This marks the 25th entry in the long-running NFL franchise. There have been competitors like GameDay, 2K and others promptly squashed by exclusivity agreements, there have been innovations in terms of gameplay and presentation and there have been several Madden curses come to fruition over the years. It's a long, illustrious career that rivals that of the most legendary NFL Hall of Fame athletes. If Madden NFL 25 were a football star, this would be akin to a season immediately after winning the Superbowl and then proceeding to barely scrape by with a positive record and missing the playoffs - far from bad, but still not really great.
Madden NFL 13 was a great game that truly changed the series for the better with the Infinity engine. It combined animations with physics in a way that accurately recreated the way players move on the field; I was captivated. Running backs squeezed through the offensive line with realistic bumps and stumbles, receivers caught the ball with extended arms and reacted realistically to impacts from DBs and more importantly, it felt like players actually had weight and momentum on the field. All of this is back this year, and in most cases improved, but there are few new things worth mentioning.
Instead of trying to top last year's game in terms of innovation, EA has instead decided to return to the tested formula of slowly adding back features that probably should have been there to begin with and calling them "improvements". For example, offline franchise mode can finally be played with multiple players on the same screen - think of it like couch coop, but on a franchise level. This has been in several previous Madden games, but was oddly missing from last year's title. Furthermore, we can take control of the owner for a team again - something I remember doing several years ago.
With that being said, I'd be a liar if I told you I didn't enjoy these "new features" enough to let it slide. The owner mode is better than ever with the same XP system from Player and Coach mode applied, but with a focus on building and sustaining revenue for your organization. One of the best actual additions is the ability to relocate your team, complete with context-specific references via the game's built in news and/or Twitter feeds.
Another new additions this year is the revamped tutorial system. While they aren't quite as impressive as the tron-like hologram skill tutorials from Madden 09, it is actually much more informative and useful. With the new tutorials, come new moves for specific situations. By augmenting your juke, spin, hurdle or what have you with the L2 button, you can perform a more drastic version of the move. When using the more skilled running backs like Adrian Peterson, after getting used to the mechanic, I actually felt like I was replicating the small details of what make him who he is on the field on Sundays.
This attention to the running game really makes it even more fun to control the halfback, but it also makes the continued failures of EA's run-blocking schemes all the more obvious. Furthermore, defensively the game seems unbalanced, as DBs seem slow to react to several pass patterns, specifically the most basic streak route. Part of this issue could be due to the revamped touch-passing, allowing for more definition and control behind throws. In the end though, it's frustrating that each year it feels like a new issue arises among the thirty others they neglected to fix.
The last major addition this year comes in the form of option plays. They've existed before, but now they truly feel like fully integrated and realized choices for a playcaller. There are various layers to option plays, as players can even go as deep as the triple option. Essentially, it gives you more freedom and choice as the ball is snapped. If you see the end breaking towards the running back, you know to tuck it and run. Alternatively, if you see them making a dash for the quarterback, pitch out to your halfback and take off around the edge. Mobile quarterbacks benefit most from this addition, truly making speedy QBs like Vick even more dangerous in the hands of the right player.
Online is virtually identical to last year with Madden Ultimate Team (a combination of fantasy team play and a trading card game), normal online matches, online connected careers and more. The asymmetrical multiplayer involved with a coach controlled by a gamer vs. a single player controlled by a gamer extends to Madden 25 in an even more streamlined fashion. Leveling up seems to be improved as well, with more choices and options for progressing your character.
One of my least favorite parts of every Madden still exists - the lack of variety in commentating. Note - the quality of the commentating is great and right on par with last year, if not, better, but there is just not enough to sustain even a single season of playing. It seems they recorded only just enough unique lines about each team to make it through a single game with those teams - everything else is either hyper-generic, not accurate or just plain wrong. No, Phil Simms, that was not a close game when I won by 30 points.
Ultimately, it's not a magnificent addition to the series that pushes forward the way we conceptualize football in video games, but it does a good enough job improving on last year's foundation to be worth a play for any football fan with a game console. I'll never understand the decision to forego a small logo that says "25th anniversary" in favor of literally titling the game "Madden 25" (what happens to the name in 2025???) but I can definitely enjoy the product inside the box, regardless of how they chose to name it. Celebrate the 25th entry in the long-running franchise with one of the most polished NFL games ever released.
Madden NFL 25 releases for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on August 27th globally. Next-generation versions of the game with a brand new game engine will release for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at each respective console's launch; this review is based solely on the current-generation version of the game.
This review is based on a physical review retail copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Electronic Arts.