CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This is a big year for EA's "Madden NFL" franchise. Not only is the series celebrating its 25th anniversary, it's also preparing to ring in the next generation of consoles later this year with the release of "Madden NFL 25" for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
But before we see what the development team at EA's Tiburon studio has in store for next-gen, there's the matter of "Madden NFL 25" for Xbox 360 and PS3. While it may not be a significant leap forward for the series, the current-gen version of "Madden 25" delivers a solid experience both on and off the field.
Rather than introduce a slew of new features, "Madden 25" instead improves upon two of the core features first implemented in last year's "Madden 13" -- the Infinity Engine and Connected Career Mode.
On the field, Infinity Engine 2 fine-tunes the physics-driven framework that dictates player movement and interaction. Gone are the weird post-play collisions and exaggerated animations, yet all of the unpredictability remains. That's the great thing about the Infinity Engine -- every run, tackle and catch looks and feels different, which keeps the game fresh even after you've completed a season or 10.
Players now move as realistically as they ever have in "Madden," especially running backs, who have more moves at their disposal thanks to a Precision Modifier button that can transform special moves into unforgettable highlights. Pulling off jukes and spins using the right analog stick is a breeze, and the transition from one move to the next looks and feels fluid, making it easy to chain together maneuvers and break ankles in open space. Best of all, despite this as well as the widespread introduction of the read option, offenses aren't as ridiculously overpowered in "Madden 25" as they are in its NCAA counterpart. I feel confident in saying the on-field action in "Madden 25" is the best it's ever been.
Last year "Madden 13" made waves by ditching the traditional franchise mode in favor of Connected Career Mode, which let gamers participate in a multi-year NFL career as either a player or coach. It was an interesting change, to say the least. Yet while CCM had promise, it clearly wasn't ready for prime time as a number of odd glitches and glaring omissions marred the experience. In "Madden 25," CCM has been replaced with the more aptly-named Connected Franchise Mode, which cleans up and streamlines much of the features found within CCM, adds things like a transaction log (why was this removed in the first place?) and lets players take on the role of team owner, complete with the ability to set ticket prices and relocate a franchise to a new city like London or Los Angeles. Connected Franchise Mode supports up to 31 players online, allowing users to mix-and-match players, coaches and users.
One thing that hasn't changed -- or at least hasn't changed enough -- is the commentary of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Nantz does an adequate job describing the action, but Simms is grating as the second man in the announcers booth. The pair also seemingly make a couple of incorrect calls and references each game, which really serves to spoil any sense of immersion the sharp graphics and fancy stat overlays create. Hopefully the jump to next-gen will allow for more diverse commentary, because this is one of the worst aspects of "Madden 25."