Ditching its typical naming pattern for something a little more celebratory, Madden NFL 25 marks the silver anniversary for EA Sports' massively popular American Football series. However, even though this is still a great game, it's not quite the commemoration that you may have wished for, offering plenty of tweaks and enhancements, but very little to truly honour the landmark occasion.
That said, while the game may not break much new ground, it's very much an improvement over last year's entry. The vaunted Infinity engine makes a welcome return with added smoothness, in addition to some absolutely stunning animation work that brings a sprinkle of believability to the high-octane action. The game looks very convincing on the field, and the enhanced physicality ensures that you feel every hit and crunching tackle through the DualShock 3.
Unfortunately, this level of realism does not extend to the cutscenes, which boast vacant coaches and jack-in-the-box crowds, in addition to repetitive player actions and poses. You'll spot your team's quarterback getting Gatorade squirted into his mouth more times than you can count, and touchdown celebrations are similarly repetitive.
The artificial intelligence, at least, is greatly improved, and no longer tends to cheat on higher difficulty settings. It finally feels like you're participating in a fair fight, with computer controlled adversaries managing the clock much more effectively, playing to each team's specific strengths, and showing more awareness during plays. The game's still challenging, but it's much fairer than previous instalments – and that makes those all-important wins feel especially satisfying.
New to this year's edition is the Precision Running system, which complements your use of standard spins, dives, jukes, and stiff arms by augmenting added flair. Holding the L2 button while activating one of these tricks modifies how they're performed, allowing you to sail over a blocker at the goal line or better protect the ball during a spin. Performing these techniques comes at the cost of speed, so you need to decide if employing the extra move is worth the risk during each play. The same applies to speed boosts, which now rapidly deplete your stamina, bringing a more tactical element to the game as you seek to make your runs more efficient.
While this marks a huge improvement for offensive play, there's no real way to counter all of these mechanics in defence. The only new addition in this area is a heat-seeking tackling feature, which allows you to lock onto the ball carrier, providing extra precision when closing in. However, its usefulness is restricted to mitigating awkward camera angles, with manual tackling still providing the most versatile and effective means to deal with the ball carrier.
In terms of game modes, the Franchise campaign has been expanded so that you can play as an owner, coach, or player, all as rookie, established, or legendary types. The new owner mode adds additional responsibilities, such as making press statements to influence your team's perception, setting merchandise and ticket prices to bring in more cash, hiring personnel, and upgrading, rebuilding, and even moving your stadium. However, despite the many responsibilities, it's all kept simple with the help of advisors that recommend options for each aspect, keeping you focused on your team's performance on the field.
Ultimate Team mode also makes a comeback – although it's largely unchanged. The card collecting dream-team builder still allows you to take your team through solo and online challenges, playing ten game seasons against other players as you attempt to rise through eight tiers of competition. This year's main addition is Team Chemistry, which allows you to steer your team towards specific skills if your players have the right stats.
Customisation has always been a Madden strong point, and this year is no exception. You're able to freely share online rosters, slider settings, and playbooks with the community, allowing you to really customise the experience in a way that best suits you and your play-style. Even the interface is now eye-catching and intuitive, though it is a little sluggish to navigate. The same is true of the in-game menus, which would benefit from being a touch more responsive.
Madden NFL 25 offers plenty of offensive gameplay improvements, even if your defensive options feel a little limited as a result. While it doesn't represent the enormous leap forward for the franchise that fans have been asking for, it's still a solid refinement, and undoubtedly the best version of EA Sports' long-running series to date. If you've taken time away from the brand, then this will certainly reignite your relationship with the American Football favourite.