Madden NFL 25
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: 08/27/2013
Wow. Madden has been happening every year for twenty-five years. That’s incredible. No other series can claim that level of consistency. Best of all, there has been great demand for each new title, meaning that EA isn’t just trying to keep up appearances. Madden sells each and every year. This is in spite of the critics, myself included, who bash the series year after year for staying stagnant and refusing to change.
However, last year was different. Significant changes were made. The new physics system had noticeable effects on the field. Everything looked and felt more authentic, and the game played better as a result. The addition of experience in career mode was more than a minor change. It allowed players to target specific areas of weakness, and gave you the chance to build players/coaches to your liking, rather than waiting around for a stat update dictated by the game’s evaluation of your performance. There were hiccups, but the hope was that things would get even better in the next installment.
Well I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that some of my biggest gripes with ’13 have been addressed. The bad news is that many of them remain and are in fact exacerbated because they would be so damned easy to fix. Worst of all, this game feels like a simple update of ’13, which means EA Tiburon is celebrating the silver anniversary of one of gaming’s flagship enterprises by doing the very thing they’ve been criticized for in the past. So, it’s less of a celebration and more of regurgitation.
As always, there are plenty of modes to sink your teeth into. Career mode is back, and has seen some minor but important changes. My biggest problem with the mode last year was that experience came in trickles, and that you would have to spend weeks playing exceptionally to raise even one trait up a level. My QB started his career with a seventy-eight overall rating. I didn’t get him up to ninety until his eighth season. During that time, I won four Super Bowls, made the playoffs each year, took home a few MVP trophies, and smashed long held NFL records. By any standard, my QB should have had a near perfect record. It’s just that my mind blowing accomplishments didn’t translate to enough experience to really matter.
Things have changed this year. Experience now comes to you in floods. It’s a complete reversal. Instead of receiving negligible experience, I’m getting more than I know what to do with. My undrafted rookie running back came in with a seventy-six rating. By the end of the season, I had him up to a ninety-one. That’s higher than I got my QB in ’13 in nearly one-tenth of the time. That’s just nuts.
New this year is the ability to play as an owner. Just like with the players/coaches, you can choose existing owners, historic owners, or created owners. Owners play out like coaches, but with even more responsibilities. They set prices for concessions, answer media questions, and handle day to day operations of the stadium. Plus, they for some reason still run practices and pick plays on the field. There isn’t a lot of depth to this system, and Madden games from many years ago offered similar options. For example, you have the ability to relocate your team, but only if your stadium rating is low enough. Even then, you’re restricted as to what city you move to and what team names are available. I remember being able to pick any team I wanted and being able to relocate/rename them to my heart’s content. This is one of those problems of being a franchise that has lasted so long. They’ve tried pretty much everything before, and they won’t fool long time players by bringing back old mechanics under the guise of crafting something new. It’s especially bad when the older options offered more flexibility.
There’s yet more to talk about when dealing with career mode. You can now have one player, coach, or owner on each of the thirty-two teams. For example, I started a save file where I was both the new owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a rookie wide receiver for the Patriots. I had to switch back and forth between the two every week to keep things in order, though I did have the option to put players on auto-pilot. It’s a nifty system that allows a heck of a lot more effort to go into a single season. There are a couple of setbacks though. You can’t play as multiple characters on the same team. So you can’t have the ability to run the team as a coach and then only play as your created linebacker on the field. Secondly, if two of your characters should face each other in a game, you’re going to have to choose one to play as. I learned that early on as the Pats and Bucs faced each other in the second game of the pre-season. If I wanted to play as my rookie, it meant attempting to beat my owner’s team. Sadly, the game doesn’t warn you when something like this comes up. You’ll play as whichever character you currently have selected, so you have to keep a sharp eye out.
Also, I noticed a strange occurrence where my player rating dropped without warning on my save with multiple characters. That WR I mentioned was at seventy-six and third string when I left him. I switched over to my owner, played a game, advanced the week, and then went back to find my WR had mysteriously dropped to a seventy-four rating and dropped a place in the depth chart. I have no idea what happened, and I’m kind of pissed about it. Not only did my rating drop, but the experience I had earned and spent seemed to have magically disappeared. If it happens again, I’m abandoning the save.
Madden Ultimate Team has arrived and has some new tweaks, just not where they were needed. Players now have “chemistry” ratings that show you what type of game plan they work best on. If you build up strong team chemistry, you’ll notice nice boosts on the field. This is nifty I suppose, but it does mean that you’ll have to choose between higher r and better players at times. They’ve also messed with the head to head mode, so now you’re in a “season”. Basically, you play ten games. If you reach a certain milestone, you’re in the playoffs. Then you play until you lose or win the “Super Bowl” for some major coin rewards. Don’t worry though. This isn’t a real league, so you’re not thrown in with specific players and you don’t have to wait for them to be on. I do kind of like this better, but it’s kind of disingenuous.
