STAFF REVIEW of Madden NFL 25 (Xbox 360)

Friday, August 23, 2013.
by Scott Fowler

Madden NFL 25 Box art Twenty-five years in the making. That’s actually quite insane, if you think about it, isn’t it? There have been 25 years of Madden Football on gaming systems and computers ranging from Commode 64 and Apple II through Nintendo and Sega 1st-gen systems through to the current iteration, Madden 25 for Xbox 360.

The birth of the franchise, John Madden Football, came to life in 1988. That’s actually a real milestone in the industry, especially in the sports realm, since titles and franchises often come and go. Their success/demise is usually relegated to a particular console or feature that starts off as innovative in a sports franchise (real voice play-by-play! Instant Replay! New Camera Angles! OMG!) but quickly turns gimmicky as these things evolve and become more polished over time.

Those of you paying attention at home probably went “Wait, isn’t it supposed to be called Madden 14?”. You wouldn’t be wrong, in one sense. Instead of taking their more traditional stance of naming each iteration of Madden after the year of the upcoming season, EA went all nostalgic on us this year and called the game Madden 25 as an homage to their lineage, their history. This walk down memory lane isn’t limited to the games naming convention, either, as all sorts of throwbacks to previous titles are found throughout Madden 25. Loading screens pull up tidbits of trivia from the history of the franchise, such as when specific game elements came into being, and little behind-the-scenes development issues. I found this to be actually quite fun out of the gate, and it’s better than just the traditional “This years new engine allows for massive hits!” sort of banter previously used in these games.

The UI has been revamped, and I found navigation to be fairly straightforward, if not a radical departure from years before. The home screens are awash with tiles and sliding navigation menus that work somewhat well. I found it a bit laggy and inconsistent in some aspects, though, especially within season modes, as the UI took a while to sort of refresh. This might be more of an issue with the 360 being end-of-life, as it were, with the Xbox One on the horizon, so we’ll see how this lag works its way out in the new console. It was definitely a bit of an issue intermittently in this one, but nothing that I found overly restrictive or annoying.

From a true gameplay perspective, the Infinity Engine is in its second iteration, has some new tricks up its sleeve. The running game is significantly improved, at least from my perspective. I’ve become accustomed to having my running backs targeted and tackled fairly quickly, with finding any hole in the line to take advantage of becoming a bit of guesswork. I find that’s changed a bit in this years Madden. I seem to be able to adapt to situational opportunities, especially on the run, much more realistically.

Let me explain. I chose a running play, and the quarterback is set to hand off to my running back. Let’s call him Adrian, maybe, Adrian Peterson. That sounds like a good running-back. The play selected had him bursting to the outside and following blockers up the right side of the field. After the hand-off, I notice that one lineman’s on his back, creating a secondary hole. Instead of the planned play, I opt for the new route and burst through the line, for a big gain. In previous iterations of the game, the running-defense felt too restrictive, too locked down. It seems to be more realistic now, more functional, and more exploitative, when the opportunities arise. It’s a subtle change, to be sure, but it’s one I think has a big impact on the overall game play.

Within a similar vein, I really like the stumble recovery feature, and it seems like stiff arms really did get some added oomph with the new physics changes. There have been a few defenders dropped in incredible fashion, both on my side and the AI side of things, with a well-placed stiff arm.

The other enhancements in the game fall back into the baby-steps category. The overall graphics are roughly the same, the audio feeling a little more real in terms of experience. One of the things I do like is the game into graphics and cut scenes, customized to the specifics of every team, with historical and current footage. The 25th anniversary vibe seems really consistent in that respect, and the homage seems legit and not overly self-congratulatory. It’s definitely focused on the history of both making and playing the game, with some definite “Oh yeah I remember that!” moments.

The features are roughly the same, as you’d come to expect, with some changes worth noting. Season/Franchise modes are now rolled up into “Connected Franchise” modes. Take the role of player, coach, or owner, each with nuanced levels of management and functionality. Full disclosure, here, I’m a giant franchise nerd. I love the nuances of trades and ownership, adjusting ticket and concession prices, and even the potential to more the team to new locales. EA has gone into great detail here, especially in Owner mode, as you can start as a rookie owner, a current owner, a historic owner, etc., and each flavor has the some pros and cons associated with it accordingly.

One of my favorite things about this game though, and it’s minor to game play in some ways, is moving your franchise team to a new city. Instead of picking colors and uniforms from generic standards and customizing them accordingly, you get a choice of 17 cities to move your team to, including such locations as London, England, Dublin, Ireland, Toronto, and the football desert known as Los Angeles. (I’m from Orange County, yes, I might be a bit bitter that we don’t have a team). With each city come pros and cons for fan involvement and three options for team names and uniform design. What is great is that each option is specific to the location, so in LA, we get the Starts, Aftershocks, etc. In Dublin, you get the Shamrocks, and so on. What’s great about this is it gives the level of customization you’d like, but it also gives a better overall experience, because stadium design, cut scenes and branding are all ready to go for each design choice. If you pick the Aftershocks as your team in LA, you get a grey and gold uniform, and the logo already done. Cut scenes, back-story and game footage, though obviously more toned down than “real” franchise versions, make some really great efforts in this area. Stuff like “The first NFL team outside the US makes its home in the north, Toronto” type audio feels a lot more complete as a product.

Unfortunately, at the time of this review, I haven't had much opportunity to fully investigate the online modes, as my window of playing and the available play- online partners were somewhat limited. Especially given the fact that I currently have a Time Warner Cable technician scheduled to visit this afternoon to fix my packet loss issue. The full online component purports to have similar functionality that you've all come to know and love.

The Ultimate team components and standard game features still exist in their general capacity. I'm sure there are legions of dedicated football-ites that can't wait to build historic teams based on the best players of each generation, and this year Madden gives them the opportunity to really cash in on the legacy the 25 years has created. Choose from any of the starts of by gone Madden games, including this little bit of trivia, from one of the loading screens. The 2004 Madden version of Michael Vick, with a speed rating of 95, is the most offensive talented player in the history of the game franchise. What say you, NFL fans? 2004 Vick the best ever? Go debate that one in the forums!

My standard statement regarding sports games and reviewing them still applies. This is still “just” football, and it’s still football on Xbox 360, so there’s not a lot in the sense of “OMG THIS IS SO AMAZING.BEST.GAME.EVAAAAARRRRR” sort of moments involved in these. It’s more iterative as a process, taking last years model, building/tweaking accordingly, and going from there. The unique position of the new console on the horizon and the 25th anniversary edition made for some challenges, I’m sure, for EA, but I think they’ve done the brand a real solid here as a parting gift to the 360 and a foundation for the Xbox One to come. Overall, it’s a great football game, as fans of the franchise have come to expect, and I suspect that all the launch parties, and cult following associated with Madden will continue strong, hopefully (I’m sure for EA, anyway) for another 25 years.

Imagine what those consoles will be like?

Given the end of the Xbox 360's glorious run, I'm hoping for some real earth shattering physics and game play changes on the Xbox One. Keep the great football franchise great by keeping it fresh, and giving us as close to a "Sunday Experience" as possible.

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.4 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.6 / 10


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