It’s August, which means a new season of football is almost upon us, and it also means it’s time for a new edition of the yearly sports juggernaut Madden NFL. I had the pleasure of reviewing Madden 12, and enjoyed last years edition (my first NFL game in years) enough that I scored it a 9.0. Some folks disagreed with that score, in fact I apparently had an “incorrect review” as one commenter who didn’t agree with the high score put it. Well here’s the scoop… After playing Madden NFL 13 for the past week and a half, I can confidently say that I enjoy this one even more than I did last year.
A common complaint hurled against Madden games, and indeed all yearly titles, is that they’re the same game year after year with updated rosters. That’s not the case here. Madden NFL 13 is not the same game as Madden NFL 12. The foundation is the same of course as it is a football game, and well there’s only so much that can be done to make things different. Madden NFL 13 did the right things to differentiate itself from previous outings, namely it has an entirely new engine dubbed the Infinity Engine.
The new Infinity Engine is a physics based engine and its named Infinity because of the claim that it has an infinite amount of variations that can occur during a play in regards collision detection and the animations. Previously we’ve had canned animations and pre-determined outcomes, and suction tackling. That’s all gone. This engine is rendering real time physics that can impact every play. I’m in my second season of Connected Careers (we’ll get to this soon) playing with the Atlanta Falcons. I’ve seen running back Michael Turner get cremated by big defenders and immediately go down. What’s different is the when he gets hit and is able to regain his balance and keep running, although stumbling around while he’s trying to regain balance. Slipping out of tackles is another result of the new engine. Whereas previously you could put the control down for a second once a tackling animation began, now you never know how its going to end up because with the right moves and how/where you were hit, you could turn the play into another six yards or end up going all the way down the field for a touchdown.
Now while the physics of the Infinite Engine is a most welcome addition, it does have quirks and isn’t the most realistic aspect of the game. They’ve incorporated muscle tension into the engine to try and prevent rag-doll physics from occurring, but they do. It’s not uncommon to see players land in contorted ways that realistically would have snapped some ligaments or bones. In addition, after plays are usually quite funny as you have players tripping and stumbling all over one another. Granted it is realistic that if you walk into someone’s side while they’re on the ground, you’re going to stumble or fall over them, but it ceases to be realistic when you have grown pro-football players falling all over the field after a play because they can’t quit tripping over one another.
I understand that it is a game however, and thus I’m never overly concerned with realism to this degree. It’s a new engine and things happen, I get that and the positives of the new engine vastly outweigh the humorous negatives of it.
Of course the Infinity Engine isn’t the only thing added to improve the actual gameplay, EA Tiburon has added in all sorts of new stuff. Total Control Passing being another improvement, where you can now use the left stick to control and direct the placement of a pass. This is useful to lead a receiver into an open spot. It took a few attempts to start getting the hang of it (my very first pass was intercepted and my second pass was intercepted, so do be careful and mindful where you’re leading a receiver too and who’s around the area). To go along with this, the Tiburon team has added 25 new pass trajectory zones, which gives more control of the three passing ball speeds (lob, medium, and my favorite the bullet).
Total Control Passing works really well, but this year you’re also going to have to be mindful of your receivers and whether or not they’re ready for the ball. There’s a new receiver awareness feature where the pass icon over a receivers head will light up when he is ready for the pass. If you throw it when he’s not ready, then the receiver isn’t going to know the ball is coming and he isn’t going to catch it (although you can try and take manual control of the receiver and catch it, but I’ve never been good at that though strangely enough I have never gotten as many “user picks” while on defense as I have with this game). Basically, all of this means you have to act more like a quarterback. You need to read the defense and pay attention.
Having said that, while receivers won’t be able to make a play if they don’t know the ball is coming, defenders still have the magically ability to know when the ball has been thrown and where it’s heading despite not looking. It can be pretty frustrating to have a guy appear to be open enough, only to the defenders break the moment you throw the ball and arrive in time to knock it down. They’ve said psychic DBs are gone, but they’re not. Maybe not as big of a problem as they have been, but they are still there. For the most part, defense is pretty good, but I couldn’t help but feel a lot of the time that I was being held by the offensive line that. And there’s still a problem with defenders not responding when they see a QB scramble out, which if you’ve played any football in the past decade, you know what I’m talking about.
