Every year, as I sit down to write my Madden NFL review, I think about what has changed from the previous incarnation. Usually I think about new modes and features, but rarely does the game really feel like a revolution. Madden NFL 13 is different. There are so many changes it took me quite a while to discover them all, while others simply make playing older versions impossible. Madden NFL 13 is definitely a step forward for the series and one that all fans should take note of. If you have skipped the last couple versions, or have always been wary of jumping in, this is definitely the version to check out.
Every year the first thing I do is jump into Franchise Mode. Much to my surprise this was not even an option on the slick new main menu. Instead, franchise, superstar and create modes have all been funneled into the new Connected Careers mode. Here you can start either an online or offline career and play as the head coach or an individual player through the standard 30 seasons. As head coach you control all the action on the field, while single players only have you in when it is your time. As I said this takes the place of several other modes, and streamlines the entire package.
When you choose to take on the role of a single player, you are not shoehorned into one for the entire career. You can retire them at any point and take on another player, so many options are open. When playing as a head coach you control all aspects, just like franchise, which includes negotiating contracts and scouting college players. Of course, if you just want to play the games, you can do that too, but the new XP system is really quite addictive and gives you incentive to dive into more than the on-field action.
You can practice between games, doing drills ranging in difficulty. These earn you XP to unlock packages that boost player performance or your ability to re-sign players. It is a nice reward system that keeps you interested in what you achieve. You also earn XP for milestones such as yards in a game or other feats. There is simply a ton of stuff to keep you occupied within the career mode, and being able to do all of this online with up to 32 players is addicting. Think of it as your very own league. You can even put your franchise on auto-pilot if you won’t be able to attend certain games. The options are abundant.
If Connected Careers would have been the only new addition, this would have felt like a standard Madden update. However, there have been significant changes to the core gameplay that go above and beyond making it feel more like real football. The biggest of these changes is the introduction of the Infinity Engine. This new engine allows for more physics-based tackles and so much more. Runners no longer rely on canned animations and instead bounce off of other players more realistically. This leads to a much better running game and of course, harder tackles. It isn’t perfect, though.
A lot of times, after a play is over, players will trip and stumble all over each other resulting in some wacky animations. I have seen players step on others’ faces and arms snapped behind backs in awkward positions. It comes with the territory, but it doesn’t stop it from looking ridiculous. Graphical glitches are Madden 13’s biggest downfall though. I still see players running through solid objects and while different shadows and lighting effects for different game times are appreciated, they aren’t consistent. The end of a 1:00 game doesn’t look the same as the beginning of a 4:15 game. The menus are also sluggish at times, especially when changing uniforms.
The passing game has been revamped with a slew of new touches. The biggest for me were the receiver icons. No longer will you have to guess when a receiver is looking for the ball. The corresponding buttons now light up when they are looking at the QB. Pass trajectories have also been upgraded in a huge way. There are 25 new ways to drop the ball in, which opens up the game. You can now lay the ball behind your receiver or lead them in one direction to help avoid interceptions. The DBs have been toned down so they are not Superman-like in their ability to pick off the QB, but if you throw bad passes, you will pay the price. This is as simple as guiding the left stick when you throw. It is a nice touch and crucial when playing on higher difficulties.
Another area where EA Tiburon has gone the extra mile is in the presentation. No longer does this feel like a football videogame, it now feels like broadcasts on Sunday complete with new commentary, and plenty of dynamic overlays. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms now sit in the booth and deliver some outstanding play-by-play of the game. I love how EA allowed them to ad-lib a lot of their lines so you hear them stumble over words and correct themselves, which just leads to more authenticity. Sure, they repeat lines after a while, but the dynamic content heard is outstanding.
Music has also been changed ridding itself of the standard licensed tracks and instead focusing on a strict instrumental score that also mimics the Sunday experience. Overlays remind me a lot of CBS with fantastic stat tracking and little touches such as trainers coming on to the field to check on players taking big hits. I love the look and feel of the game. This is the closest we have come to mimicking the experience of watching the game on TV.
In addition to the core game of football you also have the return of Madden Ultimate Team, which, to be fair, if you have enjoyed it thus far, you will likely enjoy it again. Collecting cards and playing them against others is definitely an acquired taste, but it is nice to see them continue supporting it. There is also a bevy of stuff hidden in the menus, such as loyalty rewards for playing previous Madden and Blitz titles, Madden Moments and plenty of stuff to toy around with. It is worth noting that you cannot edit players in Connected Careers. You are forced to use EA’s rosters which is likely due to playing the franchise online; still not sure why they didn’t allow you to edit them in the offline mode though.
The game also supports Kinect when playing on Xbox 360. No, you won’t be motioning your hands to lob passes, but instead it is used for voice recognition. We received a wristband with the game listing all the plays we could call out. You can audible plays, hike the ball and call hot routes among several other things, and it actually works fairly well. It won’t replace simply pressing buttons anytime soon, but it is a neat implementation. Not sure I would call it “better” with Kinect, but you get the idea.
Madden NFL 13 is a fantastic update to the series. It feels like a complete overhaul. Sure, some of the new things will need tweaking in the years to come, but this is a great step in the right direction. If you had been skipping the past few outings it is definitely time to jump back in. For those buying up year after year this is the one to really take note of. Even without competition Madden continues to improve their game and it really gets me excited to see where the franchise moves to in the next generation. With the regular season of the NFL a mere days away I love getting pumped by taking my Raiders to the Super Bowl each year in Madden and this year has been the best in a long time.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.