Twenty-five years! I can't believe it's been that long since Electronic Arts and John Madden introduced sports fans (and football fans in particular) to one of the most-played, most-beloved games ever. For two-and-a-half decades football fans have eagerly awaited the annual Madden release to see their pigskin favorites smashing heads and cracking record books in a virtual world that turns arm-chair quarterbacks into on-screen legends.
So just how did they celebrate such a long successful ride to the top? They ditched the long-held standard of adding the year to the name and instead went with '25.' That's about it. No hoopla over awards received or honors garnered. No fireworks, confetti, or slick animations touting their nearly three decades of dominance. Nope, just the 25 in the name...and their best football experience yet to go along with it.
The first improvement, and largely the main focus was on the Run Free and Precision Modifiers that allow ball carriers to stiff-arm, juke, spin and hurdle their way to the end zone. Players have had these tools before but never with this much control or flair. Players can still spin, but the modifier allows them to cover the ball from defender's swiping hands. Diving is good in short yardage situations and the modifier allows you to stretch the ball out in an effort to reach the first-down marker.
My favorite juke is the left-right move where you can fake out multiple defenders with a slick juke left followed by a quick right juke. It's a fairly simple maneuver that's an ankle-breaker for closing defenses. Another nifty modifier is hurdling. You will have to refamiliarize yourself with this previously, oft-unused feature because it affords you a "hop hurdle" that will avoid the now improved dive-tackling system for defenses. It works best for fast, agile running backs and is quite impressive when performed properly. In total there are more than 30 new moves which represent a massive upgrade from the previous eight.
Another improvement is in the graphics engine. The Infinity Engine 2 offers better physics with the introduction of the Force Impact mechanic. Collisions within the virtual world feel more realistic. Every impact from defenders, blockers, and even the ground feels like it has heft and mass. It now feels like two objects colliding instead of just looking like two objects colliding.
Also gone are the days of rubber-band arms where the elbows and joints feel as though they were stuffed with Jello instead of meat and bone. The players are almost life-like with improved texturing and solid rendering. It's as if you are sitting down to enjoy the game and controlling the events on the field through your TV. It's about as real as it can look and feel without sacrificing playability.
For the truly Madden addicted, enhancements to the career mode, or the Connected Franchise mode, will allow gamers to play as a single player or coach. You can even start your rookie season as one of the legends of the game such as Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, or Joe Montana. You can work magic as one of the legendary coaches such as Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi, or John Madden (imagine that). Some names like Mike Ditka can be played as a coach or a player. The customization of your roster makes for some truly interesting game play given the ability to hire former stars.
Also new this year, gamers can play as an owner, making calls on everything from building new stadiums, setting ticket prices, marketing players, selling merchandise and even relocating teams. Although I found it too in-depth for my liking as it takes away from the on field action, it adds another level to fantasy football management..
Making a comeback to the career mode in '25' is the Team Chemistry feature. Choosing players that fit a certain playing style will increase their ability for bigger plays. Roster a QB who likes to pass with a lightning-fast receiving corps and you can throw the rock with great success. Want a bruising runner who can gain massive yardage? Team him up with some hefty linemen and a beefy tight-end for another level of production. The bonuses are higher for teams that are "firing on all cylinders." And it's not just the offense. You can build an awesome pass rushing defense or a defense that knows how to stuff the run. It's just one more level of control for gamers...and gamers love control.
You have to hand it to a franchise that is still so focused on bringing fans another great gaming experience that they didn't have time to fracture an arm by patting themselves on the back. Just like a professional athlete they simply do what they do best, and leave the particulars to someone else. But, since they refuse to tout themselves, it falls on the gamers to do the lauding. Kudos to EA Sports for 25 years of virtual-gridiron excellence.