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It's hard to believe that the "Madden NFL" franchise has been going for 25 years now. We've seen a lot of killer editions of this game over the years, as well as some flounders that we'd just as soon forget about (we're looking at you, "Madden 64").

For its 25th anniversary, EA Sports has revved up "Madden" for its strongest effort yet, with the series set to make its next-gen debut later this year. For now, though, we have "Madden NFL 25," a suitable current-gen release that will satisfy PS3 and Xbox 360 owners with a number of new changes. There are still some old problems afoot, but the game continues to hit its stride, even after 25 years on the field.

Perhaps what you'll notice the most are the changes to the Infinity Engine. Using brand new animation effects, the on-field actions look better than ever, and the tackles are much more realistic. No more invisible foot grabbing or weird collisions like in prior years.

That said, sometimes the graphics aren't perfect. The fans aren't as animated as before, and there are some weird camera angles and repetitive celebration animations that enter the fray. Still, it's the on-field stuff that matters, and it's well done.

As far as commentary goes, Phil Simms and Jim Nantz once again return. I'll be honest, I miss the old days of John Madden and Pat Summerall, but these guys are decent fill-ins, even if at times their comments lag behind what's happening on the field. The sound effects are on the money, including chatter amongst the players, tackle noises and some good musical selections over the PA. Whoever chose AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," you get a thumbs up.

Where "Madden NFL 25" really pays off is in its gameplay. The passing game feels improved, even though the defense seems a little too wide open at times to get the interception. The running game has gone through an overhaul, with moves you can chain together to shake off defenders and head for the end zone. The defensive game is good, too, as you can use the Hit Stick to really wallop a quarterback into next Tuesday. Overall, it's a well-defined game of football, despite a few quirks.

"Madden NFL 25's" extras will keep you busy. The Connected Franchise alone has amazing depth to it, with a new Owner's mode where you can manage everything from team tweaks to how much popcorn sells for at the concession stand. If you prefer, you can play as a coach or player instead, increasing their skills through a nice XP system to make them better all around.

If competition is your thing, you can hop online and take on players, and also see how others' playbooks compare to yours through the unique Madden Share.

And, of course, Madden Ultimate Team is back for more. It's fun building up your ideal deck and trading cards with other players, though some will get into it more than others. It depends on your taste, really.

While the fundamentals of Madden remain mostly intact, there are enough changes here to make the 25th anniversary edition worth a recommendation. Sure, there's still some stuff to be ironed out before the game's jump to next-gen, but we still have a quality game of football here, with extras galore and the type of gameplay that will have people passing and running to the end zone like maniacs. Which is, after all, the way football should be.

Here's to another 25 years.

Score: 8.5

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