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Madden stumbles at the end of the generation
on August 27, 2013
Madden NFL 25 is one of the most difficult to evaluate sports games in recent memory. It carries with it considerable value thanks to a deep feature set, distinct improvements to gameplay, and appreciable fun factor. For every positive though there seems to be something dragging it down from potential excellence. Features aren't completely fleshed out, gameplay looks and feels chaotic, and legacy issues remain unaddressed.
-Connected Franchise: This is obviously the big one - especially with the return of Owner mode - and I wrote over 3000 words and posted nearly 100 screenshots regarding it on my site detailing everything from the executive duties of an Owner and how things progressed within the entire Connected Franchise universe having played every game in a season and extended into year two.
Owner mode provides some compelling elements which will be especially fun when joined by friends but Connected Franchise as a whole fails again in tying events from the league into the actual games. That could severely dampen long-term enthusiasm towards the mode.
-Skills Trainer: Similar to NCAA Football 14 the Skills Trainer provides an opportunity to learn, improve, and refine play in very specific areas. It does a good job of teaching things like the option as well as aspects like hot routes and audibles which novices may need explanations on. There are also Ultimate Team bonuses given for getting "Gold" in each of the individual drills.
On the flip side it has the same faults as NCAA. Things that are out of the control of the user can screw up success. It gets frustrating going for the "Gold" and missing out because a receiver drops a pass or a defender sacks a QB when you needed to get an interception.
The Skills Trainer was personally approached with the hope of learning the new "Precision Modifier". Getting to test out the timing and various functions is the valuable thing here. What the Trainer didn't do was explain what "in range" actually means or go beyond just a handful of moves when there are 30 something combos possible.
-Madden Share: This is something that will become valuable as users get the game and start uploading their own personal content. During the evaluation period there were some files there to download but they may have just been tests from other users so it didn't make sense to spend time pulling any down not knowing whether they would make for quality useful content.
Files that can be uploaded/downloaded through Madden Share are rosters, playbooks, and slider sets. Video highlights can also be uploaded to the EA website.
Any roster set can be used to start a Connected Franchise including the user-edited ones obtained through Madden Share. Custom Playbooks can also be taken into CF.
-Ultimate Team and Online Play: Without many users to face online it would be inappropriate to judge Ultimate Team (which brings in the fun Seasons concept) or online play performance in general. Will update this section at a later date.
Many of the enhancements apparent in Madden NFL 25 were first introduced in NCAA Football 14. The two series share a gameplay development team which means Infinity Engine 2.0, work done to the offensive line, enhanced player control, and much more are found in both. It might be the more wide-open gameplay or the lesser talent on the field but NCAA 14 plays a much cleaner game than Madden 25.
Sloppy is the best way to describe Madden's gameplay this year. It feels that way when playing it and it looks that way when watching it. There are glimpses of good things - there's no doubt about that and it can still be fun to play - but overall it's hard not to walk away and say it's a mess despite that.
The Infinity Engine seems to have been downgraded not enhanced. There is a distinct lack of tackles appearing organic (or any impact between players or gang tackles) and instead you get an overload of frantic collisions and guys knocking into and off one another plus bizarre looking pileups. Everything is much stiffer than last year and even what was played back at E3.
CPU QB's are competent if not unrealistically so. Other than one or two boneheaded throws each game - even the highest rated QBs will do that - they march their teams up and down the field fairly consistently. Completion percentages in the demo were ridiculously high. They haven't been as bad in the final version of the game. Lower rated QBs might even struggle at times though that usually isn't for the entire game. The one time that happened was holding Brandon Weeden to under 50%. Most other games are around 70% or higher even from guys like Mark Sanchez.
There are a few reasons this seems to be the case. Few throws will hit the ground. They'll more likely be jarred loose in a hit or intercepted. QBs are generally accurate and they find receivers in big space pretty often. Whether poor zone or man coverage is to blame is difficult to determine.
The pass rush is also inconsistent. Most sacks aren't due to immediate pressure but end up as coverage sacks. In my franchise I had some success controlling Cameron Wake and forcing off-target throws. The user shouldn't be forced to play the D-line (and not everyone has a Wake) in order to get pressure on the QB.
CPU running backs can threaten and they tore me up a few times in my franchise season, but that becomes an afterthought to trying to find a way to stop the QB. Heavy blitzing may be needed to push the CPU into third and long situations where their success level dramatically drops. Third and short or mid they probably convert over 75% of the time when the actual NFL average on third downs is around 39%. CPU punters are still idiots and kick it into the end zone at every opportunity. The CPU kickers only missed one field goal against me the entire season (short and off the bar rather than wide).
The "Precision Modifier" is going to have its share of supporters and detractors. On one side it adds more dynamic and exciting events. On the other it doesn't balance out well in terms of risk and in some cases, with the right players and the right timing, can almost be unstoppable. I'm personally not a fan of it in concept or execution.
It's interesting EA made this an option because there is very little reason not to just hold down the left trigger at all times when running forward. In my franchise season there were two fumbles noted while using the modifier with a back or receiver out of 14 total on the season. Of course there were more instances where contact took place without the modifier activated than with it, but that still goes to show there is very little or no correlation to turnovers and using the modifier.
Going up against a shifty player in open space controlled by someone who has the modifier down will undoubtedly be frustrating. Even power guys, when they stiff arm, end up dragging the defender sometimes 10 yards down the field in that animation. There was also an instance where Darren Sproles stiff-armed a linebacker to the ground.
