Madden NFL 25 was a disappointment on the Xbox 360 and PS3 but the arrival of the Xbox One and PS4 brings promise of a fully featured product with improved gameplay and atmosphere. That would certainly represent a much better entry situation than how the previous generation was welcomed in and for the most part EA Sports has achieved that goal. It just may not be enough to get consumers excited since the base product it builds on was already lagging so far behind in the minds of many.
Subtle But Effective Gameplay Enhancements
The most evident improvement to the game comes with the offensive line blocking and defensive pass rush. Clean pockets are formed, ends handled properly, blitzes picked up, and assignments properly fulfilled. While the d-line still won’t get a consistent pass rush from the front four there are occasions where an edge rusher will beat the tackle and those instances look great.
The difficulty in the run game has been notched up due to a greater sense of player weight and momentum. It takes a few games to get accustomed to how to run but once comfortable it becomes more rewarding. There isn’t a whole lot of opportunity to use the special moves with the “Precision Modifier” though as attempting any kind of agile move just seems to be asking for trouble. This is especially seen in kickoff returns where it seems near impossible to get by the first tackler headed your way. That may have just as much do with blocking – they almost always are flying in unimpeded – but regardless not much success is found in the return game.
Improved AI is notable especially in the defense as the CPU has become much more challenging on the standard All-Pro difficulty setting. Defenders with their backs to the line of scrimmage won’t magically turn around as soon as the QB throws a pass. Poor QBs also throw more inaccurate passes thankfully. To that point there is greater differentiation in the players. Having an Earl Thomas roam the field feels like it matters more now than ever. Players will mercifully try to get their feet in-bounds for catches – but this remains not totally consistent.
Bad clock management by the CPU is still present as teams will often run the ball in late half/game situations only to call a timeout right after. There is still no real fight for the ball on deep throws (which are too often thrown short giving the advantage to the DB) or jump balls. There are also hitches in movement with defenders as they occasionally stop dead in their tracks for a split second for no reason allowing for separation. The CPU loves to hurdle for no reason making them vulnerable to big hits and giving up yards that would have been gained otherwise.
Fully Featured Product
EA Sports made a concerted effort to transfer over all the features present on the Xbox 360 and PS3 to the Xbox One and PS4. That includes the full Connected Franchise mode, Ultimate Team, and weekly roster updates. Online play has run exceptionally well and the better balanced gameplay has made them more enjoyable to play as a result. The only exceptions to this being a product where consumers know exactly what they are getting is with the loss of Game Face and the inability to import draft classes from NCAA Football 14.
New Console-Specific Additions
The big one here is the in-game saves for offline games. Leave a game in progress and resume it later even after switching to a different title or turning off the consoles. For games in Online Franchise those can’t be left and returned to but leaving them in a suspended state is a far more reasonable option with the new hardware. The PS4 offers screenshot and streaming capabilities while the Xbox One has highlight saving, editing, and uploading along with (currently broken) SmartGlass functionality. The stronger hardware means advancing in Franchise week-to-week is practically instantaneous.
For the most part what has been advertised as a new “Ignite Engine” has turned out to simply be a term encompassing the various improvements implemented in the games. Hyped aspects like interactive sidelines are simply not present – and those sidelines look just as bad as ever while coaches don’t react to events taking place. What’s more awkward than seeing completely emotionless representations of Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh? Celebration cut scenes are still poorly stitched together and don’t often fit within the context of what has just taken place.
The crowd is somewhat improved and reacts better to the events on the field but still has a ways to go. At least now the the stadium isn’t half empty because of rain or snow! Commentary does offer additional lines and references to information within a season in Franchise mode but that area is still largely lacking. There aren’t even any on-screen graphics or commentary references to standings and playoff positioning. Presentation as a whole has not changed from the 360/PS3 version outside of some crowd shots and a look at the owner in his box when playing as an owner in Franchise.
Deficiencies Carrying Over From Last-Gen
The weak presentation – and the lack of ties to events within a Franchise during games – still heavily damages the enjoyment that can be had with the title. The improved crowd doesn’t account for differences from stadium to stadium. There are still no surprise onside kicks and even the wind indicator still points in the wrong direction. Essentially the work completed went into the very specific areas of gameplay (blocking, AI, graphics) but otherwise the product is a carbon copy of the last-gen product in terms of presentation and features.
Had this been the game released at the end of August it likely would have been met with fairly positive reception. However as a next-gen title it falls short by failing to inspire in the same ways that NBA 2K14 and FIFA 14 have. It may be worth the $10 upgrade from 360 to One and it may be worth the $50 it is now on Amazon for those who didn’t play the previous-gen version. Meanwhile those who pass on it for whatever reason can feel comfortable knowing it’s not anything exceptional.
Once on next-gen though it’s hard to go back because it does immediately demonstrate a sense of advancement. Those improvements shouldn’t be discounted but the series is still far from reaching the level that consumers recognize it reasonably should be at.