Fall is here and that can only mean one thing. FOOTBALL SEASON! And what better way to kickoff the NFL season, than a little Madden football?! What use to be a sales juggernaut in the gaming realm, Madden football paved the way for sports gamers everywhere as the annual release became something of a cult phenomena. Sparking midnight releases, tournaments at the local game store, and college roommates playing until the wee hours of the morning trying to one up each other. Madden brought millions of sports gamers joy, agony, and some downright awesome times with friends. Did EA recapture that nostalgic feeling? Or did we get the same thing.. AGAIN?
Lately, Madden has lost it's luster. Every year of this current console generation has seen the overall sales of the Madden franchise drop year over year, over year. Why is that? I touched a little on it in our NCAA Football 14 review. But what really hurt Madden, was EA shooting itself in the foot. We were promised the world with the the new Madden on the 360 and PS3 back in 2005 with that unbelievable trailer EA released. Now, in 2013, Madden STILL doesn't necessarily look like that trailer that was released. We have gotten a lot closer, but still nowhere near that. It's no secret that EA Tiburon has also had difficulties this generation with getting their football games on par with the last generation on Xbox and PS2. There's no denying that! I will say the last few years have been looking up for EA, as the NCAA Football 14 game has had mostly positive reviews, as well as last years Madden 13 release. Let's dive into this years release to see if EA has upped the ante, or taken another step back.
Madden has taken a few steps forward overall with the graphics and audio presentation. I can't help but feel like I'm watching a CBS broadcast, and depending on who you ask, that can be good or bad. It's nice for EA to have a pregame intro, but the audio still feels canned and repetitive. The sideline reporter sounds like she is reading from que cards, and Jim Nantz and Phil Simms get out of whack with their mouths as they talk. With the advancement of games like Gears of War and The Last of Us, you'd think this would be something of the past. On the visual side of things, for the most part the game still looks pretty solid. Not much has changed on this side from last year, with a few minor polishes and brushups. Some player models look spot on, while others look zombified to the point where the helmets sit awkwardly on their heads, and look more like construction hard hards with masks. In game wise, the players move more fluidly with realistic foot planting and animations, while the physics have been improved as well. Last year you'd see a lot of weird, awkward looking hits where players would flail around like ragdolls. This year, that has been toned down so tackles tend to be more lifelike. Yes, you will still see those weird collisions now and again, but not nearly to the point we saw them last year. Again, I think minor steps were taken in this department, but some necessary steps in deed.
This is where EA spent the most of their time. You can definitely feel the difference in gameplay from last years game to this years. The under the hood changes seem to really have been largely spent on the running game and it's overall effectiveness. In years past, players would pass the ball every down because frankly, running the ball wasn't really fun, especially against another user. This year, EA has tweaked the running game with better blocking, but most of all, they have superpowered the running backs. Truth be told, Adrian Peterson feels like Superman in this game. There's a huge difference between playing with AP, then say Ahmad Bradshaw for Indianapolis. This difference is nice, and helps showcase the difference between "elite" players and the decent players, but it can also be very frustrating as there seems to be no answer to stopping those guys! Some will say this is realistic, some won't. I guess it all depends on what side of the fence you're on. I personally, tend to like the running game this year and feel it helps even the playing field. For those that can master the new running game move set, will be at a huge advantage in this years version. With all that being said, playing defense seems to be almost impossible. The passing game for years has seemed overpowered, add in the beefed up running game, now it feels as if getting a defensive stop really puts you in hopes of getting a fumble or interception. Three and out type of defensive stops are just too infrequent and seem to never take place. It puts teams like San Francisco and Chicago, who rely on their defense, against the odds each and every game. I'm surprised at this gameplay decision by the developers, frankly. Other nuances I've noticed are the overall better animations, and the variety at which you see them. I don't feel as if I'm seeing the same 5 or so each time. It feels fluid, dynamic, and varied throughout, but for being EA, I still think Madden is lacking in this area compared to other EA offerings. Now and again though, some of those weird looking animations rear their ugly head like players running through mud, players landing on each other and looking like they're going through convulsions. as well as interceptions by ghost players. Overall, I think the gameplay is better but still not on par compared to other sports games on the market. Let's hope that a lot of this issues can and will be fixed come next generation.
I'll be honest, there's a lot of meat in this game. Back again is the Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) this year. Basic idea is you choose your team captain, purchase or achieve goals to get trading card packs of players, and use those to field a team against other teams. It's a card game with gameplay mechanics. Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of this game mode, but it does give others variety if the other modes get stale. I personally like to collect my favorites teams players as well as old school players I remember as a kid. Other than that, this mode seems boring to me. But that doesn't mean it is terrible. The cost of new card packs are not very practical, with them starting at $1.99 and up from there depending on the tier you purchase.
Next we have the Connected Franchise Mode (CFM). This is the classic "franchise" mode, allowing you to take a current or created player, coach, or owner of your favorite team and go on the path to the Lombardi Trophy. You have two options here, online or offline. This is by far the most utilized and popular mode of the Madden Franchise. Unfortunately, it's also the mode that has gotten the least attention. Yes you have preseason, regular season, and off season tasks. But the mode just lacks the passion and immersion you'd expect from guiding an NFL franchise. Yeah there are options to relocate your team, change the prices of concessions, but there's really nothing to lock you into really caring about your team, unless the passion was already instilled in you. The offseason is fun with free agency and the draft, but still could use something a little extra. I highly recommend doing CFM online, as this at least allows you to be a part of a community and gives you more immersion and a sense of pride than what the offline mode will allow.
Online head to head ranked matches are still available, as well as 3 on 3 matches over Xbox Live and PSN. My experience wasn't too bad, with framerate hitches only a few times and just a slight, but noticeable delay on every button action. In this regard, Madden does online a little bit better than NCAA Football does.
Overall, Madden isn't a bad game. There is definitely some fun to be had with this years release, but there just seems something missing. There's a lot you can do, with the CFM mode, skills trainer, Ultimate Team, and online which could keep you busy for hours upon hours. But this is Madden, and sports gamers have been expecting more with this Franchise. Over the years, Madden has suffered by the old saying "take 2 steps back to take 1 step forward." That couldn't be more true in the case of this years game. We have taken so many steps back in the Madden Franchise when it's come to gameplay, that it seems no matter what the guys over at EA Tiburon do to the series, that they just can't take enough steps foward. It's not that Madden 25 is lackluster or terrible, it's just that EA had produced so many great titles in the illustrious career of this game, especially last console generation, that the current console generation just couldn't hold the weight of those expectations. Luckily for EA, the next-gen consoles are only a few months away and they can finally start fresh. Unfortunately, this current console generation has been pretty much a waste for EA.
Overall a decent offering from EA, but it still feels like baby steps from last year.