Another area that has some major improvement is the audio. The crowds sound better and have a better reaction when a big play happens, and you can occasionally hear players yell stuff after plays. It’s just a much more lively sounding crowd, and that’s thanks to the 24 track recorded crowd that Tiburon went out and recorded to capture the immersive atmosphere of a real NFL game. But the biggest improvement in regards to audio is the commentary.
Last year, I said I both liked and disliked the commentary. I liked it because it was better than the boring commentary found in NCAA Football 12 and disliked it for several reasons. Well the Tiburon team has completely revamped the commentary. Gus Johnson and Chris Collinsworth are gone. This year, we get the NFL on CBS broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. These two have been calling NFL games together for eight years, so they’re both extremely familiar with each other and have built up a good chemistry. That familiarity translates well to the video game. The duo’s commentary sounds natural and not scripted, which is possible because their chemistry produced some back and forth ab-libbing banter. Jim Nantz brings good play calling, while Simms is able to incorporate the analysis of the game as a former quarterback. The commentary here has taken a big step forward.
That’s not to say that the commentary is perfect. It’s not. There is still some delay issues, although they aren’t as prominent as last year. The biggest complaint with the commentary for me is that it’s flat out wrong some times and annoying at others. For example, I’m driving down the field and have already picked up three first downs. It’s 1st and 10, and I threw a quick slant to Julio Jones and pick up nine yards. What did I hear? “They picked up some yards but still not enough for the first down, sometimes you have to throw the ball down the field.” That’s not a direct quote, but it’s close enough. When it’s 1st and 10, I don’t need a first down. I picked up nine, any team would be happy with that. Michael Turner easily picked up that one yard the next play. That’s an example of commentary being annoying.
There are instances though where commentary is flat out wrong about what just happened and I’ll give a few examples here. The first time I encountered it the CPU kicked the ball off to me and I fumbled the ball at my own 15. The CPU recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown. The commentary goes on to say something to the effect that you have to appreciate a kickoff returned for a touchdown and how well the return man did. Yeah, he did well… he fumbled the ball and allowed the kicking team to score a touchdown. Give that man an award.
Another example would be when a wide open receiver on a cold streak dropped a bullet pass that was right in his hands. The commentary for this particular play didn’t talk about the open receiver dropping a pass that hit his hands, but rather how you can’t take anything away from the quarterback as that was just a well defended play with the defender able to get in there and knock it down. No, there was no defender anywhere near. The receiver just flat out missed it. There are other examples, but you get the idea. Play the game and you’ll likely experience at least one wrong call during the game.
In addition to the new commentary team, Tiburon also has real voice work and cadences from some of most popular quarterbacks in the NFL. QB’s providing their voice for the game include Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Tim Tebow, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, and Cam Newton. Bark out audibles and commands as Peyton Manning, and it’s very realistic as it’s Manning’s real voice and cadence out there.
Besides the Infinity Engine and the improved commentary, the big thing for Madden NFL 13 is the brand new Connected Careers mode which can be played offline or online with up to 32 other human players. This mode is described as “the first true sports RPG,” and that’s pretty much what it is though you can ignore that aspect if you choose too.
Connected Careers has replaced both online/offline Franchise mode and Superstar mode. In Connected Careers, you choose to either take on the role of a coach (created, current, or legendary coach) or of a single player (created, current, or legendary player). If you take on the persona of a coach, the mode will play out like your standard season/franchise mode. You’ll have complete control of the team, will play every play and will call the plays. If you choose to play as one player then you’ll only get to play when your guy is on the field and only as that player. This is the Superstar mode aspect of Connected Careers.
If you join an online league, you can be a player playing in a game against a coach. You cannot be a player on a coach controlled team though, so there’s no co-op here. If you’re running a league then you’ll have the option to set it up to where the league is player only, coach only, or allow both.
Everything is gaining XP, whether you’re completing goals, practicing or playing in a game. XP is used to upgrade your player, or if you’re a coach buy packages that will help you as a coach. Your primary goal in this mode is to take a coach or a player and build up their legacy score and get them into the Hall of Fame.
