Madden NFL 25
September 26, 2013, Author: Phil Ubee
America. The good old U S of A. Land of the free and home of the brave, where everything is blown up beyond all proportion and failure to exaggerate is an understatement. Where your car has a ‘hood’ and a ‘trunk’ whilst you wear your ‘pants’ on top of your shorts,; and where football is a game played with an egg-shaped ball, primarily in the hand; and the winners of a thirty-two team, entirely domestic competition are crowned World Champions.
American football, as we know it, continues to grow its worldwide fanbase and it is perhaps a testament to this often overlooked appeal that this year sees the Silver Anniversary of a much-loved gaming franchise now known as Madden NFL. To commemorate, EA Sports have taken the unprecedented step of dropping the year from its latest version, instead opting for celebratory 25. So does this herald a bigger leap under the ‘hood’? Read on to find out.
Big shot rookie
Madden 25 gives players arguably the most in-depth & complete Career mode in the franchise’s history with the return of Owner mode joining recent regular options of Player and Coach for the Connected Franchise. This year also adds the option to allow a full thirty-two player connected franchise offline, and an upgraded website to allow players to manage areas like player development, trading and contract negotiation in your lunch break.
The Owner mode opens up a wealth of new options to Madden, from setting the price of your concessions and merchandise to ticket pricing and ultimately stadium management, which in some cases will allow you to relocate. It’s a very welcome addition in my opinion that brings increased depth to a game mode that was already up there as the best in sports games history.
Madden 25 also brings some advancements to the much-loved Ultimate Team. Taking a lead from the other big EA Sports title, FIFA, we now have a Seasons mode that sees your team go through an eight-game regular season in a push for the playoffs and onwards to the Superbowl. This can be played both offline against the CPU or online. The trading area has been tweaked and the challenges are certainly better than previous efforts, with timed challenges also offering you additional player cards for success.
For me, though, the most important new addition to the game modes is the skills trainer. Here you face challenges in running, passing, defense and play calling, and for someone that struggled immensely last year, especially with the passing game, it has been a godsend. The skills trainer has a secondary plus point too, as when you achieve a gold standard in any of the disciplines you receive a card for your Ultimate Team.
Out on the gridiron it has to be said there isn’t a huge amount of change from what we’ve seen before. That’s not to say it’s exactly the same as Madden 13, though; just the changes are subtle ones. Pre-snap menus for example have a different look and offer a few more options in terms of audibles. There are also a few subtle alterations to the button presses needed to make changes, which is a total pain in the ass for anyone who’s spent the last god knows how many years getting comfortable with this.
This isn’t the only change that appears to be a change for change’s sake either. The other big cause of frustration for me has been the subtle change in how the game reacts to a change of possession. Where we have had twenty-four years of an immediate camera flip we now have a second or two delay, apparently designed to stop players running the wrong way when they win the ball. The problem is a large percentage of people playing Madden 25 have been playing for a number of years and I for one am running the wrong way after I win the ball much more often now than in any previous version.
The actual game mechanics have also had only a subtle change to last year. Primarily this comes with the Precision modifier which allows the player to perform a more exaggerated skill move than the standard button press. For example, where you have previously been able to perform a stiff arm, spin, jump and juke move with the face buttons and right stick holding the precision modifier button, LT while performing these adds an extra degree. This manifests with a stronger stiff arm, a bigger jump or a more exaggerated side step and when timed correctly can give you as the ball carrier a great big hole to run into where previously you were heading into a bit of a cul-de-sac.
Blocking has also had a bit of an upgrade, so the guys on the line seem to be better at creating a running lane, but also wide receivers and the special teams seem to do a better job of making space for the guy with the ball. It has to be said that the development team have possibly tweaked this a little too far in favour of the offensive team, so where last year you might have averaged a fifteen yard return and a two or three yard run, you’ll now likely double that without too much effort this year.
On the other side of the ball that tweak is in how a player pursues the ball carrier and the weapon that is the hit stick. Pursuit angles are said to be better with a single button press making your defense take the best angle to reach the ball carrier in the quickest possible time. I have found this can actually be a hindrance, as if you are running in a certain direction manually and then press one of the buttons to engage the pursuit option, the defender doesn’t always make his change of direction in the quickest or most direct style.
