Just about every annual sports game needs that year where everything changes. EA Sports has recently focused on transforming its sports lineup–games like FIFA, Fight Night, and NHL have all had, or will have, drastic revamped installments–and this year it’s Madden’s turn. With the promise of improved gameplay; a new, realistic engine; a presentation more in line with Sunday game day, or night; and at long last a vastly reworked career mode, both online and offline. Madden NFL 13 was hyped to be the most realistic football game to date and offer hardcore and casual fans a superiorly connected experience. Luckily, EA Tiburon followed through with that promise, for the most part, and has given us one of the best Madden game of this generation.
There are really three main areas of improvement in Madden NFL 13: refined gameplay, revamped offline and online careers, and a realistic game day presentation. All three of these areas pulled together provide players the most authentic football experience, but all three areas also have some issues and could use some work. Luckily, none of Madden NFL 13’s issues are game breakers, and most are simply cosmetic.
Those familiar with the Madden series know a new physics-based game engine is long overdue. The new Infinity Engine solves that longstanding fan request. Yes, there are new graphics, a new career mode, and other tweaks, but the Infinity Engine is Madden NFL 13’s biggest area of improvement. There are no more canned animations for the quarterback throwing to a receiver, or a running back bouncing off a lineman. It’s now all based on players’ attributes. A receiver with strong balance will stay on his feet if a defender doesn’t put enough weight behind his tackle. The result gives realistic on-field gameplay. You can really see and feel the weight behind each tackle. You’ll see running backs go head first in the turf if a defender tackles their legs.
It’s pretty amazing to see the subtleties in the new engine, too. For example, you don’t have to get bear hug tackled to go down. A simple trip–even on your own teammate’s foot–can quickly end your run. At first I found it annoying to see my running back trip up on a leveled player instead of stepping over him. But, it’s probably more realistic that way. Momentum is extremely important, especially in the running game. I occasionally found the hole to sprint through, took a stutter step to avoid a tackle and was eventually brought down by a safety.
During actual gameplay, the engine is extremely effective. However, there are plenty of bugs after the play stops. You’ll see players trip over each other and bend like ragdolls filled with bean bags. This is at odds with actual gameplay because EA Tiburon went to great lengths to avoid that ragdoll effect. There are also plenty of issues with players jumping around after a play. Once again, the refs are pretty much invisible to players as after a play they simply run right through the men in stripes. I also noticed on a few occasions that after scoring a touchdown my player kept running and ended up inside the actual stadium. The camera followed and zoomed randomly into the crowd. These glitches don’t happen all that frequently, and it’s worth noting that the game engine works quite well during gameplay, though it has plenty of issues after a play.
There are also very, very few penalties. For a game that is supposed to mimic game day, it’s extremely rare to see a yellow flag on the field, especially for pass interference. This is probably something that will be worked out in the next installment so until then, you are free to be a nuisance on the field.
Elsewhere in the gameplay department, a greatly improved passing game puts more control in the players’ fingers. There are a ton of new types of pass. You are no longer restricted to passes like a lob or a bullet. Now, you can send a wide variety of passes depending on how you press the receivers’ buttons. Your QB will send a fast dart on a slant while a four verticals play gives you plenty of lob options.
But the greatest part of the throwing game rests in the ability to lead your receiver into open space by directing passes with the analog stick. If your receiver is covered in man-to-man defense, you can lead him to that open window and give him a fighting chance for a first down. You’ll have to make sure your receiver is ready for the ball. In real life football style, you can no longer just throw a pass at a receiver and assume they are ready to catch the pigskin. The button associated with the receiver will light up when he’s ready to catch the ball. This also works for the defense so if you play your cards right, you can catch the defense off guard. Play action has also received a fair amount of attention this year. Instead of an instant sack, your QB has a few more seconds as the faking running back will actually hold off the defense. You can even call off the fake hand off after the snap to give yourself even more time to complete the pass.
While the new engine and gameplay tweaks offer that realistic feeling, it’s the improved presentation that makes it feel like a television broadcast–for better or worse. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz offer up some of the best commentary in recent Madden history. They rarely go more than five seconds without throwing in some comment on the game or your player or your team’s season. Other tweaks like new opening animations and fake commercial breaks make this feel like you are watching your favorite team on Sunday. But there is more to the presentation than just that game day feel. A new dynamic lighting system makes adds some physical time to the game. Shadows grow longer as the game goes into second half, the turf degrades over time, and there is a terrific blurring effect in replays. There are some random graphic issues that include flickering shadows and randomly blurry sections in the crowd, but it’s mostly a good looking game. Player likeness is generally strong as well. Since you can play (or coach) as legends, EA Tiburon did a good job recreating them for the game.
Those hardcore fans that have been waiting for a revamped career finally get something fresh this year. Connected Careers puts everything in one place. You’ll no longer have separate Superstar and Offline and Online Franchise game modes. In Connected Careers, you’ll choose to control a player or coach; you can create your own, put yourself inside, use an existing player/coach, or even play as a legend. There is quite a lot to Connected Careers, and for the sake of this review I’ll just go over the bright spots. One thing I really liked was the ability to take your player off a team and enter as a free agent. The overall system is really strong, too. It plays out a bit like a role-playing game in that you earn experience points–even if playing as a coach. Each week you can choose to practice and earn experience points or head into the preseason/season/postseason matches. You also get a set of goals to reach for–like winning the Super Bowl, for example. All those experience points can be spent to upgrade your player and your team, so over the course of a few seasons you’ll have the potential to be the NFL’s superstar.
This is by far the place casual and hardcore fans will spend the bulk of their time. You can go even further and create your own league, invite your friends, and let it all play out during a season. The idea of a "connected" experience extends with your friends online. You can share your stats and videos on social networking sites. An in game Twitter feed with ESPN personalities keeps you informed of what’s going on, even some insight into what your rivals are doing. As you progress through the career, you’ll earn a legacy score, which allow you to compare yourself to all human users in your league. There are also more details available in drafting this year, which makes the process a bit more enjoyable for the casual fans.
There’s a lot I didn’t cover in this review, but hopefully it offered a good snapshot of those important changes and demonstrated that this is more than just a tweak to last year’s installment. Madden NFL 13 is not without its faults, but it’s a huge step in the right direction for a more realistic football game. The Infinity Engine works extremely well, but could use some tweaking, and new gameplay enhancements give even greater realism on the field. And with Connected Careers, players have a way to get everything they wanted in a career in one place, and plenty of opportunities to share the experience with their friends. Madden NFL 13 is one of the best sports game of this generation, and warrants a purchase, even if you’ve been bored with the series lately.