Hands-on with the promising next generation of Madden NFL 25

Madden NFL 25 is one of two EA Sports titles launching on both current-generation and next-generation consoles this year. When publisher Electronic Arts was last in this position — at the start of the current generation in 2005 — the Xbox 360 version of the game looked better than the Xbox version, but was missing some major features that its previous-generation counterpart included.

According to EA, the situation is completely different this time around, thanks to its new EA Sports Ignite engine. Representatives from the company told Polygon during E3 that Madden 25 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will not only match the feature set of the current-generation versions of the game: developer EA Tiburon is building features on top of the existing game that will appear only on the new consoles launching later this year.

Better graphics is the most immediately apparent upgrade that new hardware brings, and what we saw of Madden 25 on Xbox One didn't disappoint. The game renders a football field full of individual blades of grass, over the course of a game, you'll see the field degrade appropriately in high-traffic areas. A developer panned the camera from the pristine end zone all the way to the patchy grass near the 50-yard line, and zoomed in on Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to show off the game's greatly increased visual detail.

Madden 25 on next-gen consoles includes the improvements Tiburon is making to the current-gen game this year, such as the second iteration of the studio's Infinity Engine for real-time physics and the new running controls called Run Free. But according to Tiburon, those elements will be better on next-gen due to the consoles' increased computing power and the way Ignite takes advantage of it.

That manifests in areas like the calculations of player movement. Tiburon turned on debug visuals for our demo to point out the fidelity with which Madden 25 tracks where players plant their feet; according to the studio, the tracking is five times as precise on next-gen. The game engine also keeps track of the locations of all 22 players on a field and where they're going, and that anticipation allows it to produce better-looking collisions between players. And with the increase in memory offered by next-gen systems, Madden 25 can maintain a larger bank of animations, which makes the chaining of running moves (like jukes and spins) look more fluid and realistic.

But the most impressive and promising feature we saw is exclusive to the next-generation version of Madden 25. Pass blocking, a perennial bugaboo for the franchise, is finally getting some huge upgrades on the new consoles. We spoke with Clint Oldenburg, a designer at Tiburon who played as an offensive lineman in the NFL and was put to work on blocking in Madden when he joined the studio, about the improvements being made to pass blocking.

Oldenburg showed us icons on the offensive linemen and defense that indicated each lineman's ever-shifting awareness of oncoming defenders. The offensive linemen know how deep the pocket around the quarterback should be, depending on the play you've called, and will track defenders so they can shift focus to higher priorities and imminent threats (like a blitzing linebacker). They also have the intelligence to double-team defenders for the first time in franchise history. According to Oldenburg, Tiburon hopes the combination of these features will encourage users to step up in the pocket like a real quarterback, instead of running backward to avoid the defense.

After Tiburon's presentation, we got the chance to try out rushing plays in a practice environment. Madden NFL 13 felt like a vastly different game from its predecessors because of the Infinity Engine, and while the next-generation version of this year's game didn't seem like as big an upgrade in this specific area, it was noticeably better in every way. That's what we should get from the next generation, and it was tremendously exciting to get a glimpse of it at E3.

Madden NFL 25 will be released Aug. 27 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and will be a launch title on both PS4 and Xbox One.

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