Madden NFL 25 comes at a crossroads for NFL video games; at the close of the last console generation, EA SPORTS and 2K Sports were locked in a bitter competition for the market share. Nearly 10 years later, Madden NFL is the lone game remaining and set for a dual release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as well as later this year on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. As the franchise celebrates 25 years of existence, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on what the game has achieved and what still needs to be done for the game to be as great as the league it represents.
As a single game trying to carry the history of 25 years, Madden NFL 25 is a difficult entry to assess. The revisions of the Infinity Engine from last year’s Madden NFL 13 result in a better overall gameplay experience, but the introduction of the “Precision Modifier” to the running game controls—part of the overall #RunFree marketing for the game—actually serves to needlessly complicate the experience of playing the game. For many, it may prove easier to use the left and right analog sticks for ballcarriers—just as in previous football games from EA SPORTS, like this year’s earlier NCAA Football 14 release—to achieve success moving the ball on offense.
Unfortunately, additions and improvements to offense in Madden NFL 25 have not truly been met with equal improvements to the defensive side of the ball, leaving gameplay unbalanced in favor of the offense; a common complaint in football video games, for certain, but frustrating here nonetheless. Heat Seeker tackling and Ballhawk interception assists try to keep the defense on equal footing, but CPU quarterbacks can still too easily post completion percentages in the 70-80% range, making games a battle of attrition instead of the chess game that football should be.
The game continues to look great visually, but Presentation remains stale, particularly when compared to the statistical tracking and broadcast elements of NCAA Football 14. Commentary features some new lines from second-year duo Jim Nantz and Phil Simms—supplemented by new commentary from sideline reporter Danielle Bellini—but the overall presentation is still lacking in terms of being able to convey the gravity of important games over the course of the season in Connected Franchise Mode, save for the Super Bowl; even then, the presentation for the biggest game of them all will be all too familiar for anyone who has played Madden NFL in the past three or four years of release.
Speaking of Connected Franchise Mode, this year’s revision of the career mode—where gamers can assume the role of Players, Coaches, and Owners—helps to build a lot of goodwill with longtime fans of the franchise. The ability to control Owners and make decisions big and small for their team—ranging from which player’s jerseys are marketed, to the prices of concessions, to big decisions like relocating a franchise and choosing a new name, uniform set, and stadium—helps to provide plenty of off-field tasks for players to be engrossed in, especially with the ability to access all of these experiences in a full 32-user online league. While one would like to see a more persistently-updated XP notification system like what was present in NCAA Football 14’s Dynasty mode this year, the career offerings of the Madden NFL franchise continue to trend in a positive direction.
Fans of modes like Madden Ultimate Team will see some new additions to their favorite part of the game, including Chemistry and Head-to-Head Seasons which have been brought over from FIFA Ultimate Team. Not all modes have seen improvements like these; indeed, “GMC Never Say Never Moments” (rebranded from the previous mode title “Madden Moments Live”) and Online Team Play (a focal addition to Madden NFL 11, largely untouched since its debut) are tucked away from the main menu, not nearly as touted as the Play Now, CFM, and MUT experiences.
Madden NFL 25 on the current-generation of consoles—specifically the PS3, in this case—is by no means a bad game, or a game unworthy of being played by fans of video game football or the NFL. It is, however, caught in a difficult position; its launch coincides with the start of the NFL season—a key time for any fan of the league—but the game’s release on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 lies less than three months away. With good trade-in programs being announced for players wanting to upgrade their experience heading to next-gen, Madden NFL 25 on current consoles can certainly be a stopgap or holdover until the franchise debuts on a new console generation. However, the start of this new generation will hold high expectations for Madden NFL as a series, and results will need to exceed what was achieved in this year’s game in order for those expectations to be met.