John Madden's name has been synonymous with video-game football since 1988 — which means most current NFL players don't remember a time when there wasn't a "Madden" game to teach them the ins and outs of the gridiron.
But for anyone who's been playing all these years, "Madden NFL 25" (EA Sports, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99) will cause flashbacks. Remember the ambulance that drove onto the field to collect injured players? Or the nutso stats you could rack up with a young Michael Vick? Or the thrill of creating your own monster quarterback with your name on the back of his jersey?
The new edition may not have any of those "wow" moments, but it's easy to take something like "Madden" for granted. Instead, "Madden NFL 25" represents the culmination of a quarter-century of innovation, taking a victory lap before the franchise moves onto the next generation of higher-definition game machines.
Over the years, "Madden" has accumulated so many features and game modes that a casual player is unlikely to discover half of what it has to offer. Fortunately, it remains fairly easy to set up a quick one-on-one showdown, whether online or in person. "Gameflow" play-calling, which essentially boils down the massive playbook to a handful of options, makes the action more accessible to rookies. And since I've never been able to master the art of passing, I'm pleased with the "Madden" team's recent attention to the running game, with improved blocking and precision controls making it easier to find and exploit holes in the defense.
While individual matchups are as entertaining as ever, more demanding fans will want to dig into the Connected Franchise mode, in which you control the careers of a player, coach or owner (or all three) over several seasons. For example, I simulated the 2013 season as Giants halfback David Wilson, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Jaguars owner Shad Kahn. The ownership role is somewhat dry and unrewarding — it's hard to get excited about jacking up the price of stadium popcorn, and it remains to be seen whether moving the Jags from Jacksonville, Fla., to Mexico City will pay off.