You’re never locked in though. If you get tired of playing as say Trent Richardson, you can retire and pick either a new player or a coach and still stay in the same Connected Career league. You can also be fired if you perform badly, and if no other team picks you up, you’ll have to pick someone else, so don’t play badly.
There are things that you can’t do with Connected Careers that you could do with Franchise mode in years past. You can forget about taking control of CPU teams and playing their games instead of simulating them. You can also forget about manually editing players and their equipment, because that’s not happening either. And don’t even think of importing your NCAA Football 12 classes into Madden 13, because it ain’t happening either. Removing these options will definitely be a turn off to some people, but it isn’t a big deal to me personally. I never used the import feature, and Connected Careers does a good job of spotlighting fictional NCAA players in its League News section, in addition to scouting.
League News is a basic recap of what’s happening in the league. You’ll of course see brief stories about something your team or player did, but you’ll also be kept up to date about what other teams are doing. Whether it’s winning games, signing players, firing folks, big trades, or the latest on the top NCAA prospects, there’s always something to quickly read in League News. Join the news though is a new Virtual Twitter. Virtual Twitter is actually really cool even if you don’t like Twitter. You’ll get a feed of smart fake Tweets from real media personalities (Skip Bayless, Adam Schefter, Robert Flores, Chris Mortensen, Trey Wingo, and others). These tweets look legit, and not only do they keep you up-to-date with whats happening around the league and rumors of trades of whatnot, they can also be fairly entertaining/humorous to read. Twitter, even a fake Twitter, invaded a video game sounds bad, but EA Tiburon has made it a great addition to the new Connected Careers mode.
There’s not much else to add. Madden Ultimate Team is pretty much the same as it was last year with some new cards and some new challenges. And this year MUT does has some cross-over with Connected Careers, as you can find legendary players (Joe Montana, Deion Sanders, etc.) and legendary coaches (Vince Lombardi) in card packs (or by completing solo challenges) which will unlock these individual as playable options in Connected Careers. The best addition to MUT to me is the reserves; you now have a lot more space (ten times) to store and save cards, which is great considering collecting cards is the best aspect of playing the mode (although I don’t recommend buying card packs for real money, though I’m sure there’s some sucker out there who will gladly throw down $74.99 for the most expensive option of card packs).
There’s a new free Madden NFL Gridiron Club, which is a rewards based loyalty program. For every EA Sports NFL game you’ve played this generation, you’ll receive as a special pack of Madden Ultimate Team cards. This club also houses the Madden Moments Live, which will be updated weekly and consist of multiple challenges where you recreate memorable moments from NFL games. These range from the easy to the hard. Right now there’s five moments available from the 2011 season. Madden Moments Live scores how well you do, and there’s a leaderboard so you can see how well you’ve done compared to your friends and everyone else who has played the mode.
The Gridiron Club also includes several video channels through Madden On-Demand where you can stay up-to-date on the latest NFL happenings and prepare for big games, as well as get game hints from Prima Pros, developers, and some community members.
I haven’t experienced any glitches with the game outside of the standard players occasionally clipping through then field and each other and running through the net behind the goal. A lot of people were affected last year by rain in just about every franchise mode game. I didn’t have that problem last year in my season and a half, and I haven’t had that problem in this one either. Some folks complained of loud popping sounds last year too, and again I didn’t have that problem last year on the PS3 and have not encountered this year either. I did have a problem with ghost players last year (players who would become invisible for one play, or more if hurry up was being used). I’ve played a ton of games this year and have not seen the ghost glitch happen once. So it’s really quite fine tuned and polish, though again there are a few kinks that will likely never be ironed out and I’m okay with that since they’re not game breaking in any way.
Madden NFL 13 is a huge improvement in just about every possible way, and I actually really enjoyed Madden NFL 12 a lot last year. The gameplay is better thanks to the new Infinity Engine and the tweaks/additions/improvements that the Tiburon team has added this year. It plays really well, and it looks as good as ever (though when you’re waiting to snap the ball, players can and do appear a little jaggy-edged). Madden NFL 13 isn’t “the same game,” it’s a big step forward for the series and just an all around enjoyable experience. If you bought last year’s Madden, go ahead and trade it in for credit use towards Madden 13; it really is a superior game in every way. I don’t think there’s a been a better football game this generation of consoles, so this isn’t one to skip out on.