Has it really been twenty-five years, Madden? Why, it seems like just yesterday I was throwing a chair against a wall following an unexpected loss to fellow Digital Chump, Nathan Stevens, in Madden 2005. Time, like that now shattered, discount lawn chair, moves unexpectedly fast. Fortunately for the furniture currently in my home, the 25th anniversary edition of Madden provokes no such feelings of rage. Instead, it delivers a delightful and engaging football experience with some interesting changes to the core gameplay.
This year's cover athlete speaks to the most noticeable change in Madden 25. Putting Barry Sanders on the cover is the best way to let gamers now this year is all about running the rock. How you carry the ball, though, has been completely revamped. All the moves you know and love are still here: spin, dive, hurdle, juke and stiff arm. But now you have the option to use the precision modifier to enhance the effectiveness of each move. By holding the lift trigger button while you attempt any of these moves, you pull off a more potent version of the move. For example, using the precision modifier with the spin causes your player to protect the ball through the spin. This helps to prevent fumbles while the defense tries to stop you from getting extra yards.
Having a safer, more effective way to carry the ball past defenders certainly sounds great. But the actual execution of the precision modifier is a little tricky. Whereas in previous editions of Madden you simply had one button to press to execute a stiff arm or a juke, you now have two. Also, if you happen to be holding down the right trigger to sprint, you have to first release it, engage the left trigger and then press the button for the move you want modified. Personally, this felt like the one time I tried to learn to drive a manual transmission after having spent my entire life driving automatic. It was awkward. Especially runs where I was suddenly caught by a defender getting past a blocker unexpectedly. Having to quickly release sprint before engaging the precision modifier and then hitting the stiff arm or juke in a tight situation is a lot to manage. I found myself fumbling on occasion thanks to an unexpected defensive change forcing me to frantically go for the modifier only to catch the left bumper which causes you to pitch the ball. Yay.
With practice, though, the new running system does eventually start to feel right. There is a nice rhythm to the experience that has a more natural feel than the running mechanic in previous editions in the series. Instead of the always-on sprint and figure skating style cuts on a dime, you have to think about momentum, direction and other things a real player actually considers. It makes sense that if you start to stumble forward, you would pull back on the right stick to help level the ball carrier. Waiting for the right moment to hit the gas as opposed to running full tilt the whole way is how most humans approach the rush. The learning curve here may be steep but it is worth your patience for the depth of control that you gain.
A key component to the running game is the Infinity Engine which was introduced in last year's Madden 13. The physics under the hood have been tweaked in the twelve months following its debut. You can clearly feel the difference in delivering a stiff arm from a larger, power back than a smaller, finesse back. And it's not just the size of the player. Momentum, angle of impact, etc. all play a part in determining whether or not you crush or are crushed by the opposing player.
The changes to the Infinity Engine also yield a more natural looking game. Madden always delivers beautifully polished visuals. And with the Infinity Engine, the player movements this year are so much more lifelike. Madden 25 features the most realistic looking player movements I have ever seen in a sports videogame.
In terms of stuff to do, there is plenty here to keep you busy. The newly retitled Connected Franchise mode offers an incredible amount of ways to lose not just days but weeks of time. You can elect to kill this time as a player, a coach or an owner. Each has its own set of objectives. Of course, as a player, you are trying to become a legend for your position. Coaches are looking to build a resume of wins. The owner, though, is all about generating revenue. In playing through Owner mode, you initially get the choice of selecting what kind of owner you will be: the fan turned owner, the former player and the business mogul. I elected to become Ken Tipplesbee, lifelong Bills fan turned owner of his favorite team. Playing as Ken, I was overwhelmed at the amount of items demanding my attention. Everything from managing personnel to running practices to making sure the amount charged in stadium for Haddock Fish Fries was on par with the rest of the league. And I did not make that last bit up. My financial adviser actually reported this to me on my first day in the owner's chair. Seriously.
Other key additions to Madden 25 include the Madden Share feature. This option lets players upload custom settings, rosters and playbooks to be shared with the Madden community at large. Speaking of playbooks, the option is widely available in the standard play books. Both the Pistol and Wildcat formations are full of new running plays to emphasize the run focused gameplay tweaks. So do not expect a simple roster update with Madden 25. The precision modifiers create an entirely new way to run the ball that, once mastered, makes up for headaches during the adjustment.