As the football season kicks off (See what I did there? Last one, I promise.), gamers finally have a chance to take this year's squads on their own path with the latest entry in the Madden franchise.

Madden NFL 25 is out, and, as its name suggest, it's the 25th year since it all began. How does EA celebrate that milestone? You'll find out by reading our review.

This Madden is a solid effort, though I'd wager that most players disinterested in the franchise will have little reason to give it a shot. The biggest and most improved feature is the game's running mechanic.

Beyond that, is this the same ol' Madden?

A Better Running Game

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The best tweak applied to Madden this year is the running game. It's been fine-tuned and feels more precise, smart and enjoyable.

First and foremost, waiting for blocks and turning up field worked really well for me in this year's edition. Typically, I struggle to establish a good running game. The tackle animations from previous editions seemed to cheat me down to the turf. Ever since last year's more realistic tackle engine, running has been that much more enjoyable.

With Madden NFL 25, I was actually able to interpret when blocks would open up holes large enough for me to push through. It became more about timing than about sheer luck, and, as someone who perhaps isn't as good at Madden as most diehards, I loved feeling more in charge of the game than a victim to it.

Once you dedicate some time to actually learning how to control your player with possession of the ball, Madden NFL 25's running game enters a whole new world of fun. Holding the left trigger while performing jukes and stiff arms allows you to do them with a bit more precision. That precision translates into a few extra yards on the ground, and it gives each run a sense of fight rather than luck.

Running feels winnable. It's not cheap or easy, it's practical. Your runs won't always translate to 10 yard gains. You'll be stuffed behind the line of scrimmage by a decent defense. However, there are more opportunities to attack than ever before.

A More Polished UI

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With Madden NFL 13, a lot of players were exceptionally mad about EA Sports' decision to drop the "Franchise Mode" name in favor of Connected Careers. Connected Careers basically took the Franchise, GM and Coach experiences and smashed them all together under one banner.

The differences were minor, but they were there.

With this year's edition, Connected Careers returns. However, EA was more explicit about their wording within the mode. There's no confusion about how players want to engage in their favorite mode, and that's really the entire theme when it comes to this much better UI.

Everything about Madden NFL 25's UI screams simplicity and direction. It's not pretty on every screen, but it is direct and concise. After you get a career going, for instance, every time you boot up your game you'll be able to dive right into your previously played mode from the opening screen.

Feel like tracking down Achievements? Sure, they're presented on the main screen. You'll select them and be taken directly into their corresponding modes.

There's a little loading lag that manages to slow things down in between screens, but it's never unbearable. In fact, the lag in UI is something I hope we can say goodbye to with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Wouldn't snappiness in a sports game be nice?

Muddy Textures, Odd Audio and Laggy Calls

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Each game starts with a great matchup cinematic. Made with real footage, players will get a narrated overviews of the teams' history, locale and players. It's a great concept, though the limitation of the medium means that the videos have been brought down a few notches in terms of resolution. The moment is slightly tainted with pixelated clips.

That muddiness translates to play, as well.

Maybe I'm just getting tired of this current generation's graphical prowess. This could just be me. But, Madden NFL 25 seems particularly blurry in the finite texture department. The grass, the arenas, the fans and the sidelines all look a bit washed out and smeared together.

The running, passing and tackling all looks fantastic in motion. Then you put those elements next to aging graphics and you've got a mish-mash that doesn't always work. It's actually distracting.

Just like the audio. I'm glad that Phil Simms and Jim Nantz are here. Truly. But, due to the nature of video games and pre-recorded audio, their calls feel behind the play.

When you break a tackle in open field and go on to add, say, 40 yards to your play, the announcers should display a little charisma and excitement. Simms and Nantz, more often than not, are still talking about the dropped pass from the last play. It feels rigid and dated, and, just like the muddy textures, it managed to snap me away from the otherwise solid mechanics.

The Name of the Game is the Same

…for someone who plays this game every year, fatigue is starting to take its toll. I just can't decide where EA Sports should go from here.

In spite of the "25th Anniversary" moniker, Madden NFL 25 doesn't really celebrate the milestone in quite the way that it should. NHL 14, for instance, features an NHL 92 mode that re-themes the gameplay. Madden NFL 25 doesn't do that.

Instead, the loading screens are stacked with reminders of what alterations and additions came to the series in which version. It's a nice trip down memory lane, but it's not really all that spectacular.

Madden NFL 25 boasts the best running game I've enjoyed in a football title. The UI tweaks and subtle changes to Connected Careers make it a more polished experience than last year's go. As is often the case with these titles, the entire package feels more like a rehash than a relaunch.

Madden works. There's no need to completely reimagine it. Still, for someone who plays this game every year, fatigue is starting to take its toll. I just can't decide where EA Sports should go from here.

We received a review copy of Madden NFL 25 from EA Sports for the Xbox 360 a few days after the title's release. We completed a season, played online and started the Ultimate Team mode before drafting this review.

4 out of 5