Thursday, September 5, 2013

Madden NFL 25: A Review


So last week, EA Sports released their special anniversary edition of Madden known as "Madden NFL 25"--or, chronologically speaking Madden 14. I purchased this game--the special edition that comes with a log-in code for Direct TV's NFL Sunday Ticket--and have been playing it over the course of the last few days. My overall impression of the game so far is that what it lacks in creativity it makes up for in presentation.

Visuals

Let's start with the main positive with this game: it is very visually appealing. The main screen and even sub-screens feel like something out of a smart phone. Rather than the bulletted lists of the past, EA Sports has gone with windows for mode selection, settings, etc. If you want to know what that looks like:

The next major upgrade is to the graphics, which isn't surprising for this last round of gen-3 games leading up to generation four. The game's graphics look like an obvious tune-up for the first edition being released on PS4 and XBox One (which I imagine will happen next August unless EA gets gutsy and wants to do a special release). Here is the game's rendering of the outside of Ford Field in Detroit:
Personally, I think the players and on-field presentation look pretty much the same as they did on Madden 13, and that's likely to be the case until EA uses the new graphics engines that will be available on next-gen consoles.

Overall grade: A- (would have liked to see more of an improvement on the field)

Game Play

One thing that has really changed about this edition of Madden is the new audible system, which essentially lets you turn any play selection into an entirely different play--assuming you are quick enough at making decisions to do so before the play clock expires. Personally I do not pay much attention to this. It's not like the computer knows my play tendencies or anything.

The game's biggest accomplishment in game play is still the revamped physics engine. The number of cartoonish, physically-impossible collisions is way down from games in the past (even Madden 13). Tackles are generally smooth, guys do eventually go down in weird ways--which will result in injuries some of the time--and the ball typically takes realistic bounces. There is one part of this that is a bit nonsensical though, and it's the problem with the game as a whole:

The physics engine is impossibly biased towards offensive players. Offensive cuts, jukes, spins, and trucks are nearly unstoppable--both for the human and the computer. As an example, I give you something from my first game:

I am playing as the Vikings against the Bills--yay random team selecting!--and call for a halfback dive play. I give the ball to Peterson and push forward. Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus--who is 320 pounds and one of the best linemen in the league--comes off his block to meet Adrian. I press the truck stick and run Dareus over. I did not break a tackle, I did not slip out of his grip...I straight up ran his ass over, and it was one of the most unrealistic, nonsensical things I have seen out of a Madden game.

Now back to the "problem with the game as a whole" part. If you can make semi-quick decisions and have decent hand-eye coordination, you should score on the vast majority of drives--even on All-Madden difficulty. For whatever reason, receivers in the game are unbelievable at creating separation in the middle of the field. Ins, slants, and curls cannot be stopped. If you are ever unable to run people over with guys like Peterson--which you should be able to do most of the time--then you can get 10 yards whenever you feel like it through the air.

Last note: it looks like they finally fixed punts--so that means you can actually return them with regularity instead of facing two guys when you catch the ball--and kick returns are really fun with the over-powered jukes, cuts, and spins.

Gameplay: C (sorry, I like defense)

Miscellaneous

As far as I'm concerned, those are the only two things that really matter in Madden games--the visuals and game play. They have more songs added to the stadium sound tracks--so you hear songs like "Thunderstruck" from AC/DC and "Song 2" from Blur--but other than that, there just isn't much else that matters outside of one thing:

EA came to its senses and brought back franchise mode in full. Their worst mistake ever was tinkering with the aspect of the game in Madden 13, but full fantasy draft franchise mode--offline and online--is back. A++ move on the part of EA Sports. Now, I'm going to spend a bit of time giving my advice on how to build a team for said franchise mode in Madden 25.

Building Your Team

Step one: forget your defense. I can't really remember a version of Madden where the actual players you had in Madden actually mattered. The schemes have always seemed 100 times more important than the players involved, so I would place the focus on offense except for ONE THING:

Whoever you play as on defense on a play--for example, I play as the right defensive tackle--is someone I would draft in the top five rounds (I actually went on to take Dareus in the 2nd in my own fantasy draft). Chances are you'll be the one making plays on defense and not the computer, so get someone who is good.

Alright, now to offense. Much like with defense, there are certain things that always appear to be largely universal in Madden--aka, skills that every player is seemingly the same at under the computer's control. To me, these skills are:

1) Passing accuracy--Vince Young and Drew Brees? Same net effect
2) Offensive line blocking--never in any version of Madden has this ever seemed to matter.
3) Agility-the jukes, cuts, and spins seem to be equally effective with everyone.
4) Ball carrying- fumbles seem to actually be pretty frequent with everyone. I played a game against Law Firm and made him fumble three times.
  
Now for the skills that absolutely matter:

1) Speed-maybe it's just how I play, but speed is huge in Madden. Get speed at every single position.
2) Arm strength-remember what I said about accuracy? The opposite is true for arm strength. Big-armed QB's dominate this game, especially on throws towards the sidelines.
3) Pass catching-any slight hit seems to jar the ball loose on catch attempts--the one defensive advantage. This has seemed to matter.

Position rankings!

Okay, now that those little tidbits are there for you, this is the relative importance I place on each position in Madden (note, this is not going to be ANYTHING like the NFL):

1) Running back--the cream of the crop, the center of any good offense in Madden. So hard to get guys with good speed at this position who can break tackles. Peterson is the #1 guy for Madden fantasy drafts.
2) Quarterback
3) Wide receiver
4) Defensive tackle (or your own personal primary defensive player)
5) Tight end--get a good pass-catcher here and you will be very good in the passing game. I recommend Jason Witten
6) Corner back--I recommend playing lots of pressing man in this version of Madden
7) Safeties--either one, really. Strong safeties will blitz more and help more in run support, so I would pick up a free safety first.
8) Kick Returner--just get a couple guys with a 99 speed rating to run your kicks back.
9) Kicker--no I am not kidding. Leg strength is how you make field goals in Madden. If you're playing on a difficult level and plan on playing competitive games, get a kicker with a strong leg.
10) Everything else. I've found defensive ends, linebackers, and interior linemen are generally all interchangeable. Same goes for punters, really.

Lasting Thought

If you're wondering about online play or Ultimate Team, find another blog to read. I like building franchises and doing lengthy franchise modes when I play Madden. Overall, I think this game is pretty middle of the road in terms of Madden. Then again, it really wasn't hard to improve significantly over the crap fest that was Madden 13--yes, I'm still bitter about the lack of a fantasy draft in offline franchise mode. The graphics have improved, the physics engine has been cleaned up, and games feel much more realistic--in game play, sound, etc. Heck, the game is even as biased towards offense as the modern NFL happens to be.

Overall Grade: B- (unless you include the fact that the special edition gets you Sunday Ticket for an additional 40 dollars, in which case this game becomes an A+++++++ buy)

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