Football must be one of the trickiest sports to realistically depict in the world of interactive entertainment. There’s such a wide variety of player types on the field, each with distinctly different jobs, and if even one element feels off, the production will feel incomplete. Even when the developers make great strides in one area, there’s always room for improvement; it’s just so complex. The latest entry in the long-running Madden franchise addresses a few lingering issues and enhances the game’s cosmetic appeal, but 100% authenticity still eludes us.
Each player is meticulously designed and depicted, and the added effects are excellent. You can see the sweat on a player’s brow, and many of the players boast excellent animations that reflect their athletic prowess and style. Toss in those wonderfully detailed and atmospheric stadiums, plenty of vibrant color and the TLC given to each competitor, and you’ve got a well-rounded and impressive technical presentation. It’s not all roses, though. For instance, there’s still some clunky movement and the occasional clipping issue when players get all jammed up together.
On the audio side, we once again receive great commentary and a kickin’ soundtrack that fits the football milieu. Some of that in-depth commentary, while appreciated and often impressive, can suffer from inaccuracies, but that’s to be expected. Announcers are a big part of watching football on television and with advanced technology, they play an equally large role in the virtual world. The on-field effects are top-notch as well, as there’s a distinctive crispness to the harder hits, and we appreciate the ambient sounds that turn any stadium into a living, breathing organism on game day.
Last year’s anniversary title, Madden NFL 25 , was a solid football simulator but it had several problems. It was an inconsistent and mildly disappointing production that had some glaring flaws, especially on defense. On top of which, the mechanics simply felt dated. With Madden NFL 15 , we get a more cohesive game that addresses a few of last year’s issues: First up is the defensive overhaul, to which EA Sports has frequently alluded in previous months. This is undeniably the highlight of the new installment and a big step forward for the franchise.
In the past, even the most die-hard series fans will admit that playing offense is invariably more entertaining than controlling the defense. That’s not because every football fan is biased toward offense; it’s because we never felt quite as involved when on the defensive side of the ball. All of that has changed in Madden NFL 25 . Right from the start, you’ll acknowledge the dynamic shift on defense; the new camera angle – positioned behind the defender you choose – is the first big improvement. It gives you a proper view of the action, which in turn makes it feel less like an old-fashioned video game and more like a modern simulator.
The advancements don’t end there, though. If you’re on the line, you have to time your rush with the center’s snap, and then fight your way toward the quarterback. This is precisely what a defensive lineman has to do on each and every play. If you’ve got a favorable match-up, you can take advantage by utilizing the strengths of your player, and you don’t feel unfairly hampered simply because you’re on defense. For tackling, you’ve still got the crowd-friendly hit stick, but it’s usually more advisable to go with the standard tackle, because you’re much more likely to bring down the opposing player. I like this: Reward those who practice the basics!
As for the secondary, I finally feel like I’m better off controlling one of the cornerbacks, as opposed to letting the AI control them. Usually, you’re more likely to bring down an interception if you let the AI do the work. This time, however, with the extra control and more dynamic perspective, the skilled player can cause quarterbacks serious problems. For the first time in all my years playing this series, I feel like I have the appropriate level of control on defense and with practice, I know I can have a significant impact. It won’t be almost entirely dictated by my offensive ability.
Speaking of the offense, we don’t get the drastic changes we experienced with the defense. But we do got a more streamlined interface for selecting plays, and the game is tailored to cater to just about any type of fan. For the casual player, you can just pick the recommended plays and conduct your offense with that advice. For the hardcore, you can dive into analyzing how the defense reacts to certain plays, and you can pay attention to the coaches, who often have valuable insight. Eventually, you’ll create your own plays and formulate an entire offensive strategy. That’s what the avid pigskin fanatic will do and as usual, EA Sports doesn’t skimp on the depth and customization.
The balance between passing and running plays feels just about right. Neither tactic is overwhelmingly more effective, nor is one significantly easier to execute. I will say, however, that the running game seems the most realistic, as the game takes each player’s abilities into account each and every time, and skilled players can pull off some flashy maneuvering. The passing game suffers from the revamped defense, though. This is where the balance starts to fall apart: Yes, we get a much deeper, more satisfying defense mechanic, but this also means the AI secondary is that much stiffer.
Receivers are often outmatched, as it seems obvious that the game is biased toward cornerbacks. Maybe it’s not too surprising, given that a CB is on the cover (Seattle’s Richard Sherman), but it can be immensely frustrating. It’s great that QBs are as diverse as ever, as they can throw bullet passes and lobs with decent accuracy. Unfortunately, the ball is simply picked off far too many times; it often feels as if the defensive backs are almost glued to the receivers and finding an open target can be a fool’s errand on certain plays. Peyton Manning shouldn’t be throwing six interceptions a game, especially when I’m being careful and Dallas’ secondary is suspect to begin with.
As for features, fans should know what to expect. They get the standard Head-to-Head and Play Now modes, along with the extremely in-depth Madden Ultimate Team option. Then there’s Connected Franchise, which may have received the biggest upgrade this year. You can be a player, coach or owner and you have full control and power. I like the new Game Prep option, which offers different activities during the week that allow you to fine-tune your skills. It’s not fleshed-out enough (sometimes, you don’t do anything at all and magically earn points) but it’s another positive step in the right direction.
Madden Ultimate Team is for all you fantasy buffs. You create your very own fantasy team by opening booster packs, which can be purchased with in-game money or real cash. Solo challenges earn you the necessary in-game currency, and subsequently unlock full games with even bigger rewards. However, there’s one big caveat and I think those who despise microtransactions already know what it is… If you’re not willing to pony up some real dough, the progression feels much too slow and as such, you feel compelled to spend your hard-earned cash. A couple of bucks will greatly increase the skill of your team and while that’s enticing, it also feels like virtual manipulation.
Madden NFL 25 is better than last year’s production; it features better cosmetic and aesthetic features, it often feels more streamlined and accessible, and the upgrades on the defensive side of the ball are huge. It’s finally fun to play on defense! Sadly, the game still gets bogged down by a balancing issue, as the defense is simply overpowered. I also don’t like the idea of shelling out cash just so my Ultimate Team won’t get killed. Other than that, though, you’re looking at a mostly authentic virtual example of football, and it’s clear that EA Sports has made necessary strides.
The Good: Great player detail and animations. Excellent commentary and realistic on-field effects. Controlling the defense is far more dynamic and effective. A few appreciated additions to existing game modes. Both casual and hardcore fans can have plenty of fun.
The Bad: Defense is just overpowered. Microtransactions don’t feel optional in Ultimate Team mode. Game Prep needs fleshing out.
The Ugly: “These godlike CBs are pissing me off.”