Let's focus on what's new for this year's game. From the get-go you'll notice that the menu screen presentation is both different and improved. Using what I call the ‘PSN approach', everything on the menu has its own picture with a description on it. So things like Online head-to-head matches has a picture of an offensive line facing off against a defensive line, while the all-new Connected Franchise mode has a picture of Barry Sanders, John Madden and Jerry Jones. Suffice to say that the opening screen is well-presented and makes it easy to find what you're looking for.
Speaking of finding what you're looking for, Madden NFL 25 has amalgamated formerly separate modes into one mode this year. For example, Franchise and Superstar (where you play as a single player) are now joined together in Connected Franchise. The 'Connected' part of the name refers to the fact you can take your franchise online and play against real people. Don't worry if that doesn't float your boat – you can still play offline. Connected Franchise goes one step further and adds Owner mode back into Madden. This means you can play your franchise as either a single player, the coach, or the owner, and if you take it online other people can do the same.
All of the other game modes you've come to expect from Madden return, including Madden Ultimate Team and Never Say Never Moments (formerly known as Madden Moments) – where you're given tough challenges from real life NFL games to recreate. Communities, where you join up with a group of like-minded people also returns. There are some new modes too – Team Play is a game of 3 vs 3 (three human-controlled players per team, not three on-field players), EA Sports Arena lets you participate in tournaments, challenge gamers head-to-head, and win prizes.
Madden NFL 25 also features an all-new Skills Trainer, which is an interactive tutorial covering most offensive, defensive and pre-snap basics. There are fourteen drills all up, and each one is preceded by a video explaining the controls you'll be using. The tutorial about the 'Option' play is especially useful, as it teaches you whether to hand the ball off to the running-back, or hold onto it and make a play as the QB. If you're new to Madden or the NFL, the Skills Trainer should be your first port of call.
So that's the off-field changes covered, but what about on the field? The biggest change this year is something EA refers to as ‘Run Free', which gives you increased control over players in the run game. You can give the ball-carrier and acceleration boost by holding down R2, and you can add a ‘precision modifier' to your evasive moves by holding L2.
You can also string moves together, so if you see two defenders heading towards the ball carrier you can push up on the right-analog stick (to ‘truck' the defender and run over the top of him), then rotate it 90 degrees left or right to spin away from the second defender. Getting the timing right for that is no easy task however and not every player in the game is capable of doing it.
Online play continues to be a strong point for the Madden franchise. It's seamlessly integrated into Madden Ultimate Team via Head-to-Head Seasons, a ten game season where you must win a specific number of games (starting at five) to make it to the playoffs. The 3v3 option in Team Play is great fun, and taking your franchise online is now actively encouraged (and straightforward to boot). There are no shortage of players either, which is to be expected with Madden.
I've spent the whole review so far talking about what's new, and when you look at it on paper it all sounds great. Unfortunately in practice the changes aren't as significant as they sound. For example, playing your Franchise as the owner sounds entertaining, but the reality is your only new duties involve setting the price of merchandise, hiring staff, upgrading (or relocating) your stadium and answering extremely infrequent media questions (I've had two questions in just over two seasons of play). That makes Owner Mode a very bland addition.
Regrettably all of the on-field annoyances from seasons ago persist in Madden NFL 25 as well, and this more than anything else is what really grinds my gears as a long-time player. Your receivers drop the ball far too often, and receivers on crossing routes frequently cut back to the ball to make a catch and thus lose all their momentum. The blocking of the O-Line seems improved, but your WR's, FB's and TE's are a different story, often running away from the defender most likely to tackle you rather than making a block.
Receivers don't show much intelligence when making catches close to the sidelines, only rarely going to the animation that sees them get both feet in-bounds. They also run routes that take them out of bounds instead of slowing down as they approach the sideline. And most annoyingly ball-carriers don't reach out for the end zone when they're being tackled just short.
From a graphical point of view I give a big thumbs up to the new and improved menu presentation. The overhaul was a long-time coming but it works well, not just on the main menu but also in the various game modes. On the field the players move more realistically than ever, and the improved tackling animations (which debuted last year) look excellent.
The players themselves look much the same as they have for years, which is to say, a bit generic. Player likenesses vary from ok to horrible - Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith looked almost nothing like their real life counterparts when tossing the coin at the Superbowl – which is glaring when you compare it to something like NBA 2K.
The biggest issue I had with the visuals, outside of the odd leg disappearing into the ground, or one player running through another in-between plays, was the limited number of cutaways. For some reason EA seems determined to show you at least one cut-away or replay before letting you choose the next play. I'm impatient so that annoys me, but it's even worse when you see the exact same cutaway countless times. If there's less than two minutes on the clock or a team has called a timeout you will see, with about 98% certainty, a player from one team get Gatorade sprayed into their mouth by a trainer. How I loathe that particular cut-away.
The music is ok – EA has made a wise choice to move away from rock music in the menu screens, replacing it with the kind of marching band tracks you might hear on an NFL Films production. During games and practice you'll hear the odd rock song being played on the stadium's PA system. The sound effects seem much the same, but they don't really need tweaking.
Madden NFL 25 remains, like its recent predecessors, a very good game of American Football. What it isn't though is a significant step forward. Featuring an improved running game, superior presentation, and all those annoying game play issues you wish they'd fixed up in 2004, it's hard to recommend Madden NFL 25 to anyone who owns anything as recent as Madden 12. Hopefully the series debut on PS4 will solve some of the lingering gameplay issues and once again make Madden a must-have game.
Review By: Mike Allison