The Madden NFL franchise has survived for 25 long years and several console iterations, and over that time the series has grown from a blocky, arcade-style experience to a well-oiled machine, where refinements are slight but the gameplay is razor sharp.
With Madden NFL 25, the franchise once again takes the leap into a new generation of consoles, but does so with a lot of its baggage in tow. Madden NFL 25 isn't the visually impressive, totally immersive football title EA Sports was hoping for, but it does introduce a few changes that hardcore fans will certainly appreciate.
First things first: Madden NFL 25 does not look like that initial next-gen reveal trailer. There are flashes of that ambition contained within this game, but the overall look is much more muted. Players look closer to their real world counterparts than they ever have before, but not on the level that some might expect. And what detail the game adds to player faces is soon lost once the game's blocky animation routines kick in. When running, passing, diving, or tackling player movements are fluid and weighty, but everywhere else they are noticeably awkward. The players on the field are the lucky ones though, as sideline players and coaches look like stilted robots.
Aside from the hit-or-miss faces and animations, players actually look impressive. Tiny details like the glare on players' helmets and the wrinkles on their jerseys, look much better than in the previous gen. From behind - which is how most players are seen in-game - the players look great, it's just when the camera gets tight on players' faces that they start looking a bit ugly. It's almost as if a higher res texture was draped over a current-gen player model.
However, like in the next-gen version of FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25 shines brightest in the stadiums and crowds. Instead of blocky, paper-like fans, this next-gen Madden has fully animated attendees, who look and feel like a part of the atmosphere. They participate in team-specific chants, they react to particularly tense moments in the game, and most importantly they look like individual people. And luckily for those fans, they have beautifully rendered stadiums to occupy. From the lights shining down during a night game to the the grass on the field, stadiums finally have a tangible texture to them. The grass is an especially impressive area of improvement, as it now shows wear and tear as players traipse across it. Those visible signs of damage unfortunately don't stay in place for long, which makes for an awkward "field refresh" animation, but it's a smart first attempt at adding a little touch of detail.
Gameplay in Madden NFL 25 also gets a slight boost in the next-gen, most especially in the running game. Now, instead of players being able to turn on a dime and quickly get back up to speed, they have a true sense of weight and momentum. That means players can't pull improbable juke moves, making the running game the most realistic it's been in some time. This change does take some getting used to, as players are essentially relearning how to break and evade tackles, but it's one of the few additions that feel like the foundation for a more realistic Madden. And the game compensates for more realistic running by making tackle animations more realistic. So, rather than getting sucked into an opponent and falling to the ground, players can now break free more easily if an opponent is off balance or smaller.
Similarly, the offensive line and defensive line AI in the game is much improved. On offense, a team's offensive line ensures that blitzers don't have easy lanes to the quarterback and making sure running backs can find their own lanes when necessary. Whereas on defense, gamer-controlled lineman will find themselves fighting desperately to break free, but they won't "stick" to the tackle or guard like in the past. Since most players will spend little time in "trenches," most of these improvements will go unnoticed, or at the very least unappreciated. But this was an area that Madden had struggled in recent years, so it's good to see EA Sports finally give it some attention.
When it's all in motion, a lot of the improvements made in player modeling and animations get lost in the shuffle. That is to say the next-gen version doesn't play all that better than on the current-gen version, save for the running game. For some time the franchise has needed some improvements in the passing game and on defense — especially in the way cornerbacks react to passes — but both areas appear relatively untouched. It's true that the atmosphere can go a long way towards making the experience look and sound better, but that fades away after a few games.
What's left after that is a product that improves in a few areas, but not on the level to call this a must-buy sports title. Like we mentioned in our current-gen review, Madden NFL 25 comes across as little more than a stop-gap before the big improvements hit in one or two years time. And the next-gen version is a slightly better playing iteration, with visuals that are more detailed but still flawed. Overall, fans of the series will like how EA Sports has leveraged the power of the next-gen systems, but the casual consumer is better served waiting till the franchise makes more sweeping changes.
Have you had a chance to check out Madden NFL 25 on the PS4 or Xbox One? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
Madden NFL 25 is out now for the PS4 and Xbox One. Game Rant primarily played the PS4 version for this review but tested the Kinect on Xbox One where the same set of voice commands work slightly better with the newer system.