EA's Madden NFL 25 already released this past August on current generation consoles, but with the launches of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One came the need for a next-gen iteration of the popular football franchise. The last time a Madden launched on both current and next-gen consoles was Madden 06, which was a feature-less mess of an upgrade that lacked polish across the board. Madden NFL 25 doesn't quite herald in the next generation of football, but it is a much more competent debut.
When you first start up a game of Madden NFL 25 on the PS4, not that much appears to be different from the version you may have played just a few months ago. All the menus and modes are identical, and you've got your choice of ways to play from Play Now to Connected Franchise and Ultimate Team. There isn't much new in the way of options, and the menu system is just as clunky and overly complicated as it was on the PlayStation 3. Scrolling through the option menus in Connected Franchise is still just as slow as it was on the current gen, too, which is odd given the PS4's boosted power. To be fair, that the focus wasn't put on menus is understandable. Madden NFL 25 on the PS4 is all about the Ignite Engine and the gameplay on the field. It just would have been nice if navigating the menus to get to the action was a bit more intuitive.
Moving through the menus isn't the only the time you'll experience a bit of deja vu with Madden NFL 25. Despite all the bluster and hype, the next-gen version of Madden looks an awful lot like the current one. Granted, it looks like a much sharper, better lit version, but the gap in presentation from last gen to this new batch of consoles is minimal at best. There are more details in the uniforms and stadiums, the helmets are shinier and the uniforms attract dirt more realistically, but the nuance in the upgraded presentation isn't something you can really see when the camera is pulled back.
Once the action on the field gets cracking is when the Ignite Engine steps up its game. Character models may not be all that impressive, but the animations and realistic physics do make for much more true-to-life experience between the hashes. As strong as the Infinity Engine 2.0 was in the current edition, the Ignite Engine offers even more improvements to Madden's core gameplay. The biggest differences you'll notice if you've already played an earlier version of this year's entry is in the offensive line play. The level of competency jumps up significantly on the PlayStation 4 version, with linemen actually following assignments and moving onto the next level correctly. As such, running is a viable option on offense, and you'll see holes open up in the right spots. It's still up to you to make the right call on where to go, but it's so refreshing to see virtual NFL teams playing up to the level of their real life counterparts.
Defense gets a nice boost, too, as the players on the other side of the ball make intelligent decisions and adapt to the playcalling as the game progresses. It'll take you a few games to notice, but the defenders will react properly in transition as well, with linebackers passing off offensive players to corners, and corners passing them off to safeties when necessary. Man coverage is a lot tighter, too, and the difference between amazing corners and merely average ones is immediately noticeable. Your front four are also capable of making plays now instead of merely relying on the offensive line to be terrible. For the first time in years, playing defense is actually enjoyable. Your AI teammates will do the right things, and you don't have to be concerned with covering every last inch of the field all by yourself.
As great as some of the Ignite Engine's improvements to the AI are, there are some issues with the way players move on the field. The physics system works well enough as the difference in controlling large and small players is easy to see and feel. There are still some wonky tackling animations, and boy will you see some bizarre catches from time to time. The biggest disappointment is in the fact Madden still doesn't recognize a downed player in a pile until some part of his body actually touches the ground. No player has ever gotten back up from a dog pile, but you still have to watch every player wriggle around until the whistle blows. The momentum of running players can be an issue from time to time, too, and can lead to some real ankle-breaking moments. Lucky for every player included in the game they are only virtual people.
The promise of the Ignite Engine has delivered some nice improvements to the PlayStation 4 version of Madden NFL 25, but there's still just too much familiarity with the current gen version all around. The AI upgrades are certainly nice, but they aren't major enough to warrant re-purchasing Madden if you already picked it up a few months ago. That said, football on next-gen is off to a much better start than it was the last time new consoles were introduced.
This review is based on a retail copy of Madden NFL 25 purchased for the PlayStation 4.