The lights are on
With hall of fame Lions running back Barry Sanders and reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson serving as cover athletes, it's fitting that both current- and next-gen versions of Madden NFL 25 are focused on shoring up the run game.
Behind closed doors at the EA booth, I got my hands on a practice scenario of the next-gen version of Madden featuring the Vikings offense and Redskins defense. EA put together this demo to showcase the new smart blocking mechanics that finally take into account player assignments, size, strength, and speed -- no more creating a 5'7, 180-pound left tackle who can somehow block the Jared Allens of the NFL. Trying a variety of different rushing plays, it quickly became clear to me that it's more important than ever to follow your blockers. Defenders take smart angles on the ballcarrier, so unless your running back is a human joystick capable of breaking ankles you are better off taking what the defense gives you at the point of attack and waiting until you find open field to start juking. For demonstration purposes EA visualized the blocking assignments so you could see which players were expected to be blocked by whom. Blockers are much more efficient at getting to their point of attack, and when they get their hands on much smaller defenders they can make quick work of them. On several sweeps to the right I saw the human mountain Phil Loadholt pancake corners and quickly turn his attention upfield. Running backs also demonstrate increased awareness, pointing out defenders that need to be blocked in the open field.
When I tinkered with the right analog stick jukes, I was impressed by how well the game preserved the sense of momentum with the running backs. Coming out of a spin or planting to cut another direction, Peterson would violently burst upfield immediately just like his real-world counterpart. The runners bounce off the back of blockers better as well. The one area of the rushing game that gives me pause right now is cut backs. Going against the grain of pursuit is a powerful tool that great runners exploit, but in my limited time with the game, I found this to be difficult. The defenders' angles of pursuit were simply too good.
Another game station demonstrated the improved pass blocking. The offensive line spacing has been corrected, with tackles lining up on the edge to better match up against speed rushers in shotgun formations. The lineman appear to be more savvy at double teaming and picking up blitzers, which has aways been a point of contention for the series. When a blocker is slow to pick up a blitz, they still try to chip the oncoming rusher.
The best news about the next-gen debut of Madden, however, is that it won't be stripped of its feature set like the first Xbox 360 version.
Upstairs at another demo booth, I took my first tour of the new owner's mode. When starting a new career as an NFL mogul, you can either assume the role of one of the 32 current NFL owners or create a new one. When doing so, you can choose to be one of three types of owner: a former player like Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, a lifelong fan like Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, or a finanical mogul like Jaguars owner Shahid Khan. Each type has slightly different benefits.
When playing games through the season, the owners presence is accounted for in realistic ways. You may spot him in the owners box during a broadcast, or down on the sideline during the Super Bowl.
Owners are flanked by a team of advisors that help them make decisions regarding things like marketing, the stadium, fan relations, and finances. At times the media may wish to speak with you as well. You can often decline, but answering questions and having your word stand can grant you bonuses like generating more revenue.
As we reported earlier, you can build new stadiums, relocate your team to another city from a list curated by EA, and choose a new team name and uniforms from a list of predetermined options. AI controlled teams may pick up and move as well. We asked if you can move a team from a city, then move another franchise to that abandoned city, and were told that this isn't possible this year. There goes my dream of moving the Rams back to Los Angeles and the Cardinals back to St. Louis.
Madden NFL 25 is scheduled to release on August 27 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions will ship at a later date.
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