Review: Madden NFL 25 (Microsoft Xbox One)

Madden NFL 25
Genre: Sports
Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 11/22/13

Generally speaking, when a publisher provides us with multiple review copies of the same game, we like to spread them out amongst the staff. While some sites like to let one reviewer handle both games (since that allows for an easier comparison between the two), we like to get multiple opinions on the game from different staff members so as to give everyone a wide range of opinions to experience. This isn’t specifically a better or worse way of doing things, but some people prefer it, and we like to get a broad range of opinions. In the case of Madden NFL 25, however, with the limited availability of the Xbox One and Playstation 4, I was drafted to review both games (like a starting quarterback but less athletic) since it was a given that I’d be able to do so. While that means there won’t be much variance to the observations made here versus those made in the Playstation 4 review, it also means we can look at what the Xbox One version of the game does differently, as there are a few extra features here that aren’t in the Playstation 4 release. While that may not impact your purchasing decision much, depending on how interesting you find those differences, let it be known up front that the Xbox One version of the game is honestly the more interesting of the two releases, if not specifically the better one. Let’s take a look.

The first thing you notice about the game when you first boot it up is the sheer amount of stuff you can do with a football game. The game offers four main access panes to work with: Home, which archives your most recent choices under “Continue Playing” as well as news and updates, Play, which offers you all the actual play modes you’ll jump into, Share, where you can download and upload created rosters and playbooks through the internet, and Customize, where you build those shareable things as well as change settings in the game. There’s not really a plot, save for creating a legacy for created players and coaches and such (which isn’t really as narratively deep as one would think), so it falls to these modes to carry the experience, so it’s good that there are a whole lot of them. You can do a lot with the game, both online and offline, though you’ll need an Origin account to get the most out of the game since you can’t jump online without one (as well as PS Plus), but it’s free to get one and there’s no online pass at least. You can play locally with up to four players if you don’t want to get online, though online offers up to six players simultaneously in three-on-three games, as well as various other permutations, so you can get all your friends in on the fun.

One of the single biggest hallmarks of the “next gen” experience is improved visual quality, and Madden NFL 25 manages to pull that off well enough on the Xbox One. Players generally look realistic, whether stationary or in motion, and the various animations they have available to them are diverse and react well to the environment. There are a few instances where you can clearly see the polygons in their arms and such, but this isn’t common and is only obvious when up close. The stadiums generally look excellent all around, between the recreation of the field and architecture, and the fans in attendance generally look lively, though there’s some obvious repetition of fan textures overall. The game also employs some nice lighting and reflective effects for some uniforms that the current gen consoles can’t pull off, and everything runs smoothly pretty much constantly, as I never encountered any slowdown during play. For those wondering, the Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions are largely comparable, visually, and after running an identical game on both consoles I didn’t notice any significant differences between the two at all. Aurally, the game has a lot of solid voice work from the commentary team, though some of the comments can come off as generic or inappropriate (as in they say the game was close when it was basically a shutout). There’s also plenty of field noise and ambient noise, such as players calling plays and grunting, fans cheering and so on, and it all sounds as you’d expect. The music is a combination of original marching band score and full or instrumental versions of popular music, so you might hear an instrumental of “Welcome to the Jungle” from Guns ‘n Roses or the full version of “Boom Boom Pow” from the Black Eyed Peas. The music is certainly appropriate, if nothing else, though you’re going to enjoy some of it more so than others.

The actual act of playing Madden NFL 25 isn’t terribly hard to grasp: at any given time, you’re either calling a play, planning the play before the play, or making the play. Calling a play is a simple matter of deciding the play you want to make, while “preplay” planning amounts to shifting players, calling audibles (that is, changing the play on the fly), planning routes and swapping the active player as needed. Playing differs somewhat depending on whether you’re on offense or defense, based on your goals and ability to control the player in question. On offense, you can either pass the ball or run it; passing amounts to pressing the button of the person you want to throw to, while running allows you to sprint (added speed at the cost of security) or use “precision modifiers” to try and dodge or force away blockers in hopes of making a few extra yards. On defense, you’ll want to take control of the most ideal player to stop the play and either block the pass (or intercept it) or tackle the person running with the ball to prevent them from making progress. The game offers an online manual and a display of button mapping to explain how all of this works, but given enough time and effort you’ll get the basics down eventually.

The theme of the game, in most respects, seems to be “control,” however, so you’ll find that you can tailor much of the gameplay to your liking, short of manipulating the controls themselves. The game offers a basic set of default difficulty options, from “Rookie” (you’re good, the CPU is less so) to “All Madden” (you’re not good, the CPU is pretty good) but you can actually modify those skillsets as you see fit with sliders based on position. Want to make your opponent God-awful and your team kings? Go for it. Want to jack up one or two positions to test yourself, or make your team awful and the CPU Godlike for a real challenge? Knock yourself out. You can also customize the playbook you want to use for offense and defense, how involved you want play calling to be, the clock and game speed and length, turn assisting tools on or off, disable or ramp up player fatigue and injuries, and even turn on a mode where the CPU will basically pass for you if you don’t even want to bother. The options are endless; you can completely customize the game to be excessively easy if you want to practice or goof off, jack up the difficulty if you want to train, or just mess around with settings to make everything weird, it’s entirely your call, and that sheer depth in just the actual play options is fun to have at your disposal if nothing else.

