Madden NFL 25 was amongst twenty-two launch day titles released for Microsoft's Xbox One, with the current-gen version having released a few months ago. Is it worth the upgrade? Will those who held out for a next-gen version be glad they did?
Unfortunately I may not be the best person to answer either of those questions! I haven't played a Madden game with any seriousness since, wait for it, Madden 99. On PC. However, being the only one on staff with the time to review this game for Xbox One, I was actually excited to check it out. I'm an avid NFL fan, I just got away from Madden when I felt like it became more sim than arcade, which is my style. Of course I'm going for it on 4th down and I'm always looking to sack the quarterback by rushing off of the edge of the line. But, after about an hour of playing "the wrong way" with Madden 25 (M25), I settled in and found myself enamored with the incredible depth smoothly integrated with the approachable presentation and controls for a non-Madden player like myself.
In no small way was this accessibility due to the Kinect. The game encourages you to use voice commands to make changes pre-snap and it works very well. A few times I said "no huddle" or something like that and instead my team called a timeout, so there were some cases of misinterpretations, but this could have just as well been me not speaking loudly or clearly enough. For the vast majority of the time, just saying "pass.. QB spy," on defense or "audible.." or "pass protection.. block left" on offense worked great. It keeps your eyes on the game and you spend more time studying the formations of the opposing team, and your own, than you do navigating menus. The voice commands are also available on the Xbox 360 version I should point out, although I haven't played it, so the inclusion of them here on the X1 is expected, but no less effective.
Another gameplay mechanic that helps make M25 very accessible and, more importantly, quick to play, is the Gameflow feature. This basically picks a play for you, on both sides of the ball, and gives you a one button option to go with it. It can lead to some awkward times whereby both teams pick their plays so fast that the play clock is still in the thirties when everyone lines up, but that's a setting that can be tweaked in the options, so there aren't these loooong pauses with the QB under center, waiting for the play clock to run further down.
These non-platform exclusive conveniences aside, for my expectations, M25 did very well. Being a launch title can sometimes limit your available modes or reduce your QA time, or otherwise make an inferior version compared to the current-gen release, but I didn't pick up on any symptoms like that with M25 for the X1. It felt like it belonged, and while there is certainly room for improvement, the gameplay, presentation, and raw functionality of everything was solid. Naturally, with every annual release, there will be people that like the changes, big or small, or can't stand them, though. For a further look at the gameplay modes and other new features within M25, check out Chuck's review of the X360 version.
That said, the X1 (and PS4) versions do offer more than just a noticeable, but still not jaw-dropping bump in visuals compared to the current-gen versions. EA's new Ignite engine is included here, along with a wealth of other features, many of which I would probably not have even noticed if not for a review guide provided by EA. First, on the X1, M25 can use your phone or tablet via SmartGlass to provide what's known as CoachGlass. You can not only pick your plays from here, but your opponent's offensive play-calling tendencies are also kept track of to help you better gameplan on the fly. EA describes it like having a dedicated defensive coordinator at your side who stays up to date during the course of the game, providing you with options and details with logic built on information gathered from many thousands of online games. CoachGlass even remembers the last sixty-four plays your opponent ran against you, including what personnel were where and what the results were. It's an interesting feature, but when playing solo I'm don't think I'll stick with it, only because I prefer a more 'off the cusp' type of game where I just sort of go with my gut feeling. On the other hand, you can just as well let a friend take control of that aspect while you focus on execution on the field, so it's a sort of unique co-op mode.
While CoachGlass is an obvious new feature (seen only on X1), other next-gen features are less apparent, at least my un-trained eyes. Take for example Phase Matching, a technology that has not been implemented before, likely due to hardware limitations from the previous gen. With Phase Matching, players can only react to actions if the physics are there to support it -- in other words, a players feet must be touching the ground to execute maneuvers that require your feet to be on the ground. Combined with the new True Step tech, the result is increased realism in motion, accounting for body height and weight when shifting and cutting, for example. Taking both of these features and using them with the precision modifier functionality seen in all M25 versions, and you have a running system that's as precise as ever. As Chuck noted in his review on the X360, Madden veterans may struggle to get used to precision modifier functionality. As someone who hasn't played Madden in years, it didn't really bother me, but this tech changes how running feels and controls compared to previous Madden games. I would argue it's for the better because it's more true to life, but it's a topic of contention for Madden players to be sure.
The Ignite engine has also completely re-worked the least interesting, yet most important part of the field: the line of scrimmage. It's no secret that the team that dominates the line controls the game. Whether it's stopping the run or getting to the QB, or preventing those from happening, games are often decided subtly at the line. With Ignite, EA has made a concerted effort in giving each lineman full awareness of the D's formation and who the most immediate threat is the to QB, i.e., who is most likely to blitz other than the typical front three or four. Double-team blocking is now available too, but the O lineman are smart enough to break off a double team to stop a blitzer and the running back will stay home to protect as well if the linebackers threaten to blitz. The goal here was to build realistic QB pockets and have the player use them in a realistic manner as opposed to running around outside of the pocket to create space. In the NFL, snap-to-throw times are well under five seconds, and with these line AI changes, the intent was to get the player to step up and throw as opposed to scrambling for unrealistic amounts of time to create space.
M25 on X1 includes all of the various modes from the current-gen, including the new Owner Mode in Connected Franchise. While far too involved and demanding for my own personal level of interest, NFL fans who want to take on the challenge of dealing with personnel problems and stadium politics and so forth will have ample chance to do so in this mode. Owners can be started as previous players/coaches, fans, or just rich businessmen who bought the team. It's not as flashy as playing the game on the field, but it certainly provides players with a very different, yet very real perspective on all of the moving parts you normally don't hear or see in a typical NFL organization. Connected Franchise maintains the Player and Coach modes too for those who prefer their action to be closer to the field. Dozens of legends, like Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson, Mike Ditka, Tom Landry, are available from the get-go.
With it's full NFL license, vast amount of game modes spanning solo and multiplayer, and attention to detail, EA should be amazed at how far the Madden franchise has come. And while there's always room for change and improvement, for a first outing on launch day for the new consoles, M25 does an impressive job.