It wasn't until the release of the PS2 and Madden NFL 2001 that the Madden NFL series became synonymous with console launches. Likewise, the launch of the Xbox 360 and Madden NFL 06 brought about such a level of detail and improved AI that it made a strong case for football fans to get the next console as soon as possible. With both the PS4 and Xbox One, football fans look to Madden NFL 25 to give them a compelling reason to switch. Couple that with the fact that this title celebrates the 25th anniversary of the franchise, and there's even more pressure on it to deliver.
If you got a chance to play Madden NFL 25 on the current generation of consoles, you might be taken aback since the only thing that's changed is the appearance of the EA Sports Ignite engine logo and the menu color from white to black. The opening montage of old Madden logos and the menu layout remain the same. While this may seem like a bad sign, at least the menus are much more responsive and support Kinect voice commands. Load screens also rotate with more frequency despite the seemingly low number of load screens available.
For those who are either installing from a disc for the first time or downloading the game from the Xbox Live marketplace, the game allows you to play it at around the 19% mark. You'll only get to play a Super Bowl rematch between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, but the whole game should be completely playable once that match concludes.
After everything has loaded, players can see that every mode from the current generation has made it into the next-generation version intact. The Skill Trainer mode allows you to learn familiar and new moves while Practice allows you to play in freeform mode without much incentive or penalty. The GMC Never Say Never moments are great, as they allow you to replicate some memorable moments and stories from last year as well as new ones that are developing on a weekly basis to help keep the game fresh. Play Now tries to do the same but only highlights a few games for the week as opposed to the whole schedule. If you're a Jaguars fan, your game may only be highlighted if your team is playing someone big. When you consider that other sports games are posting and playing live scheduled games, this omission makes the game feel like it's behind the curve. As for online play, the performance is better than it was before, but expect to see a few hitches now and again.
The two new modes for the year are rather big. Madden Ultimate Team is the same as before, where you create a team based on trading cards and go head-to-head against other players using the stats and roster. Though the mode is very heavy on microtransactions for these virtual cards to do battle online, the Skill Training modes are designed to give you powerful cards as long as you keep scoring gold medals. Offline single-player challenges help beef up your team without facing off against others. Finally, the mode now employs a chemistry mechanic where your team gets extra performance boosts in a specific area. You'll have a better chance of winning if your team is mostly comprised of players who specialize in better defense or long passes. For Xbox One owners, the game also uses the new Challenge-style, time-limited achievements. They don't give out any gamerscore, but you'll get some of the higher-ranking cards, so it'll be easier to build a stronger team.
Connected Franchise is the other big mode, and though it sounds new, it's the combination of coach, franchise and owner modes. The goals remain the same as previous iterations. As a player, your goal is to make it from high school to the NFL, where you become a superstar in your position and make it from the bench to the starting lineup and — hopefully — the hall of fame. Coaches get to concentrate on playmaking and manipulating the roster with the goal of picking up a few Super Bowl rings along the way. As the owner, your goal is to become the most respected and profitable football team in the league. Winning games and making important acquisitions and trades helps greatly as well as managing your team finances via city relocation and merchandise pricing. Aside from being able to take any of the franchise categories on- or offline, you can now use existing players, owners and coaches for the mode, though you lose some flexibility since their choices are more restricted.
A feature-complete game is welcome simply because it is so rarely done in a sports launch title. However, the drawback to having such a feature-complete game is that some of the flaws are present on the new version as well. The lack of any historical reverence to the previous Madden games is probably the biggest omission, since there was some speculation that this would really celebrate the history of the franchise. With nothing but the loading screens taking care of that so poorly, this feels like a big missed opportunity and makes you wonder if anyone thought about celebrating the legacy of EA's biggest franchise, beyond replacing the number 14 with 25.
