Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear football...
The latest official NFL gridiron game since Madden 13 last year, the 25 in the title refers to the number of years since the first game in the franchise, John Madden Football back in 1988. 25 years of Madden is celebrated in loading screens with nostalgic screen grabs from previous installments, chronicling when certain game-changing features were added. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Sorry sports fans, but for the benefit of our local demographic, American football is the one that’s not like our football at all but is a bit more like rugby except with brightly coloured helmets and shoulderpads and usually fireworks at the end.
Facetiousness aside, it’s the most popular sport in the US by far, the Madden games have a huge following, and with a new version released nearly every year, big things are expected from such an auspicious anniversary.
Seriously John, get back in the box, you're freaking me out.
Cynical fans are prone to dismiss new iterations of sports franchises as mere roster updates, but there are some notable changes. Debuting in Madden 13, the Infinity engine has had a little work done under the hood and now allows for much smoother running, dodging and diving; ball handlers about to topple from a check can sometimes regain their balance with a tap of the right stick. A much wider range of fake-outs and spins are available, and with a squeeze of the left trigger a precision modifier can be engaged to allow enhanced, more overt versions of these moves to be pulled off, at the expense of speed. Capable players will use several of them in quick succession to crack the defense wide open and gain that essential maximum yardage. For those that can’t, the resultant takedowns are crushing and visceral.
NOOOOOOOO!!! Fine, let's see YOUR Vader impression.
The presentation is an admirable recreation of NFL Super Sundays on the telly, with all the fast camerawork and sponsorships that entails. The pre-game sequence amps up the stakes to great effect, showing a super-condensed history for the two opposing teams while singling out players to watch. While the crowd graphics don’t look too hot up close, they sound authentic, with a selection of current team-specific chants. Noted commentators Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are on hand to provide a play-by-play breakdown of the match in hand. John himself is of course retired now but it would have been nice to have a bit of commentary from him for the anniversary edition. The music selection is a tad dated (Boom Boom Pow anyone?) but mostly hits the mark with crowd friendly anthems like White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.
Right from the opening menu it’s clear Madden 25 is chock-full of play modes and content. Of course you can select your favourite team and jump straight into a game with the AI or a friend, or go online (up to three vs three play is supported), but there’s a ton of other stuff to do. The Skills Trainer allows NFL rookies to practice various running, passing and blocking maneuvers, as well as mastering pre-game calls within the mandatory ten seconds. The many-featured Connected Franchise allows you to assume the role of a player, manager or even owner of your favourite NFL team, controlling every aspect of that team’s progression from player signing to ticket and vendor pricing. You can even uproot your team and relocate across the Atlantic to Dublin or London, should you so desire. Fake tweets from fans act as a barometer for your performance, so make the right decisions or face some fanboy wrath! In addition, the ability to control all thirty-two franchises offline within one Connected Franchise instance has been reinstated, a boon for offline fans.
Also returning are the so-called ‘Never Say Never Moments’, a mode where you jump into a game in progress and re-live iconic moments and plays throughout NFL history. If you’re connected to the internet, this will be updated with the current season’s more thrilling moments as it wears on. If you’re not feeling any of the existing NFL teams, take steps and create your own with Ultimate Team mode. Using the same kind of collectible card system seen in NBA2K13 and FIFA 13, players can be purchased in card packs, with the more rare and special ones available in microtransactions. Have the foresight to pick players with complementary styles, and you’ll get a team chemistry bonus.
No-one wants to be on the receiving end of Chad's Chicken Dance.
Pigskin pig-heads might find the sheer number of options in each team’s playbook totally bamboozling, but luckily for speed and ease of understanding the Gameflow system suggests a specific play on each down, depending on whether you want to be aggressive or conservative. Of course you can toss that advice aside and jump straight into the playbook, but make sure you don’t get lost in the squiggles. If the huge library of plays included doesn’t satisfy you can always make your own, or see what the online community have cooked up using the new Madden Share feature.
You got options.
All in all, Madden 25 is a decent, if not revolutionary sign-off for the franchise for this generation of consoles, and no doubt we’ll see it continue on the Xbox One and PS4. While it would have been nice if they’d played up the nostalgia a bit more (like they did with NHL 14), it’s a fine game of football. The other kind, I mean. Yes I know, the ball’s not round. Oh forget it.