Madden NFL 25 (for PlayStation 3) review

The venerable Madden monolith returns for a 25th season, and it's quite possibly the most realistic Madden to date and just as much fun as it was in 1988. Deep franchise and career modes and online gameplay options round out this excellent offering.
Photo of Madden NFL 25 (for PlayStation 3)

Madden NFL 25 breaks its numbering convention (this year should be Madden NFL 14) in order to embrace the franchise’s rich, twenty-five year history.  This is demonstrated by Barry Sanders gracing the cover of the PS3 and Xbox 360 version (Adrian Peterson is on the cover of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One) as well as the more than 50 legendary players and coaches who can be used in Connected Franchise mode.  The game, which is also available for Nintendo Wii and PlayStation Vita, includes legendary players and coaches such as the aforementioned Barry Sanders, Randall Cunningham, Mike Ditka, and even sentimental favorite William “Refrigerator” Perry.

In keeping with the “25″ theme, Madden NFL 25 brings the All-25 Team to the field.  This team roster, available from the Play Now menu, includes players and coaches who were the best at their position according to the player rankings created by the Madden NFL development team.  In essence, this is an entire team comprised of players with outlandishly high—dare I say broken?—rankings.  Remember how freakishly fast Deion Sanders was in Madden ’95 with a speed of 99 and acceleration of 99?  Or how about Marshall Faulk with an acceleration of 99 and an agility of 99 from Madden NFL 2003?  Now I really do feel nostalgic because I interviewed Marshall when he was the cover athlete and I definitely remember him complaining that EA had shorted him with a measly 93 speed rating.  The All-25 Team is the team to play when you need to be guaranteed a victory.

Incremental Improvements
Screens that display during load time prominently feature older versions of the game with a mention of how that game was different from predecessors.  This nostalgia may even evoke a tear from eye of a seasoned veteran such as myself who actually remembers playing each version as it came out.  These screenshots and captions echo a central theme of the franchise: combine a realistic football experience with steadily improving graphics and small incremental improvements in gameplay over last year.

And that’s exactly how it feels when you take the field in Madden 25. 

This is year two of award-winning Infinity Engine physics, and collisions are more realistic (which is good because they weren’t always so convincing looking to begin with). EA also cleaned up a lot (but not all) of the bugs that used to make players flop around on the ground or stumble over each other after plays end. 

The Running Game
Madden NFL 25′s ground game also leverages the Infinity Engine and the new Force Impact system to provide physics-driven truck moves, stiff-arms, and big hits for more realism.  Many times during my testing I was impressed by the visceral quality that a big hit had. I could almost feel the smackdowns.  New audio for physics collisions that scales based on the severity of the hit adds to this feeling.

The new Madden also includes an improved running game called “Run Free” that gives you a huge amount of control over the ball carrier with moves such as spin, juke, stiff-arm, dive, and hurdle.  A new mechanic is the stumble recovery, which provides a small window after the ball carrier has been hit and before he’s been brought down during which you can pull down on the right thumbstick and regain your balance to add a few yards or even escape completely.  Flick up on the right thumbstick and you’ll dive forward for extra yardage.  Truck and Truck Spins are powerful ball carrier moves, too.  Push the right thumbstick forward just  before the impact of a potential tackle and try to run through a defender.  Using the L2 button combines a “precision modifier” with each ball carrier move to give the player a little something special like a bigger juke or a fake out hop.

Madden NFL 25 continues with the choice of the conventional or gameflow-style play calling.  Conventional play calling is the 3-box play calling that we’ve grown comfortable with over the past 25 years.  Gameflow feeds you a few options in order to keep it simple and keep the game moving quickly.  I don’t care for gameflow very much because it merely tells you the name of the play and doesn’t display the play pattern, so if you haven’t memorized the play book you’re pretty much going to take the snap blind.  Conventional is more time consuming but has the advantage of showing the play diagrams so you’ll know exactly what you are calling.

This year’s game also includes two totally new playbooks: pistol and run and shoot.  Many of the 351 new plays are options.  This is the stuff that separates the pros from the scrubs, because these plays are complex, and it’s very hard to get the timing right.  A pistol offense is a combination of a shotgun and a single back formation where the quarterback lines up about 4 yards deep and in front of the running back.  From here you, as quarterback, can choose to run, pass, hand off, or pitch the ball to the running back.  Run and shoot uses one running back and two to four receivers that are sent in motion to create on the fly adjustments to the defense. 

The addition of these types of plays dramatically increases the realism of Madden’s playbook, but don’t expect to master any of this very quickly.  You will need to run skills drills in order to learn the timing required to read the defense and execute the option.  It is worth it, though, especially when playing against a human opponent who will probably have no idea what you’re doing until it’s too late.

Off Color Commentary
I have to admit that I may have had it with the commentary.  Year after year we’ve been subjected to repetitive and insipid statements that do nothing for the game except occupy time.  I can’t listen to Phil Simms say the word “hero” again, and I’m pretty fed up with commentary that doesn’t actually match what just happened on the field.  And how many times do I have to hear that on fourth down I should punt?  While it is true that the commentary during a real football game could be just as repetitive and insipid, this is one thing that has ruffled my feathers for the full 25 years of this franchise.  Also, how hard would it be to make the crowd look even slightly realistic?  With all the improvements to how players, coaches and announcers look I would think someone at EA should be able to make the crowd not look like a bunch of 2D cardboard cutouts.

Own, Manage, Yawn
Madden NFL 25 also continues to game off the field.  Playing the Owner mode within Connected Franchise allows you to take full control, and I mean full and insanely detailed control, over your own NFL team.  You’ll make all team related decisions from personnel to merchandizing, all with the lofty goal of pleasing the fans and maximizing revenue.  I was excited about the details involved in this mode because I really wanted to know what it was like to build and maintain a successful NFL franchise, but after an hour or two I became pretty bored by these very same details.

I hired coaches, scouted players, drafted players, negotiated contracts, set concession prices (damn right, in my stadium a hot dog costs $15), managed the media, managed financial forecasts, and redesigned team jerseys. I did like the way that as an owner I also had the privilege of controlling on-field action by selecting plays and running the offense and defense just like a coach.  Don’t worry, if business heads south so can you if you relocate your team to one of 17 available cities, such as beautiful Brooklyn or merry Mexico City. It didn’t take me long to lose interest in this level of non-game day detail, but, if that’s your thing, you can get it in spades in Madden NFL 25, and it’s well implemented.

Madden: MVP
Overall, Madden NFL 25 is a very good football game.  As the only NFL-licensed game on the market, it’s certainly not a stretch to call it the best NFL football game. Lack of competition aside, however, this year’s Madden features a dramatically improved running game, the addition of many legendary players and coaches, better graphics, and more realistic physics. Considering that it’s the only game in town, I was impressed at the amount of improvement packed into this year’s game. Madden NFL 25 is a good buy for both casual and hardcore football enthusiasts, and it’s a clear Editors’ Choice game.


Verdict
The venerable Madden monolith returns for a 25th season, and it's quite possibly the most realistic Madden to date and just as much fun as it was in 1988. Deep franchise and career modes and online gameplay options round out this excellent offering.
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