Although the series takes a great amount of flack for releasing annual versions that seem to have very little differentiation, Madden NFL 25 celebrates its perennial nature by making a special edition for the 25th anniversary of the series. The setup was smartly done as it makes this edition seem like the definitive Madden experience. Sadly it’s more of a Frankenstein monster of great ideas and bad execution instead of feeling like the gold standard of sporting games.

First off, the presentation is sleek. The menus take on a style reminiscent of the current Xbox dashboard with large images under a concise menu, but it can feel sluggish trying to navigate. The game types are displayed fairly prominently, and it’s easy to hop into a game featuring your favorite matchup.

Onto the big news. Fantasy draft is back. Co-op offline franchises are back. Player, coach, and owner mode are back in a mashup mode called Connected Franchise. What keeps the game from rocketing into the upper echelons is that a lot of the actual game feels very barebones.

There is so much going on under the hood of an NFL game, but none of it is represented on screen. Is your WR getting fatigued? Well you better not be using the Ask Madden feature because that information can only be seen in the formation category. Is your HB on a hot streak? The only way to find out is to press start, then cycle using the bumpers to see who is on a cold or hot streak. It’s this sort of nonintuitive interface that plagues the whole experience.

Next is the sound. The players sound good with a stock of grunts and yells, and on a slow-developing screen pass I can hear the linebacker yell “screen” to nobody in particular, but every other aspect of sound is downright bad. I’m one season into my league and I’ve turned off the commentary; there’s only so many times I can hear RG3 introduced in the same fashion at the beginning of every single game. EA Trax has seemingly disappeared, so the pop/rock/rap songs to get you pumped for the game are gone, replaced by echoing versions of The Black Eyed Peas and Welcome to the Jungle during kickoffs, but that’s pretty much it.

What is strangest about this game, and what I feel is its biggest violation, is the gap between welcoming newbies and catering to the hardcore football crowd without much of a middle ground. I would feel bad if I handed the controller over to someone with only a rudimentary knowledge of football. There is a training camp of sorts, but those are mostly for getting to know the more intricate controls, not for learning the basic tenets of American Football.

For instance, many newbies won’t know the difference between man and zone defenses and there isn’t really any way of learning it in the game other than trial and error. And even then, it isn’t a guarantee that the strengths of different types of defenses become obvious over time.

On the other side, if you’re familiar with the NFL or football in general, you’re going to be fiddling with sliders and options until you find the configuration that you’re comfortable with. If you’re great at throwing slant passes but can’t handle the outside run you’ll have to find the slider that makes those specific elements more or less effective.

Once you’ve played around a few times it’s time to settle into your preferred gametype. There are two major ways that EA wants you to play: Ultimate Team and Connected Franchise. The most popular is bound to be Connected Franchise, where you can play the role of a player, coach, or owner and can join a league consisting of CPUs, human players, or a mix of the two.

There are minor differences between the player, coach, and owner roles, but you’ll experience essentially the same gameplay between all three, though as a player you will only control your one player, so make sure it’s a position you wouldn’t mind playing your whole career. Fantasy drafts are great way to start your team off on a new foot, but they take away some of the personalities of the teams and put every team in the low 80s of overall ratings.

The other major play type is Madden Ultimate Team, which has also made its way onto the other big EA franchise, FIFA. It’s actually a brilliant mix of collectible card games and quick arcade-type games. You choose a team captain and a team strength like power running or the long pass, and you open your starter pack of low-ranking players alongside your high-ranking captain.

By playing solo challenges and multiplayer matches you’ll earn coins which allow you to buy new packs. Solo challenges increase in difficulty earning better awards like different playbooks and coaches, but the real meat is in the player matches. Winning a certain number of games will put you in the playoffs, and if you win those you will face off in a super bowl. Of course, play is asymmetrical so my first game of the “season” may be someone else’s final game.

If you win enough games you will move up in rank which will have better awards, netting you more coins, earning you more cards and better players. The games are ridiculously short so you only really get a handful of drives to get a win. It does mean almost every game will be close, though.

What would an EA game be without monetization, though? Like any collectible card game it’s easy to drop dollars looking for your favorite player. Earning coins is a laborious affair so you have to weigh out how much time you’re willing to work toward a pack of cards with a real money value of $2. It’s this type of monetization that takes me out of the game and I feel uncomfortable doing these calculations after I’ve payed full price for a game. The most egregious is the $1 gold upgrade pack, a one-time purchase which is a bit of a no-brainer since it includes 9 random top-tier players to bolster your lineup.

There were a few bugs when I played this during release week. I attempted to move one week ahead in my fantasy draft but it hard froze my Xbox 360. I tried uninstalling the game from my hard drive, removing the automatic update, and moving files around but with the same result of a hard freeze every time. I had to restart my league, losing a few hours of progress.

Cameras are obnoxious in this game. After each quarter ends you are treated to three nonsensical camera angles in rapid succession, usually with no music or voiceover. It’s these moments of awkward silence that also accompany penalties and injuries that scream “bad design.”

I also have a frequent issue of a disappearing audible screen which is very bad when the offense is running no-huddle, giving you only a few precious seconds to read their formation, so when the screen disappears it’s liable to affect the turnout of the game.

When all is said and done, Madden NFL 25 is not the definitive version that some may have hoped for. There are just too many missed opportunities for small improvements like 09‘s Ice the Kicker feature or NCAA‘s on-screen fatigue and streak indicators. The major working parts are there, but there isn’t much reason to think this was a different title than Madden NFL 14.

(PS3 Review copy provided by EA for review, thanks!)

ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE

Story – N/A

Gameplay/Design – 7/10

Visuals – 7/10

Sound – 3/10

Lasting Appeal – 6/10

_______________________

Overall – 6.5/10

(Not an average)

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, iOS

Developer: EA Tiburon

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