The offensive scheme that gave pro football defenses nightmares last season will do the same to video game players this week.
Electronic Arts' sports simulation Madden NFL 25 returns with several interesting features such as Owner Mode, but it's big improvements to the running game -- particularly while running the Pistol formation or Read-Option plays -- that stand out for better or worse.
The history of Madden NFL on this selection of video game consoles has been rocky at best. After a few difficult years trying to master the on-field action and migrate key features and game modes, Electronic Arts studio Tiburon seemed to finally get things right with Madden NFL 10 in 2009. Since then, Madden NFL has remained a solid sports game despite several nagging bugs.
For the 25th anniversary edition of the video game, running backs benefit greatly. There's a new Precision Modifier that unlocks variations on moves such as spins, jukes, stiff-arms or other tricks to evade defenders. Pressing and holding the left trigger while performing one of these moves will unleash a special -- often faster -- version, and can sometimes get strung together with other moves. So, for example, a speedy wide receiver could quickly go from a juke to the right followed by a spin to shake off mutliple defenders, or a truck move to lunge toward the first down marker.
The moves make it much easier for a player to stretch out an extra couple yards on a run or pass play, even on tougher difficulties. Averaging 4-6 yards per running seemed pretty easy to perform.
To make the running game even more attractive, Madden NFL 25 borrows from the NCAA Football 14 playbook with upgrades to option offenses, most notably the Read Option. Teams such as the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins feature the Pistol formation with several Read Option plays, but any team with a versatile QB/RB combo (think Eagles, Seahawks, too) can benefit.
Similar to NCAA Football, Madden displays icons over the defensive player to show whether he'll shoot for the running back or quarterback. Defenders often don't follow the icon, so players will still need to watch whether that defender holds position to follow the quarterback or dive toward the line for the running back.
Most of the time, running the ball has become fun again. However, between Precision Modifier and the Read Option, plowing through defenses is a breeze. In fact, it's almost too easy. Even on the challenging All-Madden mode, I was able to break off huge runs with Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, Seahawks back Marshawn Lynch and others. But even when players stick with a traditional offense, running the ball isn't tough.
The game also includes tweaks to the Infinity Engine, the tech used to render animations of tackles and other action. It's solid but players will definitely see some random buggy moments, such as tackles that look like a glob of twitching body parts, or the linebacker that unnaturally zips across the field like a vampire in True Blood.
Off the field, Madden introduces a robust Owner Mode, where players can perform every task from drafting and signing future stars to hiking prices on nachos. When players start, they can choose between current NFL owners or create their own and choose an owner style. For example, you could be a billionaire with lots of cash to spend or a former player who earns immediate respect from players and coaches.
The season will play out as a standard Franchise Mode from years past. Players sign free agent, draft rookies and restructure contracts, among other things. As an owner, players have the bonus of setting ticket prices, upgrading stadiums (or even relocating), and managing media campaigns to finish as the NFL's most valuable team. It's an extra layer of depth and management that makes running a franchise more enjoyable.
Madden NFL 25 fits the mold of previous launches of the pro football simulation. Despite needing more consistency in its portrayal of on-the-field action, Madden is still a satisfying sports experience.
By Brett Molina