To keep the experience fun, Madden NFL 25 also incorporates a massive volume of play modes to keep you interested. The Play category offers a lot of the meat and potatoes of the game, allowing you to jump in and play in a number of fashions, such as in an online match against another player, into a quick game against the CPU or with up to three other players (in co-op or competitive play), or into an exhibition where you let the CPU play itself. You can also jump into Practice sessions that let you practice a whole game, offensive play by itself, or the mechanics of the kickoff, set up 3v3 online games, or play “Never Say Never Moments,” three moments from the games of that week chosen by EA as being particularly interesting (and apparently, challenging). There’s even a Skills Trainer that lets you practice specific aspects of offense, defense, and preplay planning, complete with tutorial videos to explain how it’s done. For the more creative types, you can jump in and manipulate the play rosters as you see fit, create new players, uniforms and playbooks, or even upload and download the above with the online system if you want to share or see something out there you like (or you’re lazy).

The two most interesting play modes available are Connected Franchise and Ultimate Team, and these are likely where you’ll spend most of your time. Connected Franchise allows you to take control of either a player, coach or team owner, each with their own specific mechanics. Players only play as themselves on the team of your choice, allowing you to upgrade your player through earning Experience, and hopefully do well enough to make it into the Hall of Fame. Coaches deal with all of the players, focusing on the overall play of the game and team management, and can devote earned Experience to improving the entire team as they see fit. Owners fulfill the same basic role as Coaches, but are not beholden to the aspects of play so much as the aspects of pay, as you choose your city of residence, stadium quality, prices of merchandise and food, and so on, with the help of your team advisors. You can also choose to play as your own created character, an existing active person in the sport, or a legend in the given role (though the legendary Owners are rather minimal), each with their own positives and negatives, though the custom characters give you the most overall control. You can play this mode online or off (IE with friends or alone) and can run a Player, Coach and Owner simultaneously if you wish (albeit all on different teams) to really get into the game, or to allow multiple people to play the same season locally from different roles.

Ultimate Team, on the other hand, lets you basically play Magic: The Gathering through football. You pick a Captain, based on their specialty and/or team affiliation, and the game then gives you a starting “deck” of players and dumps you into the game mode. You can choose to play seasons online against other players, take on solo challenges against custom or normal teams, or challenge a friend’s team deck with your own, which can earn you Coins (to buy packs) or packs/loose cards to customize your deck. You can visit the store anytime you wish to buy packs with Coins or real money depending on the situation or hit the auction house to trade and bid on players, and you can rebuild your team however you wish so long as you keep to the deck restrictions of fifty five player cards and forty five “other” items (coaches, stadiums, uniforms and so on). Each card you pick will usually contribute to your team in one of two ways: overall effectiveness, and Team Chemistry. The overall effectiveness of the player you slot into a position will improve (or drop) the overall effectiveness of the team, so the higher the numbers, the better off you are. On the other hand, if you slot in characters who have the same Team Chemistry as your Captain (IE, running plays, short passes, long passes, etc) this will improve the overall play unity of the team and get the team to work together better overall. You can also earn various rare cards from completing the Skills Trainer exercises, and you can even earn rewards in defeat, so no matter your skill level you can eventually build a team that’s worthwhile to play with, so long as you’re willing to invest the time and effort into it.

The Xbox One release of Madden 25 also adds in two additional features that are exclusive to this release: Kinect functionality and Coachglass. The Kinect functionality is mostly there for play calling, allowing you to call for Audibles and pre or post snap adjustments in play as you see fit. The basic calls, IE “blitz,” “challenge” and so on are all obvious, but more involved Audibles will require some practice to really figure out. Still, it’s a neat feature to have available and it works pretty well, and even if you don’t use it to its full potential, being able to yell “CHALLENGE!” when a play cheeses you off is pretty awesome. Coachglass, on the other hand, is a Smartglass addition that allows either you or another person to make defensive calls from a Smartglass device, and it’s a surprisingly robust tool. Basically, once the offensive line has called a play, you can see three plays on screen that the coaching tool recommends, based on input from the Madden community, so it’s basically a crowdsourced defensive tool. Further, it also shows you a history of plays called by the opposition, the current quarter, position, time left on the clock, down and information about players on the field, so you could even hand it off to another player to let them act as the coach in your stead. Best of all, however, is that it shows you the opposition’s running and passing tendencies, so you can see where they might be likely to go based on their history. In other words, if they tend to run right, you can make them pay for it by cutting them off when they try it again to punish predictable play. The option only works in Play Now, Online Head to Head, Ultimate Team and Connected Franchise modes, and only really helps the defensive line, but it’s still an interesting addition that adds real strategy to the game, and is a good sign of where EA could take this functionality in the future.