Hit stick tackling can also be hit and miss (no pun intended), as with good timing you increase the likelihood of causing a fumble but by setting up this hit you leave yourself remarkably open to one of the new precision modified offensive moves. Again it all adds up to give the feeling that offense is very much king.
While these small changes in the large part are welcome and add to the game, simple issues that plagued last year’s game have returned such as the wind indicator pointing the wrong way and the play clock not running off as it is meant to during an online Franchise Mode game. There has been nothing particular major and certainly nothing that has damaged my experience of the game, but it is incredibly frustrating to see the same glitches at launch that we had twelve months ago, which that were patched during the life of Madden 13.
To follow a theme, the visual upgrades are also incredibly subtle this year. Players do seem to move a little better than in previous versions and the visuals are a little sharper, but you’ll not see too much here. The impact engine has also been tweaked and personally I have found that this again brings a slight improvement overall, but you do still get the odd rather freakish moment when a player appears to fold in two the wrong way or gravity gets forgotten in a comical Saints Row ‘Insurance Fraud’ kind of way.
The game menus have also been tweaked, particularly in the Connected Franchise and Ultimate Team modes, and while more intuitive overall it takes a little getting used to. The Franchise mode menus in particular have a much better feel in my opinion, and items are better grouped and just all round clearer. I have found that there is often a bit of a delay in trying to move through the various menus, but maybe this is me trying to be a bit quick rather than any kind of glitch or fault.
Play-by-play commentary comes from the familiar pair of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms and in all honesty there is even less of a change here than any other area of the game. While it does generally follow the action on the field, the general chatter between the two can literally border on the ridiculous at times. Comedy gold such as “Hey, the offensive linemen are the biggest guys on the field; they’re bigger than everybody else, and that’s what makes them the biggest guys on the field”, and “If a quarterback throws the ball in the endzone and a receiver catches it, it’s a touchdown” are just the tip of the iceberg.
Pre-game, post-game and between plays you will be subject to a few well-scripted messages from the sponsors which actually adds to the authenticity, and those NFL Network style presentations are also well received. Another area where the current gen version perhaps fails to deliver on expectations, however, is in improvements to the stadium atmosphere. I am yet to experience the sort of volume or atmosphere from the spectators that I’d expect to see in a rival game in the NFL.
Without question, Madden is a game better played with others. While the offline challenge is a good one at times, the sport it imitates is one of strategy and the ability to out-wit your opponent is arguably as big a key to success as the quality of the individuals on the field. This is far better replicated when that opposition is also controlled by a living, breathing person who is looking to second-guess you as you do him.
Played locally you would be forgiven for thinking this chess-like strategy is affected by the display of three plays on screen, but Madden cleverly allows you to select a play and then skip through to other options so your opponent cannot be completely sure what you have chosen. Online this is not an issue and is where the majority of my time has been spent.
Head-to-head games are as simple as ever to find and connect to, be this in a regular head-to-head match or via the Ultimate Team mode and in the main they play out as smoothly as an offline game. I have had some matches where this is not always the case, though. In a game that relies on precision timing to make a pass, slip a tackle or kick a game-winning field goal, to have even the slightest amount of lag can literally be the difference between winning and losing, and it is thus incredibly frustrating when it happens. Fortunately this is the exception rather than the rule, but it does happen.
Overall, in my mind, there is no doubt this is the best, most complete version of Madden NFL we have seen this generation, arguably ever before. The game modes are bigger, better and more complete than ever and the visual tweaks, while subtle, make the players look even more realistic than in any previous version.
However, there are flaws. More frustrating is that a number of these flaws have carried over from last year’s game in the same way that the core gameplay remains the same in an established franchise. Perhaps EA Sports have dedicated a larger percentage of their development time to the next-generation version. Perhaps they just felt that the fanbase wouldn’t be as keen with a new console launch on the horizon to part with their hard-earned cash this year.
Whatever the excuse it smacks of laziness, and quite frankly that should not be overlooked or forgiven. For that reason, even the hardcore NFL fans amongst you should think carefully before buying this iteration.