One Night Stand: Madden NFL 25

by Matt Helgeson on Feb 28, 2014 at 11:18 AM

I've always been a football fan, but I've never really liked football video games. Can this armchair quarterback master the digital gridiron in a few hours?

I decided to play Madden 25 for my second One Night Stand for two reasons: one, I am a big fan of football and two, it's as far from the first entry in this series (Lost Odyssey) as you can get. I have to say, I had a lot more confidence coming into this one, and for good reason. If you have ever had the pleasure of listening in to my Monday morning conversations with my coworkers Matt Bertz and Matt Kato about the previous day's Vikings game, you know that I am basically a genius at every aspect of football. Whether it's playcalling, clock management, or roster moves, there's nothing that goes on in the Vikings' organization that I couldn't do better if just given the chance. Somehow, I still haven't gotten the call from owner Zygi Wilf, but I'm sure he'll come to his senses soon and make me general manager/head coach. While I was installing Madden 25 into the Xbox One, there was little doubt in my mind that I'd quickly master the game -- I mean, how hard could a sports game be? (In the writing business, this is what's known as "foreshadowing").

After the game informs me that I need to register for EA's ultra-popular Origin service to utilize online features (not cool), I decide to skip the Ultimate Team mode that I've heard about and just try a basic quick-play exhibition game. I select my home team, the legendary 2012-13 Minnesota Vikings, helmed by Christian Ponder. What can I say? Once a sucker, always a sucker.

The computer pairs me against divisional rival the Detroit Lions, who did so well last year they got coach Jim Schwartz fired. Should be a real barn-burner. I lose the coin toss, something I would do the next three games I played (Is it possible to be bad at the coin toss?). I start off on defense, and take control of Vikings left end Jared Allen. Despite Allen being a highly rated pass rusher, I can't seem to get free. I'm constantly bottled up at the line, and none of the moves that you can utilize with the right thumbstick make any difference. Eventually, my colleague Matt Bertz, who's a Madden expert, tells me to switch to right end Brian Robison, as apparently the left ends in Madden 25 aren't very good. Things get better from there; I end up getting three sacks with Robison and one more tackle for a loss.

Overall, I didn't find playing defense very compelling. Too often, you're away from the action and not really relevant to the play. If I switched to another position other than end, like a cornerback or linebacker, I generally just blew the pass coverage by getting out of position. For the most part, I felt more like a passenger than the captain of the ship on defense. I can definitely see why the game gives you the option of letting the computer sim parts of the game.

Offense was a mixed bag. I started to get the hang of the running game, no doubt helped by the fact that I was playing as Adrian Peterson. Passing was much harder, and I never felt completely comfortable. You could even say I was pretty terrible. Or, perhaps I was just doing a great job of simulating the real-life performance of Ponder?

I ended up squeaking out a 17-10 victory thanks to some helpful Lions mistakes (again, perhaps that's the game being realistic).

After the exhibition was done, I switched to the offline Connected Career mode, which lets you play out the career of a single player.  I created Ghostface Killah, a 6'4" pocket passer from my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, a mid-round draft pick for the Vikings.

I liked this mode a lot; it has an option that lets you skip the opponents' entire offensive drive to go to your quarterback's next play. This really moved the games along, and let me bow out of the defensive portion of the game altogether. Sadly, it wasn't helping my on-field performance. As a quarterback, I was struggling to read defenses and had the bad habit of only focusing on one receiver -- maybe I really am more like Ponder than I'd like to think. It wasn't the game's fault; everything is right there in front of you as you step to the line. You see the routes each player will run and the button assigned to each receiver. But I just couldn't seem to be able to avoid the pass rush while keeping all that information in my head. Too many times I was throwing into double coverage or hitting receivers short of the first down. I ended up going 1-3 in the preseason, including a putrid 0-13 offensive performance against the fearsome 49ers defense.

As I went into the regular season, I started to make some incremental progress. I got a little better and quick-release timed slants and short passing, mostly because it meant I didn't have to rely on letting a play develop and looking for the open man. The run game also improved, as I learned to have a little patience in letting the holes on the line develop instead of just barreling in. Before my time with the game was up, I'd managed to go 1-2, with a solid win against the Bears.

Overall, I came away pretty impressed by the complexity of the game. I was fairly overwhelmed by Madden 25, and I wasn't even scratching the surface. For one, I was using the "GameFlow" feature which basically picks plays for you. I tried to pick my own plays in the menu system a few times, which resulted in a couple delay-of-game penalties. I also didn't even attempt to do an audibles or adjustments at the line, which is really where the big-time NFL quarterbacks like Peyton Manning make their money. There are also entire modes for coaching and team owners that I didn't have time to touch.

If you're a "hardcore gamer" who looks down their nose at sports games, I'd encourage you to try Madden. It might be a humbling experience. There's a lot to master -- as much as any RPG has to offer. And, you have to do it all in the confines of the play clock and the split-second decision making that occurs during play. Sadly, I found out that I was destined for the waiver wire, not the Hall of Fame. Despite my struggles, I really enjoyed my time with Madden 25. I just need a few more weeks of training camp.