Pre-season games going on? Check. Fantasy teams? Drafted. The only thing really missing to signal the oncoming NFL season is the latest edition of Madden, but now that's here too. It's also now old enough to legally rent a car in America as the popular series celebrates turning 25. Having been along for the ride of so much NFL history, EA Sports has given this year's cover to the could-have-been-greater-than-great running back, Barry Sanders.
The Hall of Fame Lion ticks both the historic player box and the box for being a very appropriate cover man for Madden's giant step forward known as Run Free. With this bad boy, ball carriers have more freedom and unpredictability has been added where plays would end in prior versions of Madden. In my very first game playing Madden 25, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray slipped through numerous tackles and bounced off the Jaguars defense on his way to the end zone. Now I know picking on one of the worst teams in the league isn't a great indication of the new system, so I decided to see how one of the NFL's best backs handles in the Run Free system against stronger competition. To put it politely, Adrian Peterson made the Broncos his bitch.
While some players are like an F-150 with Madden's truck stick, Peterson is a runaway 18 wheeler barreling through the squad cars the police have sacrificed for their barricade. Because of the Run Free system, he is the new Bo Jackson. Should you decided to play as one of the 31 other teams, it wouldn't be a bad idea to take advantage of the new precision moves that now accompany the spins, dives, stiff arms, and truck stick moves Madden players have gotten used to. Their execution will be very familiar to anyone who has been playing FIFA for the last few years, as the precision moves are readied by holding down the left trigger on your controller, then inputting moves on the right stick. If you really want to break the defender's ankles, you'll have the ability to chain precision moves together and make the other guy wonder if he ever really at a shot at tackling you in the first place.
Quarterbacks also have some new moves with the addition of Total Control Passing, allowing them to really put that ball right where they want it. Since guys like Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and Russell Wilson are beginning to run things, Pistol Option plays have finally made the jump from college to the pros. Michael Vick could take off and run in the past, but now he and the rest of the dual-threat quarterbacks can really do what they do best. With all of this, EA Sports has made some big additions and put a lot on the player's plate to figure out. This was the first I've felt the need to use Madden's tutorials, but they'll definitely come in handy for new and seasoned Madden players alike. The offensive side of the ball got the majority of the love this time, but that doesn't mean the defense got left out in the cold. Both sides of the ball benefit from the upgraded Infinity Engine, as defenders make the shoestring tackles you didn't see before. Even if they miss that first hit, all eleven guys trying to tackle you can't be counted out to not make the play.
That's a lot of new and good for the people that just want to play some football, but EA Sports has made some additions and re-introductions for all the lounge chair general managers. In Ultimate Team, the concept of Team Chemistry has returned so it's no longer about just getting the absolute best players. Now you have to get the absolute best players that fit your scheme, and I don't think Adrian Peterson is gonna be happy in a Long Pass style offense. I wouldn't get small defensive tackles for your Run Stuffing defense, either. In another move FIFA players will be familiar with, the Seasons Mode will take your ultimate team through a ten game season and if you make them, the play-offs. There are rewards for winning in the play-offs, but they also come with a higher difficulty. That's nothing that eventually having to buy better players with real money can't fix.
Owner mode also makes its return to Madden this year, and you can be as Al Davis as you wanna be! Setting prices for everything at the stadium, moving your team to a new city, like Los Angeles, create new uniforms, and stirring up all sorts of crap by saying exactly what the league doesn't want to hear! This is for the people that really want the entire NFL experience, but if you want to take it down a notch, the Coach Mode returns to round out the Connected Franchise of player, coach, and owner. For those of you who remember how crazy Al Davis used to get, you'll probably also appreciate the two special teams created for Madden 25: The Canton Greats and The All 25 Team. Both are absolutely stacked as the former comes with nothing but Hall of Fame players, and the latter has the best player ever at each position in Madden's 25 year history. I kind of wish the names on the All 25 team included the year that particular version of a player came from, but that's a small complaint. Playing with these teams is a big nostalgia trip, not only for the players, but do you remember the last time you saw an NFL team run the Far, Near, or Pro Form formations? Me either.
All of this is wrapped up in the usual TV-style presentation that looks good and sounds good, but you'll be skipping past after the first few times you see it. That isn't anything against Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, I like their commentary far more than I ever liked Gus Johnson, but pre-recorded dialogue can only be heard so many times before it just runs its course. They still make the occasional incorrect call, or their reaction doesn't match what happened on the field. There's just one issue that seemed to be a glaring one. In Connected Franchise, I made a running back who looks like I do, and he would start his career out as the Cowboys' second string RB. I would get into the pre-season games, and Phil and Jim kept calling me DeMarco Murray. I know the press box isn't close to the field, but until recently I was pretty sure those two could tell the difference between a pale, white boy and an African-American fellow who played at Oklahoma. It seems I was wrong. There also seemed to be an inordinate amount of up-close coach ass on screen in the TV-style presentation. That's not really a glaring problem, more of a right up in your face kind.
Head Coach posteriors and commentators who need glasses aside, Madden 25 is probably the most complete football package EA Sports has ever produced. They've given players the ability to get as much of the NFL experience as they want, in the ways that they want it. The Run Free system has taken offense in Madden to a new level, and the Infinity Engine's upgraded physics really help enhance and deliver the excitement and unpredictability people are used to seeing on Sunday afternoons. For the guys that get it every year, it's definitely worth it to put down another sixty bucks for something that is far more than “the same game with new rosters.” If you haven't bought Madden in a few years, this is a good one to get back to the series with. If you're just getting into Madden, you picked a pretty good year to start playing.
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