The next generation has arrived and with it a brand new sports engine for EA, which it hopes will “Ignite” another run of sales dominance. Foremost among the new releases for PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One this launch season (in North America at least), is the new Madden 25. As always a new generation Madden is an opportunity to experiment and a test not only of expanded capabilities of upgraded hardware, but of the developers’ ability to exploit it.
So let’s jump right into what’s changed. First of all, unfortunately for PS4 fans, Madden 25 does not take advantage of the Second Screen feature with your Vita or mobile device the way it does on the Xbox One with SmartGlass, so I’m unable to review that added functionality here. But that’s alright because the main changes to gameplay are right on the field for both systems. For instance, EA Sports has revamped the way players move and control with the aptly named True Step system, which is stocked with hundreds of new animations which account for the way players need to plant their feet and shift their weight. While not quite perfect yet, this has particularly cut down on the feel of gliding along the grass, stuck in a particular angle of attack. This makes both the running game and the defending feel a lot more natural. No longer can you off pull spins and jukes with your plant foot in the air. Players actually have to stutter step to make cuts and pull off moves with accuracy, with the left trigger turning on a precision mode that slows you down a bit in order to charge up and time your stiff arm, truck, etc.
The other part of the equation is the improved AI at the line of scrimmage, which mostly favors the offense. Linemen take advantage of the increased power of the new consoles to play more intelligently, creating a pocket dynamically based on several factors like how far the play is designed to have the QB drop back, the angle of attack defenders are expected to use, and how many are blitzing. You can even double team pass rushers, and the linemen are also smart enough to pass off stunts or pick up someone a teammate has missed, or stay on a more dangerous defender. The result is that every play looks just a little bit different depending on all these variables, making good reads, particularly on the run, necessary. This aspect of the game I enjoyed a lot, but it is a bit inconsistent to take advantage of depending on your matchup. On the defensive end, the smarter O-line play tends to make things harder, though you do have the benefit of more animations and more realistic collision system making it easier to beat your man, get into the backfield, and make the tackle. If conventional plays are not your cup of tea, Madden 25 also introduces the pistol offense with the read option. It seems they covered the basics of running it accurately and made it fairly simple, but I couldn’t for the life of me run it with any efficiency, mostly because it was impossible for me to tell which player the defender was going for as it looks so similar each time. That could be on me, though. EA Sports claims that their new player AI is able to make 50 times more calculations on the fly. I’m not sure that’s true but I have seen fewer blatantly stupid actions than in Maddens past, and I have to say, even on Rookie difficulty it can be difficult to get a passing game going, though fortunately they’ll pick you off far less often.
Still, it feels a lot like the same game in other ways, whether that’s good or bad may be up to your taste. Punt and kickoff returns seem to go nowhere 99% of the time because guys just won’t pick up a block until it’s too late. The kicking controls and accuracy are just too much of a crapshoot to depend on in my experience. It’d be nice to see special teams get the same attention that the line of scrimmage has in the next version. Also, something about the new engine has broken goal line detection it seems, as multiple times I’ve been tackled just before entering the end zone, had my player fall in with the ball crossing the plane of the goal line before any part of his legs touched the ground, and had it called short of a touchdown. Each time I challenged, the ruling on the field was upheld even though the replay clearly showed otherwise, to my frustration. Fortunately the side line detection doesn’t seem to have the same issue which is great because the expanded animations allow for some great tiptoe catches. Madden 25 brings back team relocation in Connected Franchises mode and I had some fun relocating the Buffalo Bills to be the Toronto Huskies (there’s 17 cities in all, including other international options like Mexico and London, each with their own name choices).
Okay, so this all avoids the big question still looming, how does it look? Well, a lot sharper for sure, since the game runs at a full 1080p. A lot of the little details are done at a level that will dazzle you, like the blades of grass sticking out of the field during close-ups, the improved lighting, the crowds that are actually starting to look alive rather than full of cutouts, the sparkling helmets, sweat building up on the players. But then you look at the players themselves and something seems totally off, particularly between plays. They all have freakish proportions that do not match their real life counterparts. Linemen and linebackers look okay I guess, but the quarterbacks in particular look atrocious. Somebody needs to tell the modelers that QBs aren’t all huge and thick like Duante Culpepper. See Mike Glennon of the Bucs for instance, the guy’s a beanpole in real life but in the game he looks ridiculously buff. Same goes for Michael Vick, who I seriously didn’t recognize at first, or Doug Martin, who is correctly small but has a head that makes him look like a midget. As for the rest of the presentation, sound, and commentary, it’s not as uneven but also doesn’t really have any spectacular highlights. A lot of the idle animations from past games return yet again and they’re really getting stale this time. And oh yeah, one guy must have 31 twins in the NFL, all assistant coaches. It’s time to improve this part of the game as well.
I like some of what EA Sports has done with their next-gen Madden game, particularly with the line play and the improved physics and animation, because it has the side effect of improving the gameplay and making it more enjoyable, but there’s still too many warts screaming out at you from the last gen to give it a full throated recommendation. Still, it’s pretty (just don’t stare too hard at the freaky players between plays), and the launch window lineup for both of the new systems is thin, so you could do worse.