be a bit out of place. Defensive players are aggressive out there, and for the most part seem willing to attempt to dive over players in order to get that interception, while receivers generally tend to be a bit more reserved when going for the big play. This may also be the result of the teams I was playing with, so I’d need more time to figure out if this was par for the course. That being said, after playing a few games with the Jags, I can promise you there’s no one there making Superman catches, on defender at least.
Connected Career mode has been improved again this year with the addition of Owner mode. While playing as an owner, you’ll still be in charge of your team’s roster, trades, scouting and progression; however, you’ll also be responsible for keeping fans happy. This means you’ll be tasked with balancing the prices of your merchandise, tickets and renovating your stadium. Your stadium is graded from 1 to 99, and depending on the level of disrepair you can either completely renovate or simply flee the city to start over in a new location with a new stadium. For the most part, it’s a nice little addition that doesn’t alter all that much. Personally, I’m having a blast going through and trying to make money off my new stars. Right now, it seems like tickets for the Mexico City Jaguars are the hottest item in the NFL.
Also new this year, players can change positions in the off-season, giving you a bit more control of how you want to set up your team. This is a great feature, but I don’t think it was implemented as well as it could be. For instance, I could take a certain over-rated third string QB for the Patriots and move him to HB or TE, but I can’t take Denard Robinson, arguably the most dangerous player in the game thanks to his skill set, and move him from HB to QB. That’s an issue that should have been addressed.
The overall interface has received a really nice layout, but it is a bit clunky. Switching screens takes a moment to load, and parts of it just feel… off. I’m ecstatic to see that I can take my custom playbooks into online games, but trying to build them is a lesson in patience as the game has to load for 10 seconds each time I open a new playbook to edit. I have a really hard time understanding how that can be so resource intensive, but I won’t pretend to be an expert there.
Visually, the game looks stunning. Bits of dirt and grass get kicked up on major plays, uniforms show subdued grass stains at the end of the game, and players look like legitimate players as opposed to cartoon caricatures. This shouldn’t surprise anyone since it’s been a trend almost every year, but it does still bare repeating. The crowd looks fantastic from a distance, but can still look like cardboard cutouts when you’re staring at them. Coaches look better this year, although some of them still seem a bit…off. This isn’t a major issue of course, but don’t expect to see an exact replication of Jim Harbaugh throwing a temper tantrum on the sideline.
The audio of the game is alright, but nothing to get excited about. The stadium tunes are still there, but they’re used as background noise as opposed to being the focal point. The commentary is fantastic for the first game or two, but after that it falls into the same hole commentary always seems to fall into: repetition. I appreciate that they can only fit so much dialogue into a game, and I love the fact that they mention a team’s previous game in a season mode (such as pointing out that I was dominant on third down conversions the week prior), but it does get old quickly. One thing in particular, I’m very curious why EA thought it was so important to remind me which receiver is in the slot position. It seems that every third play would be met with Jim Nantz telling me who had lined up in the slot.
I should also mention that Starting a game leads to a very visually impressive lead in cutscene, but for the most part, I’m simply trying to skip it in order to play the game. It’s worth watching once or twice, but after that I don’t think it’ll get much attention.
Lastly, this is a mild annoyance more than anything, but the line between realism and advertising has been crossed. While the skills trainer isn’t plastered with Nike logos, the very basic attributes for players have been. Awareness is now Snickers ® Awareness, Toughness, Stamina and Development are now Gatorade® Toughness, Gatorade® Stamina, and Gatorade® Development. I don’t mind seeing a Papa John’s logo on the score board occasionally, since that feels like something I’d see on Sunday, but this is blatantly a commercial in a product you paid for, and it’s hard not to feel that it’s a bit invasive.
All in all, Madden NFL 25 is easily a highpoint for the series, and is a fantastic swan song for this console generation. It could have been even better with some improved loading times and a few more mechanics either cleaned up or revamped, but there’s enough here to win over new fans and hold the hardcore fans hostage for another 100 hours easily. Now I just need to find a way to get the guys in RCC to trade me a completely different defense for my Jaguars, and I’ll be ready for another 500 hours on the gridiron.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game given to us for review purposes.