Content Test 3

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Madden NFL 25
Graphics: 7.3
Gameplay: 7.7
Sound: 7.1
Control: 7.9
Replay Value: 8.5
Rating: 7.8

In examining this yearís sports titles, one fact has become painfully evident to me: The interactive sports world requires the next generation of consoles if itís to take the next step in regards to immersion, realism and innovation. While itís true that significant progress can be difficult with an annual franchise, itís also true that one expects to see worthwhile upgrades with each new installment. Madden NFL 25 celebrates a quarter-century of video game pigskin fun with an effort that feels too much like last yearís iteration. At the same time, the requisite depth and general overall solidarity probably make it appealing to hardcore football fans.

With more animations than ever before and more detail in the visual presentation, this yearís Madden does look good. Thereís a lot to like; we see better character models for the players, smooth and fluid movements on the field, and plenty of camera angles that give you a TV-like view of the on-field action. However, thereís still a disappointing lack of refinement. Thereís still too much odd sliding and crazy movement from the players (often best seen during replays), and they havenít yet ironed out the age-old clipping issue when players get stacked up at the line of scrimmage. These are minor drawbacks and I expect them to disappear soon. Like, next year.

One gets the feeling that despite the general stability of all the technical elements, theyíre still dated. The audio is a good example of that dichotomy, as the soundtrack simply consists of a few popular tracks from big-name bands like AC/DC and Black Eyed Peas. The effects are only a little better than average and the balancing isnít exactly perfect. Finally, the commentary Ė such a big part of football Ė is just mediocre. Iíve always liked the passion of guys like Phil Simms, but their observations on the plays are erratic and sometimes flat-out wrong. When they get it right, itís great to listen to Ďem. When they donít, itís comicalÖin a bad way.

Iíve used the word ďrefinementĒ a couple times already, so let me explain that term as it pertains to the gameplay. Madden NFL 25 does feature a refined palette of sorts, and one wonít be able to locate glaring flaws. There are a few idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies, many of which are familiar to franchise fans, but nothing to get in a twist about. What I do get in a twist about is the end result; the fact that these admittedly small errors are still here, and in brief, it still feels like last yearís model. On the plus side, itís ridiculously robust and football fans can experience the virtual gridiron in just about any way they choose.

Thereís standard single-player and multiplayer, with a wide variety of modes ranging from the classic Play Now to the far more complex options, such as those that task you with owning a team. You can also be a coach if you so choose and the insane depth available to you is staggering. Itís also nice to be able to play in the Connected Franchise mode as an owner, which means you can now tackle the time-consuming Franchise modes with any player, coach or owner you choose. Me, Iím a 49ers fan so taking control of a rookie version of Jerry Rice is just a blast. If youíre into the nuts and bolts of football, if youíre the guy who yells specific orders at the TV screen on Sundays, you gotta go Franchise.

On display yet again is the Infinity engine, which debuted last year. As I mentioned when I addressed the graphics, the developers have worked to iron out a few visual kinks. There are more animations than ever before, which means the look of the on-field action is much more dynamic. The only problem is that youíll see a lot of the same animations during any given game, which I find odd. You have all these new animations; letís see Ďem all on a frequent basis! And until you actually get into a game, youíre going to have to slog through a clunky, slow interface that greatly hinders your off-the-field actions. This is a big issue, too, because with so much depth, youíll be spending a fair amount of time dealing with those menus.

Thereís one element of this production that bothers me more than anything else. But before I explain, let me preface that statement by saying that Madden NFL 25 is not a bad game. On the surface, it has just about everything a die-hard football follower could want. It has the modes, it has the player advancement and customization, it has great multiplayer, and the realism is good, if not fantastic. Playing the latest entry often registered high on my Fun Factor meter, especially when I got more involved with the gameís intricate, engrossing depth and detail. But the more I played, the more I realized that itís still not realistic enough.

For years now, the passing game has dominated in this franchise. Some may argue that the NFL is more of a passing league now, anyway, especially with all the new rules designed for a QBís protection. Thatís a legitimate stance, I suppose. But this isnít a simulated depiction of the current state of football; itís simply unrealistically skewed toward the passing game. Itís still far too difficult to get through the offensive line, the defensive backs and safeties appear to have the worst AI (and worst hands) in the game, and as usual, certain pass plays work way too often. It isnít right when the freakiní Jets can have a decent game passing against the All Madden team.

Sure, itís exhilarating to be involved in so many shootouts. And I imagine that many players care more about offense than defense, anyway. But thatís not a properly simulated experience in my book, and it annoys me that EA hasnít fixed this yet. They tried to bolster the running game with extra moves, like flashy jukes and spins; itís called ďrun freeĒ and if you master it, you will certainly feel more effective on the ground. With so many moves available, it almost feels like a fighting game when you hand the ball off; i.e., you can string together the tricky stuff, just like a fighting combo. This is really cool but it fails to override the aforementioned pass bias, which is a glaringly unbalanced problem.

The new additions to defensive control canít really stop the passing juggernaut, either. Itís nice that I can now lock onto the ball carrier, which allows me to track him through a mess of players and take him down before he hits the open field. Still, it feels somewhat gimmicky and if youíre a decent defensive player to begin with, you probably wonít use this fresh mechanic very often. So, in the end, weíre basically left with the following: Madden NFL 13 with a few upgrades that donít actually fix the longstanding issues that have plagued this series for a good three or four years. Iím also not convinced that itís a lack of power that is stopping EA TiburonÖ

The multiplayer is often where itís at for this game, as playing with others is always more entertaining than playing the computer. Such is the way with most sports games, right? The multiplayer modes function quite well and the servers seem stable. The Connected Franchise mode isnít completely fleshed out, but Iíll give EA another year to beef that up. Everything else works very well and if youíve got a few interested friends, Iím sure youíll enjoy some wild Madden nights. If your buddies are familiar with the franchise, they probably wonít care much about the issues Iíve mentioned. Why? ĎCuz theyíve been around for a while, so those fans are quite familiar.

I still find it difficult to believe that Madden has been around for 25 years. I wouldíve expected a bigger effort with the game that celebrates this important anniversary. The game is chock full of content, the new animations are awfully sweet (despite the repetition of use), a few of the new gameplay mechanics are intriguing, and multiplayer with the right peeps is great. But why are all QBs Joe Montana? Why does even the best defensive line struggle to get any penetration? Why do all the crowd-pleasing moves and additions do little to fix this lack of realism? Why is the interface so slow? Why am I still seeing brain-dead AI?

All of that must be resolved when the first next-gen Madden arrives. Iím crossing my fingers.

The Good: Plenty of slick new animations. New gameplay additions add flair and more player options. Decent control and physics. Loaded with content from front to back. Fun-filled multiplayer.

The Bad: Lingering visual miscues. Outdated audio. Heavily biased toward the passing game. Clunky, slow interface.

The Ugly: ďI just think they shouldíve tried harder to celebrate 25 great years of Madden

9/8/2013   Ben Dutka