A Quarter Century Of Large Men Hitting Each Other
Written by DJ Kinsey - Assistant Editor-in-Chief
Published Thursday, 05 September 2013 16:17
It is common knowledge that John Madden is the spokesperson for Ace Hardware stores but did you also know that his name is synonymous with a hit video game series? That’s right, when he is not peddling the latest sale on claw hammers, John Madden has for the past 25 years lent his name to the most successful brand in pixelated American football, or as the American’s call it, football. The Madden brand has become a critical hit and a sales behemoth for EA Sports garnering accolades for its realistic portrayal of the game. With a strong pedigree and a quarter century of gaming evolution I had high expectations for Madden NFL 25 when I popped the disk into my PS3.
The annual Madden release normally boasts a renewed focus on a certain aspect of the game which receives the lion’s share of the programing bells and whistles. In the past this has been a tuning of the in-game defence or the addition of special traits for star players. This year EA Sports put their talents towards revamping the running game in Madden 25 allowing for greater control and 30 new moves when juking and moving down the field. This is also the second year of the Infinity Engine which oversees the physics employed for the bone-crushing tackles, replacing the pre-rendered animations of the past.
While the gift of silver is normal for a 25th wedding anniversary, the game celebrates this milestone through its load screens. Each contains a screenshot from one of the previous 24 iterations of the game and explains what made that particular version unique. It is almost jarring to see the dated and blocky graphics from the older versions of the game as I can still remember playing Madden on the Sega Genesis in the early 90s telling all who would listen, “This game looks amazing!” The trip down memory lane is a nice touch, offering an appropriate amount of reverence for the title’s roots.
With a top notch presentation and a near perfect recreation of the sounds of the stadium, the game is the closest one can get to the action without risking a concussion
My first taste of on the field action took place in the Madden NFL 25 skills trainer. The deep mode provided me the tools to not only run a competent offensive and defensive unit but to also develop a greater understanding of the game's intricacies which had at times eluded me in some previous Madden versions. I developed acuity with running an option or calling hot routes on the fly, something which felt too cumbersome in the past. I also enjoyed the “gamification” of the training whereby I had to perform a skill multiple times and received a bronze, silver or gold rating dependant on my ratio of success which translated to XP. These can then be used to level up players.
With my skills buffeted I was ready to begin my career in the connected franchise mode. Offered the choice to proceed as a single player, coach or team owner I decided to put my headset on and coach my team to greatness. This mode offers the typical coaching decisions but also puts players in control of all of the players on the field. As in the more recent iterations the owner mode is pure delight for the A-type personalities out there offering gamers the chance to micromanage all team aspects from setting the ticket prices to purchasing stadium upgrades.
The in-game presentation in Madden NFL 25 has never been stronger. The sheen on the player’s helmets, the flying grass divots as the linebackers advance on the QB and the gradual sullying of uniforms throughout the game are the small touches which drew me deeper into the experience. In fact, the presentation is near identical to what would be seen during an actual NFL telecast. The roving sideline reporter pipes in on the status of a recent injury, Snickers advertises on the scoreboard and there are the standard blimp shots between quarters. Following the NFL broadcast template so closely does result in one minor annoyance. When watching the game on TV it is not uncommon to immediately see an instant replay after every play. This is a necessity for TV as the replay offers greater entertainment value than watching 11 sweaty men whispering to each other in a huddle. In video games this is unnecessary and results in continual stoppage to the flow of the game. There is no option to skip the replay if it is enabled so gamers are forced to watch not only the spectacular but the mundane again before picking their next play.
The presentation is buoyed by in-game graphics which are near photo-realistic at times. From the dynamic indoor white lighting of Cowboy Stadium to the late afternoon shadows enveloping Ralph Wilson stadium the environments look and feel like their real life counterparts. Player models are well realized with the exception of what appears to be the holy grail of video games, long hair. The pigskin itself and the turf surfaces have an extra layer of richness and the crowds have a life to themselves and do not seem to be an afterthought as in so many sports games.
