Using Barry Sanders on the cover of Madden 25 welcomes unflattering comparisons. Sanders is regarded as a great who retired well before his prime and never reached his full potential, often a criticism of the Madden series.
Madden NFL 25Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, XBox One, PS4, iOS
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: 2013-08-23
Twenty five years engenders plenty of opinions. For better or worse, the last 25 years of sports video games have been dominated by EA Sports, headlined by the Madden franchise, which has revolutionized the genre on a number of occasions. But when you're on the mountain top, it's hard to go anywhere but down, and recently, the series has shown more of its wear than innovation. It's fitting that Madden NFL 25 comes at the end of a console generation, a final exclamation point for developer EA before heading on to bigger and better things.
EA's shtick of late has been to include legends of the game in new releases. Sports fans constantly argue about who's better (Jordan or LeBron, Gretzky or Ovechkin, Jim Brown or Adrian Peterson), so the reasoning behind the legends' inclusion in these titles remains obvious. However, using Barry Sanders on the cover of Madden 25 welcomes unflattering comparisons. Sanders is regarded as a great who retired well before his prime and never reached his full potential, often a criticism of the Madden series. But the real problem with the inclusion of these greats in Madden 25 is that it doesn't actually do anything for the gameplay. Unless you want to throw together a team of overpowered players and beat up less talented teams (or your friends' teams of OP players), they don't add much functionality.
Despite the cover athlete and his brethren's inclusion lacking the impact EA hoped for, the gameplay enabled by EA's upgraded Infinity Engine 2 is a marked improvement over last year's title. Though the major change -- the introduction of the precision modifier for ball carriers, which allows for more impactful jukes, spins, and collisions -- doesn't have the impact you want. The movement of players feels more lifelike than it did just last year. Next year's abandonment of the Infinity Engine for the next generation Ignite engine is actually somewhat disappointing in that light. If EA utilizes the Infinity Engine as a solid foundation for the next gen models, the series could begin revolutionizing the industry again, but abandoning this improvement wholesale would be a mistake.
Many of the biggest problems in Madden 25 come in the form of the near-unusable user interface. With 25 years of innovation also comes 25 years of UI mistakes, and almost all are on display in this latest iteration. You can overlook the loading scenes acting as an infomercial for the series -- there's a heavy sense of Comedy Central putting on the Comedy Awards here -- but trying to navigate the obtuse, cluttered menus is a fool's errand. Some of these issues even extend onto the field where, when running option plays, the game tells the player which defender she's supposed to “read”. There was a time that Madden came with the implicit understanding that if you don't understand football, you won't be privy to some of the tricks that experienced players are. That time is quickly fading.
Like all modern sports games, Madden 25 allows you to create a player from scratch (where some serious racial politics reside, about which more later) and work through his career. Rarely have I encountered a game that has such a level of contempt for its player than in Madden 25's career mode. While not the focus of the series, its inclusion acts as a reminder of the pitfalls and disinterest of the development team. The game mode's flaws make it nearly unplayable. For example, the camera angles often leave secondary players off screen at the start of the play, even if you've chosen to lead a career as a defensive back.
Madden 25 made several leaps in the creation of these players though. No longer are you just a pocket passer or running quarterback. There are several gradients to each position, and draft-pick status furthers your skill development and understanding of your players' limitations. But the game snags itself on common racial stereotypes about the league. Pure pocket passers appear to racially default to being white while quick running backs and cover cornerbacks racially default as black. While not a significant problem and assuredly not malicious (they are, in reality, mimicking many of the traditional racial breakdowns of existing players), seeing the game fall into those pattens is disappointing.
Madden 25 may have more minor problems than any game in the series. Fortunately, very few of them take place where it matters. Fumbling through messy menus shouldn't be a concern 25 years in, but constant tweaking creates problems that escalate over time. However, for a game that is often criticized for presenting annual iterations with minor or no changes, Madden 25 stands out as a title worth owning.