It is probably fair to say that EA Sports had a rough year in terms of releases in 2013. Madden NFL 25 – so named to celebrate 25 years of the series – was a target for much criticism from amongst the sports simulation world. Only the disastrous NBA Live 14 was panned even more. The main problem with this series over the last few years is that it has stagnated. Many people would argue that it has been stuck in a rut ever since EA bought an exclusive long-term licensing deal with the NFL. This had the effect of knocking the only competition out in the shape of 2K. Now with the first anniversary of the next-gen consoles coming ever closer, developers such as EA Sports, are now expected to have acclimatised to the new hardware. A company like EA can no longer say that it is still getting to grips with the hardware. Madden 15 needed to be a significant upgrade.
They don’t call it the “Greatest Show on Turf” for nothing you know. One of the big appeals of the NFL is the showmanship. Honestly the game-day coverage is spectacular giving in depth analysis and on-screen graphics to die for. Until now this hasn’t really been replicated in a Madden game. In fact the presentation stagnation has been a problem with the last few EA Sports releases, not just Madden. However, understanding that there was a need to improve, EA pulled out the stops with this one. In Madden 15, one might be forgiven for mistaking the presentation for that of CBS. The focus on on-screen graphics is very reminiscent of the network giant. The level of detail is also at a new level. In-game adverts are very akin to what one would actually see during a broadcast while the addition of a half-time show presented by Larry Ridley is very much welcome.
The sleekness of the game broadcasts is carried over into the menus. Before the new tabular style was a bit confusing and hard to access but now they have been streamlined in the guise of the coverage. The epic orchestral music returns which is great to see as it only adds to the experience of the NFL. However Madden 15 still falls to a series-long Achilles heel. The commentary provided by Phil Simms and Jim Nantz, while improved, is still not up to par with current standards. 2K’s NBA series has shown that a sports game can have free flowing and dynamic commentary so for a company like EA there is really no excuse not to have nailed this. To highlight the problem, the commentary is often lacklustre in content – it has not been fleshed out. While more conversation between the two has been recorded, it still hasn’t been put together with much success. It is still fragmented and often there is an awkward silence particularly on longer plays.
However, quite often a sports game can over-come presentation issues with great gameplay – think FIFA 12. Last year EA pushed its new physics engine, Ignite, but there were no reported differences between Madden 25 on the 360/PS3 and on XB1/PS4. Now the game plays really well. This is the best it has felt for quite a while. New animations for running, tackling, throwing and receiving have been added all at a buttery-smooth 60 frames-per-second. It helps that EA nailed the graphics particularly on the stadiums of all 32 teams. The players look more natural in their movements while side-lines now look more active. There are also more player faces in the game and older ones such as Drew Brees, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald have been improved. The Head Coaches have also had the next-gen treatment and now look as close to their real-life counterparts as ever.
This years’ Madden has been very much focused on the defensive side of the ball due in no small part to the Seahawks defensive dominance over the Broncos in the Super Bowl earlier in the year. Before defence felt like it had been tacked on. It felt like it was a necessary and tedious chore in order to return to the more fun offensive side of the pigskin. Now it is far more interactive. The camera positon has been moved behind the defensive players but the option to have the traditional front-facing camera is still there. This new angle serves to immerse the player in the experience, particularly in the trenches – the defensive line/offensive line battle. This area of the field is probably the most engaging as the player can gain an advantage over the O-Lineman by timing the engagement using LT. What follows is shedding the block using either A or X after having manoeuvred your opponent into a position where this can be achieved. The other major change on defence is the return of the tackle cone. Once again when your player is in range of making a tackle the cone will appear and the player can position to carry out the desired option – heavy, safe, high, low etc.
The same modes return from Madden 25. Connected franchise (formally Connected Careers) is where you will probably spend most of your time since you can choose to play as an individual player, coach or owner. The latter two allow complete control over every player in games. Playing as a coach is the best option if you just want to play games. Owner mode requires more micro-managing but is still fun if this is what you would prefer to do. The biggest addition to this mode would be the new confidence and XP systems. Now you can order tasks to boost confidence in a player which will give a short term performance boost. Or you can choose to develop a younger player using XP for the long-term. This area is also where you will find the in-mode practice.
Ultimate team has become a staple of EA Sports titles and this year in Madden it has been refined and streamlined. The main criticism of earlier iterations was that Ultimate Team had too many menus and was just too tricky access. The mode is still fun to play but progression is extremely slow. The grind returns unless you are willing to participate in the extortionate micro-transactions. The existence of these in-game purchases is enough to turn some people away from this mode altogether. The last mode to quickly mention is the Madden Moments. When you first start the game it will take you to a hypothetical moment featuring the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game in January 2015. It is your job to score a touchdown to send the Cam Newton led Panthers to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona. This little gem comes with some cut scenes and is a great way to introduce the game. More Madden Moments will be added as the real NFL season progresses but I doubt they will replicate the NFL Films style in every single one.
Overall the main thing to take away from Madden 15 is that if this the first real offering of next-gen sports gaming from EA, then we have a lot to be excited about. Personally I am really looking forward to what they will do with next years’ game and also if they carry this progression onto FIFA and NBA Live. This upgrade was an absolute necessity for this series. Not since Madden 10 could you really say that EA made a big step forward in recreating one of the most exciting and engrossing sports.