Saturday, September 07, 2013

Madden 25 review

The latest addition to the Madden franchise reminds fans just how far the series has come

By JJ Miller

Madden football has seen quite the transformation since its debut 25 years ago.

Most have been for the good. Deep rosters, introduction of different career modes and on-line play have brought together Madden Nation like never before.

But along the way, EA Sports has taken its fair share of lumps too. Doomed features like the passing cone come to mind, and of course the negative aura surrounding the "Madden Curse" still lingers. So does the go-to argument for Madden haters: the exclusivity deal between Madden and the NFL, effectively
killing all competition on the spot.

Regardless, Madden continues to be a phenomenon. The night of the release is still an unofficial holiday for many and the introduction of on-line franchise modes means that friends don't even have to be under the same roof any more to go head-to-head with each other for hours.

So what does all that mean for the latest addition to the series, Madden 25?

As usual, it is another solid product with enough depth to test hardcore gamers but not enough to really make it a must-have game.

The NFL is a copy-cat league and Madden often follows suit. This time around, despite the shift to a pass-happy league, the incredible performance of Adrian Peterson a year ago was enough to get Barry Sanders the fan-voted cover and for developers to go "Run Free."

This year, the running game gets some overhaul, starting with the precision modifier. By holding down an additional button, users can enhance the toolbox of running backs by giving boosts to spins, hurdles and stiff-arms. Spins become ball-protecting fights for extra yards, hurdles become leaps and big-backs like Peterson lay down tougher trucks at the expense of some speed.

EA also scored a major improvement with the stumble recovery, which gives runners a brief chance to regain balance after a minor hit. Even if the player does not recover, seeing a running back stumble for a few extra yards before falling to the ground brings a nice touch of realism over the past "get tackled or break free for daylight" plays that often happened..

Another great feature is the enhancement to the dive tackle, which allows defenders to make a last-ditch grab at the feet to prevent a big play. This gives the plays another real feel as before you had to make the full-body tackle from behind to prevent the long runs.

Another fallout of the 2012 NFL season is the focus on the pistol and read options in Madden 25. At least we know the producers are paying attention to the changing landscape of the league.

One disappointing part of the game flow is the infinity engine. While the tackles and big hits all look improved, and players don't tend to flop over each other anymore, the size of the impacting players doesn't seem to have a huge impact on the hits themselves. This is surprising given the focus of such collisions in the marketing for the upcoming NHL 14 game.

At this point, it is really hard to complain about the play on the field in the Madden franchise. Some players will always find weaknesses in the offenses and defenses, but that is what the sliders are for.

EA makes it easier to adjust the difficulty by introducing a long-needed option called Madden Share. Gone of the days of paying for and/or swapping flash drives with other users to get the latest custom rosters and unique settings. Players can now upload their files directly online to be downloaded by the entire Madden Nation.

Finally, connected play returns with the addition of the ability to take over as an owner in addition to a player or coach. Again, the Madden franchise gets flack for carbon-copy repeat of some features year-to-year, but the owner mode adds another layer to the simulation.

The most enjoyable part of owner mode is the ability to relocate a franchise. Imagine being a Philadelphia Eagles fan and getting to move a hated rival like the Dallas Cowboys to Salt Lake City, one of the U.S. cities available to move a franchise.

There are also international destinations willing to take an NFL franchise, including London, Mexico City, Toronto and Dublin. Personally, I enjoyed taking over the terrible Oakland Raiders and moving them to London, England.

After selecting your new city, other options like selecting uniforms and team names from a predetermined list appear during your final season in your current city.

The other parts of the mode need some work. You can still run the team like a coach, editing the roster and depth chart, but you also have to keep an eye on finances, marketing and fan happiness. Changing prices for merchandise and concession items gets a bit tedious, though, and one has to wonder just how much team success is important.

For example, after a 6-10 year with the Raiders, I was still able to sign the top wide receiver on the market -- Hakeem Nicks -- over a handful of other clubs and didn't have to overpay a huge amount to do so, even with a low franchise value and success rating.

No doubt next year's version of this mode will probably see some adjustments.

Long gone are the days of every new addition of Madden being a must-own, but even with no competition to speak of, Madden 15 is still another solid edition that is worth the $60.

EXTRA POINTS

-- I didn't touch on the commentary because what is the point. It seems near impossible to perfect this part of the game and prevent Jim Nantz and Phil Simms from becoming repetitive and contradicting during games.

-- Some new player legends pop up this year, including Randall Cunningham, Mike Ditka and William "Refrigerator" Perry. Awesome thing about Ditka is you can select him as a player or coach in the connected franchise.

-- Still waiting for one of these games to have rotating player introductions so the start of every game isn't the same.

-- I ran for over 200 yards in my first game with LeSean McCoy versus the Washington Redskins, so maybe the run game got too big a boost.

-- Another guilty pleasure of owner mode? Firing a head coach.
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