Developer: EA Tiburon / Publisher: Electronic Arts Inc. / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone [No Content Descriptors]
Madden 13 is a very ambitious game. The developers at EA have jam packed this season’s title with a new engine, a new broadcast team, and a brand new career mode that combines three previous modes wrapped into one. Additions and improvements have also been made to existing game modes such as Ultimate Team as well. This seems like a lot to cram into one development cycle, so does all this new content equal a better version of NFL football?
Madden 13 shows immediate change in the gameplay department through the all-new Infinity Engine. Players no longer warp through each other in pre-determined sequences. Instead they collide, stumble, and fall in a more realistic and organic manner. This new engine is easily noticeable from your very first play in Madden 13, however it is not without its own quirks. All too often you see unsuspecting AI opponents or teammates trip and fall over each other after the whistle. This often plays out in a comical pileup as one-by-one they fall to the turf. I’m thrilled the new engine made it in the game this year, but I also think another development cycle will bring needed tweaks to the player awareness.
On the positive side, the Infinity Engine brings us some really cool-looking hits and player interaction never seen before in the Madden franchise. I was thrilled to see running backs stumble and trip over their own blockers while navigating their way through inside running plays. The NFL has become more and more of a passing league however, and that is mirrored in Madden 13 as well. Wide receivers have been given a bevy of new catch animations that make them lethal weapons in the downfield passing game. They are now able to act and react more realistically to balls not thrown directly at their numbers, showing ability to reach and run back to under-thrown footballs.
Speaking of offensive weapons, the Xbox 360 version of the game now has Kinect integration that works well as it utilizes voice commands to accomplish any and all pre-play adjustments on both offense and defense. I don’t think I could easily play Madden 12 ever again after spending hours barking out my signals as if I were Peyton Manning directing traffic on game day. Here you can adjust offensive line blocking schemes, send players in motion, change receiver hot routes, audible, even call time out or hurry-up offense all with your voice. Some may not bother with this feature but it is a game changer for me, as I have always hated the d-pad system of pre-play adjustments. The game registers my voice commands quite well, with the only quirk being that for some reason it doesn’t understand my simple defensive prompts of “pass” or “run” nearly as often as any of my offensive adjustments.
Connected Career mode has taken the place of franchise, online franchise, and superstar modes this year, melding them all together to create one ambitious career universe. You start by creating from scratch or choosing an existing player or coach. Even a set of legendary players and coaches are available, though some require unlocking through various challenges in Madden Ultimate Team. The great part about Connected Careers is that you can play this offline, or take it online with a bunch of your friends. You can mix and match your game styles as well. Maybe I want to be Vince Lombardi and coach the modern day Packers to a Super Bowl Title, while my buddy would rather take the reins of the Colts quarterback position with Andrew Luck. Also with Connected Careers, each player or coach chooses a backstory that will affect their attributes and tendencies throughout their career. As a player you can choose your skill set as well as whether you are a high draft pick, mid range, or even undrafted free agent. The choice is yours if you want to struggle your way up the depth chart or have high expectations on you as a highly coveted rookie. Coaches have their own tendencies as well, ranging from motivators to masters at team building through drafts and free agency.
I jumped in to Connected Careers first as a player, utilizing EA Sports game face technology from the web to import a pretty striking likeness of myself. The mode has a slick hub to track everything going on in your player or team’s world. NFL media personalities appear with simulated twitter feeds about league happenings and rumors. Practice is made relevant again by choosing scenarios in scrimmage conditions. Each scenario is worth a different XP level and will help you to buy skill upgrades for your player or coach. As a player the week usually consists of a practice scenario followed by the game. Coaches have more duties such as cutting players in preseason, and scouring the league for trade opportunities. Another great aspect of Connected Careers is that if you get tired of the player or coach you are using, you can “retire” and choose a different path without starting the whole experience over. The biggest low point of Connected Careers was the decision not to support the importing of draft classes from NCAA 13, which had been in the game most years in the past. Also you are not able to use a fantasy draft to start your experience in running a team this year as in years past. Despite this, Connected Careers is guaranteed to suck up a large portion of my time in the game this season.
Madden Ultimate Team returns and has received some key upgrades as well. As an avid player of this card collection mode in previous seasons, I was thrilled to find the addition of many offline challenges that advance in a season-like fashion, as well as the greatly appreciated 1,000 card limit (compared to 100 in Madden 12). You still can only have 100 active cards, but you now have 900 reserve card spots. This means no discarding of quality players for the sake of keeping under your limit. This has many implications as now I can have a team based on best ratings available, while keeping reserves to make “theme” lineups, such as teams made of players that attended the same college or an all New York Jets squad. The menu interface of Ultimate team has received some needed improvement as well.
Gone are commentators Gus Johnson and Chris Collinsworth, and in their place is Jim Nance and Phil Simms. The development team also created the broadcast team as 3D character renders to host the pregame show. I like the change because I felt Gus Johnson was just a little too dramatic in almost every situation in Madden 12.
The stat overlays and menu graphics got an overhaul as well. In this area, I am not as big a fan. I feel the play calling screens and score and stat overlays were trying for a CBS broadcast feel, but instead ended up looking generic and dull.
The replay system in Madden 13 takes a step forward. No longer do the play call screens automatically pop up to ruin the replay of that big catch you just made for a touchdown. I would argue that this was taken a little too far in the opposite direction however. We now get to see five-to-six replay angles including a not-so-flattering super slow mo that tends to highlight some of the quirks in the physics. While the new engine is an improvement, it still looks a little silly when played back at such a slow rate.
Even more pregame, postgame, and halftime cut scenes and broadcast analysis have made their way into the game. The starting lineups are now completely depicted by the on-screen graphics instead of just a select few players. I noticed a few quirks however, such as cutscenes showing kickers warming up for field goal attempts, only to feature the wrong player. Oops!
The online offerings are as robust as ever in Madden 13. Online ranked match-ups are still the bread and butter here. Madden Ultimate Team offers a great challenge online as well as you can stack your squad against your friends or other similarly ranked teams. Connected Careers is the new player in the online side of the game, taking over for online franchise and adding new flexibility in how your online leagues will be run. I can’t wait to get my commissioner juices flowing and open up an online Connected Careers session with 31 other NFL fans.
The inclusion of a brand new game engine, new broadcast team, and wide ranging career mode make this year’s version of Madden the biggest leap from one year to the next since the move to this generation of consoles. The Kinect integration for the Xbox 360 version is not only addicting but also useful in terms of game plan. The Infinity Engine is still new and comes with its share of headaches and awkwardness. Online offerings are solid and will keep players engaged for the long haul. The presentation has hits and misses but is overall a great representation of the NFL and the Sunday afternoon experience. If you are a casual sports gamer who only occasionally picks up Madden, this year is better than any in recent memory to make a purchase.