The Madden NFL 25 audio falls into two distinct categories. The sounds of the game are exemplary. The buzz of the crowd, players calling to each other and the stadium announcer are as real and immersive a sports game experience I can recall. I can think of no better use of my rear speakers than the droning cheers of the fans that reach a crescendo when the home team runs it in for 6. Other than a lack of variety for the in-stadium music whereby I have now had my fill of Welcome to the Jungle for the decade, Madden NFL 25 has no equal for ambient sound design.
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms who provide the running commentary are another story when it comes to audio. While there is nothing objectionable about the calling of the game they provide there is also little that enhances the football experience. Much of the talk is in regards to generalizations with only sporadic use of actual player names. There is little insight to the team formations at the line which is some of the more valuable contributions the commentators make during a real telecast. I was also surprised by the lack of any interesting observations when a play route was missed or a ball was dropped other than recycled quips. It felt like Jim and Phil mailed their performances in with little inflection in their voices which would have been appropriate when the action heated up. The one bright spot from the announcers in new addition Danielle Bellini who sounds enthusiastic when offered the limited opportunity to report back from the sidelines. She is the sole person given a microphone who seems to be caught up in the passion and excitement of a real NFL game. Unfortunately Bellini’s lines are often generic, adding little if any insight to the overall gaming experience.
The gameplay in this year’s Madden is another moderate improvement over past years. The improved running mechanic and new precision modifier allows for greater control which was sorely needed. When running the ball, gamers are now tasked with deciding whether to run with the turbo at the expense of their effectiveness at specialty movements or to run a little slower but to have more effective control over their spins, jumps and jukes. This adds an extra layer which, when combined with the new running move list offers a ridiculous number of options when staring down a 300 pound brute. It is a completely satisfying experience to stiff arm, hurdle and stutter step your way through multiple defenders. As with previous year’s versions of the game I still find the timing to engage the options afforded the ball carrier to be slightly off. It has always felt that one needs to hit these moves one step before they are actually needed. While extra ball carrier options of welcome, the disconnect within the timing of the running game prevents it from achieving the revolution in control that it has been touted to be.
The Infinity Engine 2.0 is the real show-piece of Madden NFL 25. Offering tackles and flying bodies based on the physics of the engine versus pre-rendered animations is what makes me want to steep in the game and play over and over. While some may quibble that there is the odd body part that does not adhere to the laws of human kinetics, on the whole the way the players move and interact with each other during tackles is incredible. There is a much stronger feeling of momentum and impact as huge full-backs plow down smaller defenders or someone is clipped and spirals out of control. I had a running back who hurdled a fallen linebacker a few yards from the goal only to come down into the clutches of a monstrous defender. He could not fully interrupt my forward momentum and as a result he ended up throwing me into the end zone on my back. It was a spectacular play that would never have been possible in a Madden game two years ago. I have already forgotten whether I ended up winning that game but that memory sticks and will continue to do so. The jaw dropping moments I have had with Madden NFL 25 are almost entirely thanks to the fine tuning of the Infinity Engine 2 and the pure spectacle it can create.
Madden NFL 25 takes another step forward in replicating the Sunday afternoon and Monday night NFL rituals watched in millions of homes every week. With a top notch presentation and a near perfect recreation of the sounds of the stadium, the game is the closest one can get to the action without risking a concussion. While there is no denying that the tuned physics engine is the star of the show, orchestrating the thunderous hits and displays of pure athleticism that the league is known for, this is slightly offset by the lackluster commentary. The additional focus on the running game is also appreciated although having more tools in the utility belt does not make-up for the slight issues with timing. Overall Madden 25 is a definite winner even if it won’t quite be making it to the Hall of Fame.
- Physics engine produces some stunning hits
- - The sounds of the game have never been better
- - Excellent graphics
- - Fun “Skills Trainer” mode
- - Plenty of running options
- Uninspired commentators
- Slight timing issues to engage special run moves
- Guns N Roses overload
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