Today, Electronic Arts, better known as EA, stands as one of the single most important companies in the gaming world. It has a massive stable of system selling franchises, it has a presence on all platforms, and EA supporting or not supporting a platform can make all the difference to its long term viability (see also: Dreamcast).
But it wasn’t always this way; EA wasn’t always the top dog. As a matter of fact, its stratospheric rise to the most important third party publisher in the world can be traced to one game that it decided to release on the Apple II twenty five years ago; the later Genesis sequel would end up propelling both that console and EA itself to the top, and Madden since then has become a fixture of gaming, epitomizing sports games and annual franchises.
And yet, over the years, it has been mishandled. Even as EA’s other sports franchise, FIFA, goes from strength to strength with the developers making every installment stand out from the last, Madden itself has suffered, its developers largely coasting, the quality of the games stagnating, if not declining.
For the twenty fifth anniversary of the game, EA decided to do something special- they broke the naming conventions, they decided to debut their new engine meant for sports games (the Ignite Engine) with Madden NFL 25, they fixed some longstanding complaints, and overall decided to give their once premier and still massively important sports franchise a bit of dignity for its silver jubilee. The result is a game that, while still not Madden at its peak, is one of the best American Football sims we’ve gotten from EA in years.
Of course, it still plays like Madden- at this point, you’re better off not expecting anything else, anything different. It plays like it always has, but fittingly, considering its celebration of the franchise’s silver jubilee, it plays better than any other Madden game that came before it.
I’d love to be all romantic and idealistic and put that down to EA putting in extra effort for the 25th installment, but of course we all know that that isn’t it- by nature, Madden is an iterative franchise, with each year’s game adding something new to the previous year’s installment, and each new game thus representing a culmination of everything the franchise has done up to then.
That is the case here as well- it just happens to be a happy coincidence that the ultimate Madden game as of now released for the franchise’s twenty fifth anniversary. And twenty fourth anniversary before that. And twenty third before then, and so on.
Where the actual gameplay still largely has stayed the same (the much hyped debut of the Ignite engine seems to have made a disappointingly little amount of difference to how the game actually plays, outside of slightly more realistic physics for the players and the plays), EA has tried to add some stuff to make this title stand out. For instance, there is now the option to play as a franchise owner in the Connected Franchise mode.
Those of you who are expecting something like the Manager Mode in the FIFA games- in other words, more of a management sim than a sim of the actual sport itself- will probably be disappointed. Playing as an owner opens up some new sets of objectives and the like, but on the whole, the actual gameplay still remains the same.
In any case, it represents a good start and a good base for EA to build up from, and hopefully in a years, Madden NFL might have its own management mode as full featured, at the very least, as FIFA does.
All the other modes from the previous games return, including, yes, the Madden Ultimate Team mode, so players know what they’re getting into with this one. One place, however, where Madden NFL 25 has seen a change, and the final impact of this change might be debatable in the long run, are the controls.
In my opinion, the controls changes are a much needed, long awaited, welcome change, and they streamline so much of the on field play. Having said that though, there might still be legions of fans out there who have internalized the old controls, and dislike the new changes forced upon them.
Perhaps that explains the stagnancy of the franchise, even in the game that is supposed to be, above all else, a celebration of its twenty five year history. Madden at this point works, it works for its fans, its developers know that, and changing it too much would probably create more of an outcry than anything else.
Backed into that iterative corner, the developers have done an appreciably good job of making this year’s game stand out from last year’s. And yet, it feels disappointingly familiar, disappointingly by the numbers, with the only concession made to twenty five years of history being the (inordinately long) trivia peppered loading screens.
But it’s fun. Even as someone who doesn’t enjoy American Football the sport, the game is fun, and maybe that’s what matters over all else. It’s still fun to play with your buddies on a Sunday afternoon. Assuming they don’t prefer the real thing, of course, because that would suck.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.