From a gameplay perspective, this year's big improvements come from the modifiers and the tweaked Infinity Engine. The speed modifier is back for those who are accustomed to using a turbo button. The big addition is in the form of a general modifier, which emphasizes some of the moves you perform. Spins are wider and harder to hit, stiff arms have a better chance of holding defenders at bay, and hurdling over opponents is more effective. Defense also benefits from the modifier, but it is clear that this is better experienced in offense rather than defense. The Infinity Engine has received an upgrade, and that means less awkward hits and instances where players trip over one another. It's still beneficial, as tackles aren't always instant and runners can try to fight for those extra yards as they stumble from a grazed hit or trip over fallen defenders. Momentum is also taken into account, so quick cuts won't occur if you're running full tilt in one direction and need to move in a different one.
The next-gen iterations seem to have a few more tweaks over the current-generation versions. The running game seems improved, so run plays are more successful than before. Defense is smarter now, so they are aware of your tendencies and react accordingly if their defense rating is good enough. Kinect functionality adds the ability to use voice, and it's useful on the field when you're trying to call an audible or timeout. Smartglass functionality also makes an appearance, as you can use it to see your play history, call plays and see the tendencies of your opponent throughout the game. You can even use it to call up recommended plays from players in the same situation, making it a next-gen feature that really stands out.
There's still some room for improvement as far as gameplay is concerned, though. Some players tend to collide with you during plays, something you rarely see during real games. Also, any interruption to the Smartglass app, whether it's a full switch to another app or pulling up your notification bar, causes the app to go out of sync with the game, making it almost useless unless you reboot the app or restart the game.
The graphics is one area where there should be a substantial difference between the console generations. Instead, what we get are a few incremental improvements with some regression thrown in for good measure. The big improvement is the crowd, who are fully polygonal now and roughly a shade below the quality seen in the active player models. They react accordingly, so sideline chain holders move out of the way when a player comes barreling toward them, and the crowd gets hyped up more when the home team is winning or makes a great play. There is still some cloning going on, which is to be expected, but some of the clones are next to each other or aren't very far apart. Seeing them with the same animations at the same time shows that there's still some work that needs to be done on that front.
Elsewhere, players and coaches still vary in quality between instantly recognizable and barely good enough. Guys like Ben Roethlisberger don't look good while Robert Griffin III looks pretty spot-on. The details are missing, though. Jerseys can get dirtied up, but the helmets are shiny no matter what happens. No one in the game has a tattoo. When known guys like Colin Kaepernick have clean arms in close-ups, it detracts from the game's authenticity. Then there are bugs that have never been seen in the series before, like texture pop. Watch a cut scene of a player without a helmet, and he may suddenly have helmet shine. Eyeblack that isn't there suddenly pops up.
The stadiums have positives and negatives. The grass is rendered better, with players actually sinking into it instead of floating on top of it. Turf gets kicked up on rough cuts, and there's depression in the snow after many players trample on it. Rain, however, looks very last-gen, and the effect of droplets on the camera lens is ruined when the camera switch occurs and the same raindrops are still in the same position. For some reason, the net used to catch the football during kicks through the goalpost is stiff, and no movement is seen when a ball collides with it.
The sound is the one area that's gotten some improvement, and it's much more noticeable than the graphics. That improvement is attributed to the crowd, who gets loud when the home team is doing well and boos loudly or goes silent when the home team is doing poorly. The reactions feel more organic, and hearing them respond to classic stadium songs reinforces that feeling.
The rest of the game is the same as the current-generation version in the audio department. The commentary from Phil Simms and Jim Nantz has a few missed calls where the wrong player name is called out, but it's mostly spot-on with some fun player anecdotes. About the only thing that falters is the referee calls over the stadium, as they often don't sync up with the lips and are of a much lower volume than the rest of the audio, so they getting drowned out with every call.
Madden NFL 25 is still a good football game. All of the modes from the Xbox 360/PS3 release are still here, the gameplay is practically the same, and there are a few improvements in some areas. However, those improvements are negated by a few new issues, and what you have is a game that doesn't have enough to convince many to move on to the next console generation just yet. If you're an early adopter of the new consoles, you'll be fine with this version. Otherwise, waiting for next year's iteration is a good idea.
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