Itâ€™s been twenty-five years of Madden. Twenty-five years! And Madden 25 plays up the anniversary aspect of this year's game, big time. But in the end it feels like it's looking back, more than looking foward, as new features are thin on the ground and many of the old issues still remain.
Repetitive cut scenes (do we really have to see a trainer pour water all over Eli Manning's chin at the end of every play?), bland commentary, plenty of in-game advertising, a cluttered and confusing menu, and half the game locked off if you haven't pre-ordered or donâ€™t want to reach for your credit card. Even after a quarter of a century there's still plenty there to complain about. If you're the complaining type.
But even with all the issues Madden 25 is a deep and complex game. There's an incredible amount of stuff to do, from training and game modes, online options, player and team creation, and just about every play ever run in the whole history of the NFL. Add to this some plays taken from college football and the all new Connected Franchise, and you have a game that you'll still be playing, and still trying to master, this time next year.
However, if it's new features you're looking for Madden 25 may not be the Madden for you. The biggest change is not to the football side of the game but to the management mode. Now, in Connected Franchise, you can create a new team owner or take the reigns from one of the leagueâ€™s current bosses. From there you take control of every aspect of your team.
Of course you can buy and sell players, but you also have to talk to the press. You can raise expectations for the season and set prices for tickets and merch to match. But if the team doesn't win, you'll get ripped on Twitter and the fans will stop supporting the team. In the end, if you get the wins you'll make some money and, just like the game's greatest players and coaches, you'll have a chance to get into the hall of fame.
While the team and franchise management modes of the game are there for fans of that kind of thing, for the other ninety-nine percent of people who buy the game the whole point is playing football. In Madden 25 the changes to the football side of things are limited to a few tweaks and minor additions.
Thankfully the running game has been upgraded from Madden 13. Somehow there seems to be a bit more room for your running backs. The right bumper gives you a nice speed burst to hit gaps or get around the outside linebacker. But, new this year is the use of the left bumper as a run modifier. By pressing this your back slows down. Then, with the face button or right stick you can step, spin, and fend. Although it sounds like a little thing because you've been able to do all this for years, the whole - slow down just a little, see what you need to do, and react - thing, as opposed to just holding down the speed burst button and mashing the spin and step buttons - makes for a much more intuitive running.
Also new this year are the changes to audibles. Last time you selected five audibles to call if you wanted to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Now you don't just have to choose from your assigned audibles, you can select all formations that use the personale that you have on the field. And speaking of formations; this year the pistol set-up has been added. The inbetween formation straight out of College football, where the quarterback stands halfway between the center and his normal position in the shotgun (a formation favoured by Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins) adds some nice running and passing plays to the extensive Madden playbook. As well as adding some great quarterback running options. That's if you're lucky enough to have a quarterback in your Madden Ultimate Team who can run.
Yes, MUT is back. And as costly and frustrating as ever. To play online, in head-to-head or 3-v-3 matches, Connected Careers, or play through the many Madden solo challenges, first up you'll need an XBox Live gold membership. Then you'll get a starter pack of players, stadiums, contracts, and a coach. If you're lucky your starting rating will be in the mid to high 60s. Of course all the CPU controlled teams will be rated in the 70s or 80s, and everyone online will be rated in the 90s.
To help you compete, you do get to choose a franchise player from the league's best. Your player, anyone from J.J. Watt to Tom Brady, will dictate what kind of team you are. Whether you focus on stopping the run, short passing, zone defence, or throwing long bombs. Any player on your team with the same focus gains an extra team bonus along with your normal team rating.
Even with your one good player, life online with MUT is tough. But, you have the choice. You can grind away for ages taking loss after loss, slowly earning credits to buy new packs and players, while trying to trade bad players for good ones (and you can guess how often that works out). Or, after buying the game and paying your monthly sub to XBox Live, you can reach for you wallet and start buying a competitive team.
So there are some new additions. And far too many old gameplay features to go through in one little review. No room here to talk about the passing game, old players, classic teams, music, or online play. If it hasn't been mentioned, it's locked out, inconsequential, or pretty much the same as last year. Professionally put together, and polished, but the same. Just one more thing to note. While the few games I played online mostly went okay (despite the embarrassing final score) every day I played at least one game, either online or offline - froze. Every day I had to turn the console off, lose a game or a challenge, and load it all back up again. Sheesh EA. It's been twenty-five years!
At least I got to see all the load screens... a lot. And Madden uses every other loading screen to remind us of how the franchise has developed over the last quarter of a century. From putting twenty-two players on the field in John Madden Football, the very first Madden game released in 1988, to this year's Connected Franchise. It's been a long, storied (as the american sports writers say), and sometimes brilliant career. And no sign of retirement yet.