My biggest gripes with MUT remain unanswered however. The menu system is still a clunky mess. You can’t move a character from reserves to your collections, you can’t check to see if there’s an available collection for a character without scrolling through every collection listed, and you have to dump everything in your active zone to do anything of value with it. Also, they screwed with the best lineup feature so that now it pulls players from your reserves and dumps all players not set to the starting lineup to your reserves. This is stupid. There have been times when I had to dump a high ranked player to the reserves because he didn’t have many games left on his contract. I wanted to keep him in reserve until I could find a contract extension, that way I could pull him out if I needed a boost for a big game. With this update, I can’t do that because the game will automatically pull him into the main roster. This means if I want the best roster available with my active cards, I have to manually check each position. The whole mode is a monstrous time sink in the worst of ways. Too much time is spent dealing with poor menu design. Also, I’ve had the game freeze on multiple occasions as it attempts to connect with the MUT servers. It makes no sense why this mode is still online only at this point, even though there are a host of solo challenges. The good thing is that it’s easier now to get better players, which makes the whole experience at least a bit more palatable.
Beyond those main two modes, there’s still plenty to talk about. You can play quick matches, online matches, join communities, head to the practice field, participate in new tutorials that teach you advanced mechanics (which is really nice), and create custom playbooks/rosters, etc. You can also share your creations online or download others creations for use in single player modes. That’s spiffy.
All in all, there’s a lot do in Madden 25. A lot of tweaks have been made, though most of them are minor. The “big” additions just aren’t all they’re cracked up to be though, and many of biggest problems from last year still remain. I like that they added some depth to MUT, but what I really want is to be able to navigate the menus without spending an hour trying to figure out if there’s a collection available for a single player.
Visually, the game is a bust. It looks pretty much identical to last year’s title, and features all of the same problems. The crowd is a undetailed mob, faces don’t match players, and there are odd visual hiccups all over the place. I saw a coach’s hair warp through his hat. The good news is that the physics engine has been tweaked and there are a lot fewer clipping issues/phantom hits this time around. Still, it’s clear the visual presentation has been neglected this year as the development team prepares for the next generation.
You’ll want to turn the audio off quickly. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are just useless in the booth. The repetition is extremely frustrating. During one game, I had them explain seven or eight times that the players were wearing pink to show support for breast cancer awareness. While that’s an admirable feat guys, I got the picture the first time. They’re also flat out wrong at times. They’ve congratulated the defense on a nice stop after a scoring play and misidentified the position of the player who just made that big catch. When it’s not a black or white issue, they still love to give their opinion. Any time you have an extended drive, Simms has to talk about how much you’re tiring the defense. EVERY. DAMN. TIME. He’ll also complain about how a play only gained a few yards when you picked up a first down with a third and short run. Of course it only gained a few yards you twit. I thought getting the first down was more important than throwing a forty yard pass that would probably fall incomplete. Oh, and for crying out loud, there is nothing wrong with throwing a pass to receiver behind the first down line when all of the other receivers are covered. So shut the hell up.
There are in fact other aspects of the aural presentation, but they really don’t matter as long as you have the commentary. Tinny stadium music plays songs from no less than six years ago, most of it even longer than that. Apart from a very few elite players, the same grunts and voices are used universally. The crowds chant, cheer, and boo appropriately. It’s OK stuff, but no where near good enough to suffer through the repetitive nonsense the announcers spout off after each play.
On the field, the action has largely remained unchanged. If you’ve played Madden in the last few years, you know what to expect. The football simulation is pretty fun, even if it focuses a bit too heavily on offense and leave the defensive playing a step or two behind.
The big tweaks this year came to the ball carrier. In particular, you know have a modifier button that allows you to use different power jukes, spins, hurdles, etc. The modifier button allows you to use stronger variations that have a better chance of working, but slow you down the longer you use it. Runners also have a stamina meter that drains as they use the acceleration boosts, and they’ll get fatigued if they turn on the gas too much. Some moves can also be used in combination, allowing you to instantly go into a spin after a juke for example. This takes a lot of skill to pull off though, so don’t expect to be able to abuse it too much.
There’s also been a heavy focus on creating more realistic option plays in the game. Option plays are where the QB has to decide whether to keep the ball or hand it to a running back. The key here is to read defender’s actions and act accordingly. The game labels the defenders that matter, so all you have to do is figure out which of your options is best. There’s a handy tutorial to get you used to the idea, and I actually found just practicing this play to be quite fun.
For the silver anniversary, you’d expect that the devs would do something spiffy to celebrate. Sadly, they did not. The only thing that acknowledges the remarkable achievement is a series of screens from past games. Each screen comes with a caption about what made that entry unique. For games that made significant changes, this is nice. However, when the only thing they can boast about for ’12 is that it had custom run outs for the teams, that shows you why so many critics bash the series. Really though, they should have done something special.
Overall, the game offers solid football action and a ton of modes to play around with. It’s still a great value any way you slice it, and is guaranteed to have strong support in the months to come. If you’ve already spent serious time with last year’s entry, you may want to pass this one up though. While there have been some positive tweaks, it’s largely the same. If you missed ’13 and it’s awesome new physics engine/experience system, this game should be something you pick up without hesitation. It’s so much more satisfying to build a player up how you want rather than relying on the computer to do it for you.
Oh, and there’s no online pass for this game. Rejoice!
Short Attention Span Summary
Last year’s entry did a lot to change the way you play Madden, and this year’s entry simply tried to tweak that formula. The result is that Madden NFL 25 is a better game than ’13, but only by a small margin. It doesn’t do much to entice long time players to pick it up. However, if you missed last year’s entry, this is probably the best football game to ever hit the market. I really hope that the next generation fixes some of the long standing issues with the series, but for now I’ll happily play this game until the current season closes out.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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