Quick Take: Madden's 25th anniversary doesn't bring about silver worthy upgrades.
Football season is here again, and with it comes another installment of EA Sports wildly popular Madden NFL football series. This year represents the 25th anniversary of the game, which began in 1988 and went annual in 1990.
After last year’s triumph, or which I called the “best Madden I’ve ever played,” I was excited to see what Tiburon Studios had in store for the franchise’s big Two-Five. Sadly, the answer is not much.
Madden NFL 25, simply stated, is a roster update and a spit polish on an already incredible game. The Infinity Engine has been tweaked for more varied player animations, but the physics-heavy crunching is still there and is still awe-inspiring. There is also a new emphasis on the run game, as evidenced by Barry Sanders, arguably one of the greatest, if not THE greatest running back in league history gracing the cover. (Adrian Peterson will be on the cover of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions coming in November).
Running backs can now hit holes harder and faster with “Run Free,” based on precision footfall control where the player actually has control of the runner’s plant foot. This sounds incredibly cool, but the feature is so minute that you don’t even actually ever know you are using it, and only after watching replays do you see that you had this type of control.
Also, running backs are little overpowered in Madden NFL 25. On offense, it’s great when I have Redskins RB Alfred Morris running for over 300 yards a game, but on defense, it sucks when nobody RBs like Mikel Leshoure match me yard for yard. And I pride myself on my shut down defense. There were games last season where I gave up less than 10 yards rushing for a game. A GAME!?!
Madden NFL 25 still looks incredibly gorgeous, save for the spotty frame rate and game stutters during pre-play selection. It gets frustrating when you’re trying to call an audible before the play clock expires and the game won’t bring up the audible screen because of a glitch. And this is not an isolated event. This happens every game. Also, you can’t skip certain animations and replays, due to the game loading I assume, which makes most games run longer than they should. I don’t need to watch a 20-second scene of a ref spotting the ball on a 4th and close play.
Also, the Infinity 2 Engine does an incredible job with the physics of football, but a terrible job with the physics of lighting. Coaches that wear hats or visors have their eyes fully illuminated, while the bill of the hat or visor gives shade across the nose or mouth area. And the player shadows don’t make a lick of sense while on the field. They look grainy and they bounce, and it’s very distracting. I barely noticed the wonky lighting in Madden 13, but it’s very apparent here.
When the ball is finally snapped, things go smooth for the most part, though I have seen instances where defensive backs have blinked in and out of existence during a pass play, and trailing linebackers completely disappear while chasing a running back. This shouldn’t happen for a major studio release, especially one that so closely resembles the previous year’s effort.
Gameplay aside, the Madden series is always measured in its presentation and in M25, the presentation is nearly identical to last year. Commentator Jim Nantz even says the exact same things he said last year during pregame and player intros. Robert Griffin III was the offensive Rookie of the Year, but Nantz still talks about his college career at Baylor. Not one word is said about RGIII’s breakout year. Phil Sims’ commentary is slighter fresher, as he will add little points referencing the 2012 NFL season, but his color is not enough to offset the feeling of deja vu in the booth. It makes me wonder if Nantz even bothered to record new lines for certain teams. Sure, if a new hot player or coach was added like Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, there’s new stuff, but on teams where little to no changes were made, it all feels too familiar.
And while we’re talking about commentary, I find it a little insulting that I pay full price for a game, which is literally a roster update and a feature polish, and then I get Papa Johns, Verizon, and GMC advertisements shoved in my face in the commentary and game presentations. This is a video game. There is no need for a commercial break, so to fake one for the sole purpose of talking about Verizon Wireless sponsoring the “break” is ridiculous.
The one bright spot in the whole package is the addition of owner mode added to Connected Franchise (renamed this year from Connected Careers) mode. Now you can start a career as a player, a coach, or an owner, and build a Hall of Fame career, and a championship dynasty. Connected Franchises is also available online and up to 32 players can participate in a CF. However, you still can’t create a player and a coach in the same CF. It’s one or the other. Madden NFL 25 also brings back Game face, which allows you to map your face into the game for your created player or coach. It still kicks ass to see me–ME!–burning Dallas’s secondary.
As for Owner mode, games can be simmed, so the owner has to worry about the business of NFL football, up to and including signing players and coaches, setting concession prices and even relocating the team if the current city refuses that new stadium. The Redskins will draw big crowds in Mexico City or Toronto. It adds a new level of play to a game that is so similar to last year’s title in every other way.
Other features return, such as the fun Madden Ultimate Team, where players build teams from packs of cards and then challenge others online or compete in game specific challenges to unlock more packs for more and better players. The highlight of this year’s MUT is the addition of chemistry. Now your players will perform better if you take team chemistry into consideration. Stacking your team with players in the “Deep Passing” chemistry camp means that your success in a long passing game is all but ensured. It’s a new shine on an old feature, but it makes teams building much more interesting.
Great Moments (Sponsored by GMC, in case the game forgets to tell you that over and over and over) allows you to replay some of the greatest moments of the 2012 season, and presumably, like last year, replay each week’s greatest game moments this season after they happen.
There is also a link to NFL.com’s fantasy football game, allowing you to manage your fantasy team straight from your copy of Madden NFL 25.
Even with the incredibly fun and intuitive Owner Mode in Connected Franchise, Madden NFL 25 is too similar to last year’s game. The game-wide overhaul that Tiburon Studios made on Madden NFL 13 should have been held back for the 25th anniversary, and why it wasn’t is a mystery.
I’m not saying that M25 is a bad game. It has issues in balancing and frame rates, as discussed, but overall it’s still a fine football simulation. But I played this game last season. A lot. For me, there isn’t enough new here to keep my interest, and I see myself playing Owner Mode for a few decades in game time, maybe a month in real time, but that’s it. Again, that’s $60 bucks to play one mode that I believe is also available as a standalone iOS app that I could play on my phone for $.99. You got me this year, EA Sports. It won’t happen again.
Note: The score below is based on the 8.7 I gave the game last year, points deducted for unoriginality and the issues explained in the review.
Madden NFL 25 was reviewed on PlayStation 3 and is also available for Xbox 360. Both versions were released on August 27, 2013. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions are coming on November 15 and November 22, respectively.