Review: Madden NFL 25 has super bowl ambitions but falls just short

For me, August means a few things: the New York Mets are playing meaningless baseball, I get another year older, my electric bill gets to the highest of the year, and Madden releases. With the next-gen Ignite engine landing this November with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, this is the time for Madden 25 on current-gen to put its best foot forward.

Unfortunately, while this very well might be the best Madden game of this generation, there are times when it footplants in the turf or destroys its knee, Dustin Keller style.

At the heart of Madden NFL 25 is the Infinity Engine 2. Last year's version was an improvement in physics and gameplay, but it was a wonky mess. Year 2 brings a lot more polish to the system, while bringing some new features. The overall fluidity of the engine and player movement is leaps and bounds better than last year, but there are still a lot of odd animations that will leave you scratching your head. The engine needs more polish, but will it get that with next-gen Madden on the horizon?

Madden 25

Infinity Engine 2 drives gameplay to great improvements in some areas, while other areas still need improvement. Let's take the running game, for example – a part of football that Madden has failed to capture accurately for years. Madden 25 changes that. EA Sports has completely revamped the running game, and it's definitely a bright spot in the game. Part of it has to do with the “Run Free” precision modifiers. Holding the LT/L1 adds a precision modifier to your halfback's arsenal of moves. So that spin move will be even more dramatic, and trucking a linebacker will have even more power behind it. The Stumble Recovery mechanic is also a lot of fun and makes for some truly epic highlights.

Blocking by the offensive line is also much improved. There is a difference between elite linemen and backups. There's a lot less of linemen getting sucked into plays. They don't glide around; there's actual heft to them and the battle in the trenches has never felt better. But, at times, it feels too easy running the ball. While a runner like Adrian Peterson is on a level of his own, lesser halfbacks also have no problem racking up yards. The defense feels like they're in over their heads.

Like years past, the passing game is still a strong point in Madden NFL 25. With the way the quarterback position is transforming, the Pistol is featured heavily is this year's game. So scrambling quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson can be beyond frustrating to play against, but they're awesome when you're controlling them. Pass defense is a mixed bag. At times, the AI on defensive backs is atrocious, allowing high completion percentages while receivers make amazing catches. They do, however, react to slants and in-routes ten times better than they used to.

Rushing the passer is no easy feat, either. It feels awesome when you're on the offensive side of the ball, but when you're controlling a defensive end or tackle, it's frustrating. Even with some of the best pass rushers, it's hard to generate a rush, as players seem stuck together.

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That said, because of the Infinity Engine 2, players move more realistically. This does create some more “wow” moments and plays. Whether it's an interception by the secondary on an animation never before seen in Madden or a bone-crunching hit on the QB (with no flag), jarring the ball loose to be scooped up for a touchdown – when you make a play like that, it feels awesome. Presentation is also the best it's been in the series, and the closest it's felt to an actual NFL game.

I can talk about Ultimate Team, which makes a return and fans are obsessed with, but I've never really been into it. I've always been an owner/franchise mode guy; that means I've been disappointed most of this console generation. On the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, there were tons of features in franchise mode that just went missing when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 rolled around. I'm happy I can say that Madden NFL 25 has the best owner/franchise mode – now called Connected Franchise – of this console generation.

Here, you're able to control everything from making the plays to calling them, from ticket prices to hot dog prices, from firing coaches to relocating your team; it's all there. You can either create your own owner or take over one, and you start out with bonuses to certain attributes when you do. With prices, wins/losses, media questions and other things, you'll have to navigate the tumultuous waters of fan happiness.

Essentially, you get to run an NFL team, or all 32 teams, however you choose. And it's a blast. I've waited for this to return, and I can only hope that EA Sports builds on it as we move into the next console generation. Please, whatever you do, don't remove it and then add it as a new feature five years down the road…

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While firing your coaches and adopting a new scheme actually feels like it makes a difference, the gem of owner mode is the ability to relocate your franchise. Ahem, Raiders or Jaguars! You can now relocate your team to seventeen different locations from around the United States and abroad. Among notable cities are London, England; Mexico City, Mexico; Toronto, Canada; Brooklyn, New York; Los Angeles, California; and Dublin, Ireland. Once you choose a city, you then choose a name that caters to the fan base, or you can keep the old name. Create a uniform, choose a stadium (that you have to pay off), and build your vision for that team.

The options are just plentiful in owner mode. You can lure retired coaches to your team, or have advisors to refer to in every aspect of your franchise – it's really a great, yet long-overdue addition to the game.

But there's one problem: It freezes if I try to play a game. That's right, in every other mode games play fine. But when I try to play a game in owner mode, it freezes about six plays into the first quarter. Every. Time. I'm sure a patch will address this issue, but it's very disheartening. I was forced to simulate games and just run the organization, so I guess it was pretty accurate from an owner's perspective. That said, I'm sure Jerry Jones wishes he could play games as well.

The return of owner mode, as well as the new set of moves available to halfbacks, makes Madden NFL 25 a really good game. But it seems that for every positive, I find something that irks me. Offense feels great, but is far too easy. Defense has the potential for plays that make you jump for joy, but it's too frustrating to create pressure or stop the run – like Goodell had his hands all over the creation of the defense's AI. All of the features are tweaked from previous versions, but none of them are amazing. Owner mode would be, but there's that freezing problem…

Madden NFL 25 shows flashes of brilliance, but Romos it up in the fourth quarter. If you liked last year's games, nearly everything is improved upon. Going into the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, I really hope EA Sports improves upon what they've done here, because there are some great things in this game.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]

You can follow Senior Editor Lance Liebl on Twitter @Lance_GZ. He likes talking sports, video games, movies, and the stupidity of celebrities. Email at [email protected]