The crux of any video game review should help answer one question. Should I buy this game?
Here's the short version: If you're still incorporating video games into your weekly diet, if you have a hard time rounding up 21 friends for a game of tackle football and if you've appreciated everything that the Madden series has delivered to you over the last 25 years, then Madden NFL 25 deserves a place in your life.
This silver anniversary iteration might finally quell the game's dubious "roster update" stigma once and for all, a pejorative that has rightly or wrongly haunted the title over the last decade. It won't take even the average player long to realize that this game is deeper, more dynamic and more finely tuned than Madden 13. And it is, somehow, much more fun to play.
The highlight of the game's many improvements is the Run Free system, which offers customized running jukes and moves that make running the ball the more attractive option in playcalling, perhaps for the first time.
I consider myself a huge fan of the run game in Madden, in part because it demoralizes my opponent when done well but also keeps my defense off the field (and therefore keeps me from being demoralized). But running the ball has never been so great in this game, and by proxy, never been so difficult to stop. So you don't need to be the jerky fellow online who always picks Adrian Peterson. That's just mean, man.
And that's not even mentioning the fact that EA has brought the read-option to live in 25. After a go-round in the Skill Trainer mode, that offensive wrinkle is easy to run. It might even be too easy, as one could march down the field in a hurry-up with it, using only the right trigger button to reverse the direction of the play. And if you think it's fun to run with Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson, wait until you try it with Matt Ryan or Drew Brees. Just make sure you have the right playbook.
But the improvements don't stop there. The game's Precision Passing feature allows you to lead your receivers on passing routes. The game's second go-round at the Infinity Engine created an ensemble of exciting, unique tackles (the preset animations of games past will not be missed).
And the Connected Careers Mode now allows you to play as an owner this year, as well as a player or coach (Getcha popcorn prices ready, because the owner mode is even more ridiculously robust than its last iteration in 08, and is once again a game unto itself). And while I didn't get a great opportunity to explore the online leagues before the game's mass release, EA appears to have significantly enhanced those features as well.
What else? The Hit Stick is back, and it presents the same risk-reward issues as in earlier versions of the game. The sprint button is sort of back, but it has a fancier name that I can't remember or find at the moment. But now it's activated with the right trigger and only works for a finite amount of time. The other rub: the defense can use it, too, adding extra drama to those runs through the second level of the defense toward the sideline.
Together, these features combine for a title much improved over Madden NFL 13. The game feels more responsive and more integrated. And it looks more like an NFL game. The tackles look more like NFL tackles. The passing feels like one would expect NFL passing to feel. Snozzberries taste like snozberries and so forth.
And if the tuning still isn't to your liking, the sliders for Player and CPU play can be customized until it is. I've enjoyed taking the sliders to extremes for more of an arcade experience. I've saved sets of sliders titled SHOOTOUT, SUPERD, and SMTRAINER, the last of which is creates a tougher experience for a skill level between All-Pro and All-Madden (and sliders can be uploaded and downloaded online in this year's title as well).
There were some minor, minor issues in my review copy of the game that barely seem worth mentioning. The wide camera angle didn't work for me, but that's totally adjustable. The playcalling window, at times, seemed out to get me, putting me on the Special Teams window, especially when checking out of GameFlow. No, I don't want to punt on fourth down…why do you think I'm picking my own play right now?
I'm trying really hard to say something negative about the game, aside from the fact that it will render my newborn daughter virtually fatherless for the next year, but that's the best I can do.
If you're not waiting for the Xbox One to hit shelves in November, the Xbox 360 or PS3 Versions should suit you just fine. The graphics do enjoy a modest bump; you won't feel like you're settling for a "current-gen" experience. Besides, the NFL season starts in less than two weeks. If you're so inclined, there's no reason not to fire up your console and start a little early.