Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
There’s a deceptive way, I think, that sports games are made, particularly Madden. From year to year a title of the franchise is updated, marketed, and released. And with each turning edition, we the fans, buy, rent, and trade our way to a copy, but why?
Since Madden’s creation, EA Sports’ aim has been to make as authentic a video game representation of real-life football as possible; of course, modeling it after the NFL. After every Madden release date, after every would-be critic gets a hand on the newest product, the floodgates are opened. Opinions upon opinions begin to bombard the gaming world. Making fans turn to media outlets to voice their likes and concerns. Outlets extend to forum threads entitled “I hate you, you stupid game why even try”, YouTube videos of some kid’s “magic” trick play, and all the other relevant and not so relevant rants on the subject.
So when does EA hear these thoughts and whose feelings are more important? Because every year, some will absolutely love the year’s installment and many others will downright want to never buy a copy again. This is where the deception comes in. Truly there must be an ultimate copy that has everythinganyone has ever asked Madden to do. But the trick is to put half the features you want in one year's installment, then half of the other features you want in next year's, and bounce back and forth. It’s to keep fans satisfied just enough to want to see what happens the next year.
This brings us to a feature that was lacking from Madden 13 and has been one of my personal favorites: skills trainer. This is a feature that was bound for a return, especially with the many player movement options, newly implemented. In skills trainer you will learn and practice defensive/offensive audibles, different types of passes, and the techniques of the new precision modifier.
Before, ball-carrying moves included spin, dive, hurdle, stiff arm, truck, left/right juke, and back step. That's eight moves, but with the new modifier, you are now allowed over 30: stop-and-goes, jab steps, back juke spin, and so on. By simply holding or pressing L2/left trigger along with function buttons, your player can adjust to the situation and apply a more effective move. Players with a 90+ rating in a certain skill category will dish out a more devastating version of that move, such as Marshawn Lynch’s ridiculous ability to throw defenders to the ground with his impactful stiff arm.
But talk is cheap; it’s all about how well that dictates on the field. Back for another year, Infinity Engine 2 looks to pick up where it left off with solid mechanics and player physics. An upgrade to the engine is the Force Impact system which is catered to make each collision as authentic as possible. A bigger, heavier linebacker such as Patrick Willis should be able to crush a smaller running back like Reggie Bush with ease. Watching two opposing linemen is like witnessing two gorillas go at it in the trenches.
Little added trinkets of detail to physics also include teammate avoidance, stumble recovery, and better defensive recovery. Guys can readjust to bad angles of attack without missing a step, which is one of many other important cleanups of frustrating interactions.
Once you have learned all of these new nifty moves, you can play through all of the available game modes more confidently. This is where Madden becomes that same game you’ve played year after year. All of your basics have returned: online head to head, team play, “never say never moments” (Madden Moments), communities, and ultimate team. Ultimate team doesn’t seem to have changed much except for the addition of “chemistry." The better you build a team with chemistry, the faster the rewards. It’s about putting the right players together; so if you want a ground and pound type of running game, combining Frank Gore with a strong line and blocking tight-ends such as Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker will prove beneficial.
There is one game mode I haven’t mentioned, which is Connected Franchise. It's the same as Connected Careers but with a different name: start a career as a player, coach, or owner and attempt to become the very best. Tweaks such as faster XP and skill progression have been added for your upgrading pleasure. This is probably the best experience you’ll get if you want to see inside the world of pro football. For player careers, you are able to choose between creating your own character, selecting from current players, or retired hall-of-famers such as Barry Sanders and Jerry Rice. The same actually goes for coaches and owners too. Pick Bill Walsh and capture those four Super Bowls with the 49ers or pick a different team and create a different history.
Being that this is the 25th edition of Madden, hence the name, I was expecting a little more. Nothing here screams anniversary. We've had a quarter-century of developing, changing, adding, and subtracting, and for this year’s installment, we virtually get the same game. When I think anniversary, reliving or reiteration comes to mind. Maybe incorporating elements from past Madden games would help, like bringing back the old skills games or having the option to change the announce team. How great would it be to have John Madden and Al Michaels in the commentary booth again?
There have been plenty of improvements to the way players interact, though; most notably, the blocking schemes and run game. Offensive linemen have become much smarter. Many times in the past, the ball would be hiked and almost immediately some defensive end would blow through a missed assignment and obliterate the QB. Sure, a would-be blitzer can still get into the backfield but with the updated pre-snap linemen reads, fewer of these misread mistakes will happen. The protection will immediately identify who are the biggest threats and make sure they are accounted for. Once the ball is hiked, further adjustments can and will be made in the case of ensuring the quarterback’s or ball carrier’s safety out of the backfield. This makes in-game play crisp and more realistic. Before, most things just felt like luck and less skill was involved.
Unfortunately, there still are hiccups to animations. Though many of the bugs from last year have been terminated, a few pesky glitches remain, the worst being players on the field completely disappearing. On offensive, normally a few O-line guys and the quarterback disappear, but on defense, I’ve seen up to seven guys do the vanishing act. Sure, it may be fun if you were experimenting with some invisible cheat, but when playing against your roommate, down 21-24 in the fourth quarter, it’s an awful glitch to happen when you're trying to make a comeback. But it's still early, and the full release isn’t for another few days. EA is already engaged in the task of fixing the problems in a Day 1 patch. Hopefully, everything will be smooth come launch time.
When that launch comes, people will sure enough want to be the best or will want to know who’s doing what. With the rise of NFL interest, Madden is doing its part in giving quick access to such information. The ability to upload and download community shared files creates a wave of connection. Just broke Flipper Anderson’s record for receiving yards in a game? Share your highlights and maybe have one of the most downloaded files. Another community-based feature includes the ever-so growing popularity of the fantasy football section. Sign in with your username and password from NFL.com and check the latest updates of how your team and league is doing.
The sights and sounds are a couple of the biggest attractions of Madden. From year to year, these are staples that continue to help bring the atmosphere of gridiron action right to your own living room. Textures are layered almost to perfection; each playing surface is beautifully remodeled. You can even see each blades of grass when at stadiums such as Candle Stick Park, which sports natural turf. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz make the commentator team once again, but this time around, they bring along Danielle Bellini as their sideline reporter. These little bits of detail, add to the making of a well-balanced game.
Overall, Madden NFL 25 is solid, a football title that can and will be enjoyed. The progression from year to year is small, but how we look back in five years is what makes the difference. In all honesty, it’s tough to say which Madden is the best, for a lot of them look and feel the same with minor tweaks. But with that said, it’s an addicting game to play, especially when constantly challenged by buddies and self-appointed Madden kings. All the best fun is yet to come, once week one of the NFL season kicks off.
Review based on PS3 version. Also available on Xbox 360. Will be released for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Madden NFL 25
Precision modifier creates more moves
...should be fixed by launch
Accessibility to everything football
Return of skills trainer
...no other new game modes
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