Being a somewhat enthusiastic football fan, I was excited when I heard that Madden NFL 25 (Free) would see a release on iOS. Unfortunately, any excitement was quickly extinguished when I fired up the game and realized this would not be anything like its console brethren. Instead, Madden 25 for iOS fully embraces its freemium roots, offering an experience that all but the most hardcore fans should avoid.
First off, let’s get something perfectly clear about Madden 25 for iOS: this bears little resemblance to the console versions of EA’s anniversary football title. Instead, Madden 25 is basically an updated version of the recently shuttered Madden Social, which focused on the collection of player cards. Sure, you can play highly simplified football matches against the AI or other players, but its almost as if the football itself is just a means towards more coins and experience points, which allow you to buy more card packs and (hopefully) get better players. Even more annoying is that by closing down Madden Social, EA has essentially reset everyone’s Madden progress- Forcing players who actually want to play this to get back to the grind of unlocking all the things they had previously.
In theory, Madden 25 has some interesting concepts that I wanted to explore. The asynchronous multiplayer against other players is a cool idea and solved some of the issues with playing full multiplayer games that typically have some time commitment. In addition, the game’s auction mode and Solo Challenge mode offer alternatives to earning cards than simply saving money and buying blind packs.
Unfortunately, each of these concepts is marred by excessive freemium elements and other missteps. The multiplayer matchmaking leaves something to be desired, placing me in my first game with an opponent completely decked out in high end cards which lead to a bloodbath and a relative waste of my time. Most of the cards I checked out in the auction were all offered at prices way above that which most ordinary players could ever earn. Acting as a looming shadow above the entire game is the energy system, which acts as a completely unnecessary limitation to playing solo challenges and multiplayer games (which are, after all, the only ways you can earn coin).
Adding insult to injury is the game’s attempts to really nickel and dime its players. Certain plays actually cost coins to use while playing, leaving your actual playbook choices diminished if you’re trying to save money. The game’s dual currency system also leads to some ridiculous options, including a literal ‘Pay-to-win’ button on Solo Challenges (that requires the premium ‘Madden Bucks’ which can only be purchased via IAP). I’m also not a fan of the fact that plays in general need to be unlocked via leveling for some of the modes.
Exacerbating the inherent issues with Madden 25 are lackluster and occasionally unresponsive controls. Players have the option of choosing a contextual control scheme that has you tapping and gliding your control player across the screen, or using a virtual joystick to control your players. While contextual is the default, I did not enjoy it at all as it forced me to tap and hold all over the screen to direct my players, occasionally causing me to block my field of vision. The joystick, meanwhile, works better for traditionalists but takes up precious screen real estate and still isn’t as responsive as I’d like.
One of the unfortunate side effects of the game’s controls is the heavy reliance I started to have on the game’s AI, especially on defensive drives. This makes upgrading your team’s cards even more important as your team’s offensive and defensive ratings become just as if not more important than player skill. This makes the overall experience all the more frustrating when you take the game’s freemium barriers into consideration.
I don’t know if Madden 25 is the only ‘Madden’ title to grace iOS this fall, but I certainly hope it isn’t. Lacking a season mode, any form of player customization, or even full games, Madden 25 is a poor substitute for an actual NFL game, and is instead yet another social-oriented freemium title that seems to care more about monetization than gameplay. Who knows how long it will last either, as EA has shown they have no problem just shutting down their servers for these games leaving players in the wings. In fact, the only nice thing I can say is that I didn’t encounter any of the crashes that Brad and Eli dealt with in their recent playthrough. Regardless, with this game and the recently released (and also free-to-play) NFL Pro Football 2014, pickings are looking pretty slim right now for NFL fans on iOS.