Here we are again, the gaming industry is making me feel like a relatively old man with this Madden 25. It's reminding me that there was once a day where our favorite football players were little blobs of color catching 15 balls for 400 yards and 8 touchdowns in a single game, but coming up short for the Player of the Game Award to Bo Jackson's far superior performance. I've been playing football videogames for as long as I've been playing videogames, which is to say a really, really long time. I could be misremembering, but I know I adopted Madden fairly early on in it's lifespan (I know I had one on PC), but during the Genesis years I hated EA's little yellow grip thing on the cartridge, so I was a steadfast Joe Montana Sports Talk Football (yo) fan when not playing Tecmo Bowl.
Growing up, Madden to me was always known as the awesome game that brought the ambulance onto the field to cart away an injured player that I played at my friend's house. Due to the fact that I was a big Genesis guy growing up, and since I refused to buy the aforementioned Madden on Genesis for purely aesthetic reasons, I found myself only hoping my big hit could somehow injure someone and summon the tiny ambulance onto the field while I played against my buddy. I did the same in NHL to make the dude's head bleed, an action immortalized in Swingers
, but I digress. My flirtations with Madden would only be in the basements of acquaintances.
A few football seasons later and it's 1997. I'm home sick (probably faking) because I just got my Nintendo 64 and I have Goldeneye (and Final Fantasy Tactics, but that isn't really coming into play with the story, it's just that I think 1997 was the most underrated gaming year ever. Every year is awesome in its own way, but in 1997 we started with Mario Kart 64, Zeus was playing Ultima Online a few thousand miles south of me, then Oddworld, Parappa The Rappa, X-wing vs. Tie Fighter, Dungeon Keeper, Tekken 3, Castlef*ckingvania and Symphony of the Night and many, many more came out. You know what the best part of gaming in the 90's was? It wasn't the pure nerdery, higher difficulty levels in games or common bond amongst other geeks, it was that the year got great releases every month. Sure, Xmas was Xmas but we got Goldeneye, Starfox and Final Fantasy Tactics during the summer before having to go back to school. You don't see that anymore. Man. So, I can keep listing just to talk about how awesome 1997 was in gaming, or I can move on, as difficult as that is. It really is a shock I got anything done in 1997 ((did I get anything done in 1997?)) (((ask parents about 1997))) laying on the floor next to my 64, and I'm craving something else. I could only go through the Archives level in Goldeneye with its cool breaking glass so many times until I switched back to my Playstation, which I didn't want to do. I had my 64 now, I got it for my birthday a few months earlier, and I wanted a game for it. So I slip some birthday cash to my Dad so he can pick me up some ginger ale and Madden 64 for me while I laid in bed, deathly ill I'm sure. The Bears were 1-9
and I needed some winning football in my young life.
Nintendo 64 games were cool because opening the package that you only kept if you grew up to be Dexter was such an important operation. Plastic, cardboard box outer packaging, then you had to slip out the little tray in which the game would be resting peacefully in a little plastic sleeping bag. Finally, after liberating the cartridge, I would take in the fine gold on the chip itself, and think about how it wouldn't be clean for long. I popped in Madden with the great ker-chunk and the EA logo popped up. Moving forward through the menus, it slowly dawned on me that these teams had no names, and the colors were only somewhat matching the NFL counterparts. Madden 64 didn't have the NFL license, which in turn made me shy away from my blind love for my beloved and bumbling Bears and to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jerome Bettis. From that moment on, I was hooked on Madden. Not because it was my extension of the Bears when the Bears sucked, but because it let me create my own narratives in the league as a whole.
A few more NFL seasons come and go, the Bears still suck, and I'm ditching out on school again to wait in line for my PS2. Timesplitters is preordered, but with my first credit card in hand, I decide to splurge and pick up Madden 2001 as well. I go home, check out Timesplitters (I was blown away by the bullet holes and smooth frame rate) but quickly grow bored. I pop in Madden 2001 and the friggin' lights are reflecting off the helmets. My Dad walked in the room and glancing, thought it was real football on TV. This may have just been the graphics at first, but I was hooked. I tried the other games; 989 Sports on the PS1 had some good ideas, but only the 2K series could come close to challenging Madden. Somehow, I could never fully dive into those other series, believe me I tried, but I became a 'Madden Guy' without really knowing it. And no, I wasn't a Madden Guy in the sense that I bought a system and only played Madden, you guys know me, but when the great battles in the football war between 2K and Madden were being waged around the turn of the century, I was a Madden supporter.
Throughout the PS2 era I stuck by Madden, and needless to say, 2004-2006 were golden years for the digital iteration of the sport. Specifically 2005, and 2006 were amazing titles, with features the current crop of titles are still failing to re-implement. It makes me wonder if they are trying to put these little touches back into the game at all (like the player housing, stuff like that). Madden then debuted in what I think was one of the worst entries in the series ever on Xbox 360 at the next-generation system's launch: Madden 2006. Every player looked like they were eating horse meat and the title was bare bones as all hell. I went back to my PS2 2006 game.
Knowing the history of Madden and these steps the series takes year by year, it doesn't shock me that the 25th Anniversary edition of Madden is the best in years. Why doesn't that surprise me? Well because just like the 2004/05/06 versions of the came, this is coming at the end of the console lifecycle, and last year's Madden 13 was just god-awful to say the least. This is the second year of the Infinity engine, and the ridiculous amount of bugs (outside of a bug that is making my players disappear entirely except for their chin strap, which will be corrected with a day one patch I'm told) have been mostly fixed. No longer will you be tumbling into the other team between plays, the player models are much more restrained in their... elasticity and general kineticism.
