For so many of my friends, fall is their favorite time of the year. Why? Well, it’s not because the trees change colors and it’s not because the sun gives us a break and it definitely was never about going back to school. Fall is fun because of football. Period. Just as the NFL season is ready to kick into high gear, as always, EA Sports’ longtime Madden series is back again, celebrating their 25th year with a revamped Connected Franchise mode and more ball-carrier control than ever before.
Much of the criticism the series received from hardcore fans over the past few years stemmed from the gameplay. Defensive backs looking lost. Not enough pressure from the defensive line. Gang tackles that don’t look real. If you’re heading into Madden NFL 25 expecting a complete overhaul, you’ll probably be disappointed. That’s unrealistic. What the game does do well — and I suspect most people will enjoy this since… you know… we’re playing a video game — is create explosive and fun offenses. I got the chance to preview the game early using a copy for the Xbox 360, and that aspect has never been more apparent than now.
With the Precision Modifier, Madden NFL 25 gives you an unprecedented amount of control while running with the ball. What this does is it turns the left bumper and the right stick into modifiers in the same sense that basketball games use them. Depending on how you push the stick or move it, you can create a string of spins and jukes. There’s now a repertoire of over 30 moves. The stiff arm, in particular, stood out to me. The arm movements (with the Precision Modifier) are so realistic. You can almost feel the helmet on a linebacker getting knocked up. At one point, Ray Rice got locked into a shoving match with a linebacker, something that went on for three or four yards, the two of them almost arm wrestling before he finally went down. It looked awesome. Still, I’m sure some will find a way to abuse it — at times, it almost felt too powerful. I took an off-tackle play with Fred Jackson about 65 yards and used the stiff arm to easily knock two defenders off me once I got into the secondary.
Overall though, this gives players the opportunity to really add some pizazz to their moves and break out their inner Barry Sanders (don’t worry, it’s not overpowering), and it’s probably needed since dive tackling seems like it received a major upgrade this year.
Defense in general plays pretty similar to last year’s game. But while it lacked any massive upgrades like the Precision Modifier, I found gang tackling has turned a corner to become more realistic. It’s been smoothed out in year two of the Infinity Engine. Gone are the days where an offensive player gets stood up and a corner comes flying in and knocks the entire pile backwards by four yards. The few gang tackles that I did see were really cool. At one point on a punt, the return man went up the middle before a defender took out his legs and another hit him in the shoulder pads, the type of real life play that puts someone in the hospital with a torn-up knee.
Speaking of injuries, I played four games and didn’t see one. In fact, I don’t remember drawing a single flag either. I left the default settings as they were, and obviously most gamers will do their own tweaking, but still, that’s been a problem in the past.
All in all, the gameplay felt similar to the past few years of Madden, and your enjoyment of it will probably depend on where you stood with the last few versions. I did, however, crack a smile at some of the gameplay’s smaller improvements… like the way players push themselves off the ground after a particularly hard hit or the way you can tell Ray Rice has the ball by his quick, jitterbug-style steps.
Another small improvement came in hurdling. I know it sounds like a minor issue, but seeing an offensive player trip over a fallen defender was so satisfying. You’re going to have to use the hurdle button more often this year, something I never really utilized in the past. I had a kickoff return with Coye Francies that would’ve been an easy TD but as I was coming out of a juke, I didn’t see the body below his feet and it tripped him up. He tried for perhaps three yards to stay on his feet before going down face first. It cost me six, but I was impressed.
Madden Share has also taken a step forward with the ability to create and upload rosters, sliders and even playbooks (important because there are 351 new plays this year, as well as 20 new formations and two totally new playbooks in the Piston and Run and Shoot), which is something that I know will come in handy when I’m trying to get a leg up on my boys. Madden Ultimate Team is also here, sporting a heavier emphasis on Chemistry, and a new mode that allows for head-to-head seasons (10 game that culminate in eight-team playoff runs).
All of that is great, but what I was really looking forward to checking out was the Connected Franchise mode.