There’s simply an astonishing volume of things to do with Madden NFL 25 whether you’re new to the franchise or coming in as a long time fan, and with modifications to the physics engine, modified running controls, deteriorating fields, and better play management on the next-gen consoles, there’s all kinds of new things for long time fans to be interested in. The single biggest appeal to the game is in the sheer depth of control you’re given as a player, whether that means you want to modify every single option available or let the computer handle virtually everything, it’s up to you. The different mode types, online play options, practice options, difficulty modification elements and beyond make the game friendly to players of all types, and even players who’d rather manage the day to day aspects of a football franchise over the actual elements of play will find something to enjoy here. There are also the standard Trophies to unlock for those who enjoy that sort of thing, leaderboards to compare yourself to others through, and content that updates constantly, between the Never Say Never Moments and the constantly tuning player roster, so there’s plenty of reason to come back constantly for fans.

That said, the single most obvious issue, speaking as someone coming at the game with little experience with the franchise, is how inaccessible it can be to newcomers. Compare this to the Fight Night games, for example. In EA’s Fight Night games, there’s an involved tutorial for the player to work with that familiarizes them with the mechanics of play and explains how everything works, which can be skipped if you’re an old hat at the series to begin with. Madden NFL 25 offers no such thing; while the Skills Trainer offers you information on the more advanced options, it doesn’t, for example, tell you that you have to use the Right Analog stick for kickoffs, or how, exactly, this works. More pressingly, however, is that the game has no real advice for you when you do fail at the Skills Trainer or in Practice Mode. When the game doesn’t explain how to play better in the main game, that’s sensible, but Skills Trainer and Practice Mode exist to better the player, and if you suck out loud, the only way you’re going to get better here is by bashing your head against the wall for hours until it clicks. In something like Monster Hunter or Dark Souls that’s part of the appeal of the game, but in a football game that seems woefully poorly considered. Further, the game doesn’t seem balanced between running and passing. In general, running plays and passing plays can be compared to investing in a bank versus stocks; the former is safer but less profitable, while the latter is more risky and can lose you a lot, but is often more profitable when it pays off. In this game, however, passing seems far safer than it should be in comparison to running plays, to the extent that, as someone who is not very good, I was doing very well with passing plays far more often than I should have been. Additionally, aside from some physics and mild play mechanic tweaking, franchise fans aren’t going to see much different here, and while the game is very solid, those who are looking for more substantial changes aren’t going to find them here. Finally, while the Xbox One version is generally identical to the PS4 version, I noticed some heavier lag when loading between modes, especially when Smartglass was enabled; this wasn’t constant, but it’s certainly there at times and it’s annoying when it happens.

Overall, spending any amount of time with Madden NFL 25 makes it plain why the series sells as well as it does, as it’s a deep and well developed experience, albeit one that balances a fine line between underperforming for long time fans and overwhelming newcomers with its design concepts. The game offers an extensive amount of content to pick through, and it looks and sounds great on the Xbox One, even if the appearances don’t quite pay off the next gen promise at launch. There’s a great deal of customization and play options available to players, between the granular mechanical modifications, variety of normal play modes, and in-depth modes like Connected Franchise and Ultimate Team, which, combined with the Trophies and constant free updates, make the game one with an extensive life span to it for fans to enjoy. The Xbox One version also offers neat functional elements through Kinect play calling and Coachglass that really make it the definitive version of the game to get if you’re a big fan, as these additions are surprisingly fun and add a good bit to the experience. The game doesn’t really do as much with the next gen elements, as the visuals aren’t quite where one would expect, the game isn’t friendly or accessible to newcomers insofar as teaching the fundamentals of gameplay is concerned, the passing game seems too good overall, and there’s not a lot new here if you’ve been with the series for a while. That said, while Madden NFL 25 could make more of an effort towards accessibility and expanding itself for old fans, what’s here is mostly very solid and crammed full of content, making it easy to recommend if you’re any sort of football fan and want it in next gen format.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Madden NFL 25 may not quite be the ultimate next gen experience, and may not be the most accessible or original game in the world, but it is a solid game of football that’s absolutely packed with content, and that’s reason enough to give it an easy thumbs up. There’s a ton of options to play with from jump, and the game generally looks and sounds great, though the visuals don’t quite meet the next gen expectations one might have going in. The core game of football is sound and there’s an extensive amount of options, from tweaking of game mechanics to customizing your teams how you want, that should allow most players to access the game how they want after they’ve spent time learning everything. With involved play modes like Connected Franchise and Ultimate Team, numerous simple play modes to jump into and constantly updating content and rosters, the game makes it very easy to keep coming back for a long time to come, no matter what your interests might be. Further, the added Xbox One functionality, with Kinect play calling and Coachglass defensive play calling, make this the best version of Madden NFL 25 one can buy, and give a good indication of where the future of the series could be. Sadly, the game doesn’t do as much with the Xbox One as it could due to the only somewhat improved visuals, it’s not very good at teaching newcomers the tools they need to succeed, the passing game seems a bit better than it should be in comparison to the running game, and there’s not much new if you’ve been with the series for a while. Still, Madden NFL 25 shows why it’s as popular as it is because, issues aside, it’s a damn fine game of football, and between the solid gameplay and sheer volume of content, it’s easy to recommend to football fans of all varieties.



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