The game plays better, far better than last year which to me at least, was a sloppy mess. EA Tiburon has seemed to finally marry all of the ideas from the last four or so years into a cohesive football experience that satisfies on and off the field. The game feels like it's being played at NFL speed, routes are tight, and the line - defensive and offensive - react and behave better than ever before. Gameplay wise, this is the tightest I personally think it's been since Madden 2005/06, and that's something which I honestly don't know how it will be taken by you, the reader. Madden is weird; what some people love, others hate and there is no middle ground on the subject. I can find certain Maddens less playable than others, but I've found that the hardcore community at least lives by the creed that an individual release is either gold or garbage. I fall into the category, or should I call it the minority, that splits the difference. Only two, or maybe three of the releases have I found to be truly perfect. See, now I realize that while writing that I'm already holding Madden to a weird and ridiculous standard that any other yearly release would never be able to live up to. Who am I to scoff at just a few perfect releases. Bah.
So on the field I love Madden 25. Almost every complaint I had about last year's bomb and the previous few years has been addressed. Money plays have been minimized yet again, after I've been using the same couple for about the last three years, the Infinity Engine 2 is really clicking on all cylinders, and I really appreciate the absolute lack of omniscient interceptions in which the CB throws his hands up without looking at the ball and pulls down an unbelievable interception. The running game with the aforementioned improved offensive and defensive lines collapses and morphs believably, as the game has finally stopped treating the heart of the game like magnets attached to bumper cars. Now I can see shoulders move and sway and use minutia to pick up a few extra key yards as running back. The actual ball physics, and the collision detection is on the money, and it makes me really interested to see the next-gen release this fall. This is the most polished Madden in years in the gameplay department, take that how you will depending on your level of fandom or fanaticism of the series.
Where Madden 25 shines, outside of the rock-solid gameplay, is the Connected Careers mode. Being an owner, something which I always do, for at least 10-15 seasons a year, every year, is the best it's ever been. Or the best since 05/06, of course. The motivation to have your team do well so you can sell more tickets, get some fans, and sell some tickets is a simple one, but damn is it fun. I myself upgraded the bathrooms immediately, then I saved up a bunch of cash and completely built a new field. A field that charged $2 for a soda, and hot dogs were $1. My fat fans loved me.
All of this is made better by the vastly improved user interface that is clean, intuitive and is just not effing last year's ugly interface. I feel like Madden interfaces have gotten more cumbersome as the years have gone by, with Madden 13 being the most offensive offering, but Madden 25 features the cleanest UI of the series. Everything makes sense, everything is there where you need it to be and where you would expect it to be, but there is one huge, glaring issue underlying the game:
You can't sim the regular season for more than a week at a time, which is really annoying for someone like me, who creates a team entirely via fantasy draft then likes to simulate to see how the team does with everything running in the background. Why are you doing this to me, Tiburon? It was so close, so so close.
The owner mode brings back relevant Media Questions, which can effect how the fans perceive your team during its successes or failures. These meta games really add to the overall owner/coach experience and I personally think this streamlining, coupled with the addition of welcome features old and new, makes this release possibly the most content-rich offering from EA in years. Throw in Ultimate Team, heads up play, and the ability to create teams in Los Angeles, London and Mexico for fun or as a wrinkle in the franchise mode, and I'm left satisfied but still annoyed at the lack of season simulation. Seriously, 'come on' at that.
This title looks both the best it has ever looked and marginally better than the last three or four years at the same time. Many models have been reused, as well as announcer and play-calling audio clips, which really bums me out. The dynamic lighting in certain stadiums really lends a bit of life to the game, and the motion blur is way toned down from last year. All in all it looks really great on this old hardware, and the framerate may be the best it has ever been at some spots. Years of optimization have finally paid off for the series so 'thumbs up.' The infinity engine really is adding to the series now after the bungle of last year. Pile on tackles work, players have weight, and the animations are endless and interesting. Once certain tripping animations are initiated, however, all players will usually stop their forward momentum and give up on the play as the CPU knows it's dead. Fumbles are really dynamic, and are as intense and frantic as the real sport with the ball squirting loose and even laying in the grass for a beat, winking at the nearest player before it's recovered. All of this with some fancy depth of field to make everything look nice.
And now here's the part where I begin to worry. This Madden is the culmination of many, many releases that struggled to attain the level of glory the previous generation saw with franchise peaks in 04, 05 and 06. What if we are getting the best Madden this generation has to offer with the other Madden coming out on PS4 and Xbox One. What about that game? You read my thoughts above (hopefully?) on Madden 06. What if Madden 25 on the next-gen systems share the same mediocre fate?
Ah, but those are the rambling thoughts of a Madden fan(atic) with a knack for not appreciating what's in front of him. Madden 25 is the best Madden release in years, and despite my praising of this solid title, it miffs me to no end that we are just right back where we left off eight years ago on the PS2 - with an excellent football game that took a console's lifetime to finally create.
Nevertheless, if you've taken the last few years off of Madden, this is the year to come back. But if you're waiting for the Xbox One I have no advice to give you. That is the ultimate conundrum of 2013 and I don't want to get involved with potential madness. I pulled that double purchase maneuver in 2006 and I've been bitter ever since, so I would say the safe money is on the current-gen release, and we will stand pat for the next-gen Madden that will be brandishing the Ignite engine. It could be the best year for the Madden franchise ever and could stand on its own apart from the perfection on PS2, or we can see another half-baked debut on the next piece of hardware. I guess that's up to EA though. Still, I shouldn't even be thinking about that now. Madden 25 is in front of me and out on PS3 and Xbox 360 on Tuesday, and that's what deserves my attention, not some unreleased game.
Due to my years and years of playing this series, I feel like my grading of this game can only be harsh. Stern but fair, even, since it's only finally reaching the greatness of its ancestors now eight years and a console cycle later. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to EA to hold this series to that lofty but attainable standard that it has reached before for better or worse.