The CPU will use some modifier moves though somewhat infrequently. The over and over spinning seen in the demo definitely wasn't present in any of the games played with the final version. What they will do is awkwardly throw out stiff-arms when no one is even in range.
The read-option is a lot of fun to utilize and is represented well in Madden. While some thought it was too easy in NCAA Football this year there is more balance found in Madden considering the talent of the defenders, the rate of fumbles being higher, and the always looming risk of injury. A fragile quarterback is not going to be able to take hits during a game and survive it. There were also instances where the QB would make the right read and still get crushed by a defender who identified it. The CPU only used it a few times with Cam Newton and Geno Smith running it sparsely in my franchise season.
The one play I may start removing from my playbook: HB Draws. It seems as though the offensive line frequently gets pushed so far back that the runner has no where to go once the ball is handed off. The one I'll be using more frequently: WR Screens. Against a soft defense getting the ball in open space to a quick and agile target can result in big plays.
As was the case with the demo there are issues with catch attempts at the sidelines. Quite often a receiver won't make a concerted effort to get their feet down when they seemingly have plenty of space to do so. Even top rated receivers don't always complete the catch in bounds.
Deep shots downfield can also be troublesome. This is where most of the INTs came off the CPU and in pass breakups by the CPU. In one-on-one coverage on a leading-lob pass the ball rarely gets over the top. User picks are easy to make on those attempts. Even with a step on the defender the ball usually ends up short and incomplete or picked off.
Those looking for more penalties will still not be satisfied. My team committed 12 over the 17 games played in the season. A few of them were self-inflicted (defensive offsides, false starts, late hits on QB) and the others were some for clipping, a few personal fouls for late hits on the sideline, one facemask, and one offensive pass interference that was called on my left guard.
The Hit Stick finally has some use again as big hits do force some fumbles. Holding the stick down also activates "Heat Seeker Tackling" which acts somewhat as a magnet when in range but if out of range results in a big whiff.
I went into injuries at length in the franchise write-up. There are lots of them, which doesn't make it unrealistic, but the same players seem to get hit with them over and over and its usually key contributors.
In fourth and short situations coming out in goal line the CPU does not match unless near the goal line. That makes sneaks essentially automatic. The only thing to worry about would be the QB getting injured.
The booth will automatically review a close touchdown as they should, but never review close turnovers and the user isn't even given the option of manually challenging them. This was something mentioned last year as an issue that apparently didn't make it onto the radar to get fixed. This omission upsets me.
There are five camera angles including "Legacy" which is the standard one from recent years. Considering how many expressed hatred towards the new standard camera angle that was locked in for the demo it's important to note that.
Like everything else in Madden NFL 25 presentation has its ups and downs. There are only a few different game openings, personalized celebrations look alright but they're done within awkward cut scenes, the halftime show isn't a halftime show, the lack of ties during games to league events dampen interest in Franchise mode, and commentary hasn't taken a big jump. The intro videos for primetime or playoff games in Franchise mode though are pretty cool.
Commentary is steady but it's surprising how little has been added or old lines thinned out. If I have to hear Phil Simms criticize a QB for checking down again, the one where he says it's just the QB worried about stats, my head might explode. In general for year two in the booth there is still too much left unspecified in their calls. "What a win for that one team" is literally something that was said after a game.
Danielle Bellini is the new sideline reporter and fits in well but most of what she has to report is very generic and often leaves out identifying the team or player names. Where she's most valuable is reporting on injuries at different points in the game. Unfortunately even with those she's stuck saying something about how the team wouldn't tell her what was wrong with the player. "The team wouldn't say." So then what's the point?
The touchdown and sack celebrations look good upon first viewing. The more they're seen though the more looks wrong with them. Players will show up out of no where to celebrate, it'll happen in spots where the play hadn't ended, the camera view may be blocked by other players, or it's noticed that there are no other people actually on the field. What's worse though is how players just stop and stand there after crossing the goal line or catching a pass for a score before a celebration or replay kicks in.
Auto-replays also have issues with individuals being lingered on from a single camera for too long. In some cases players run towards the camera and end up out of frame as they approach it. The graphics, while still largely excellent, seem far more muddied and flat (the lighting in particular) than recent years.
Rain and snow thin the crowd out to about 60% of capacity. Even in franchise for the Super Bowl fans apparently won't show up due to bad weather. Outside of a few team specific crowd chants or PA sounds the atmosphere in games is uniform from stadium to stadium. Hopefully with the "Living Worlds" part of the next-gen Ignite Engine they'll get some definition to the unique experiences that each fan base and stadium delivers. It should also be noted that the crowd still reacts improperly to the results of challenges. They'll boo a favorable result.
The post-game "Never Say Never Moment of the Game" is almost always a let down. Generally the play of the game is identified as a field goal that didn't actually determine the outcome. Or even worse an extra point.
-The wind indicator is reversed. How this seems to happen year after year is beyond me. It can even be seen in how the rain or snow is being pushed one direction and the indicator pointing the opposite way. Keep that in mind with any kicks and adjust accordingly.
-Another release that doesn't include surprise onside kicks.
-Game results can be shared on Facebook but the share to Twitter functionality is gone.
-There is still no screenshot feature included. The next-gen systems will have that built in.
-If a team is running out the clock when kneeling and the opponent has no timeouts can we get a chew clock option for that in the future please?
Madden NFL 25 feels like a 10 week bridge to next-gen rather than hitting a pinnacle in the way the series did late in the PS2/Xbox generation. It may satisfy many - there certainly are improvements over last year both on the field and off despite the gripes that will be had - but there will sadly be no Madden reaching "classic" status during the 360 and PS3 generation.