Review: Madden NFL 13 (Xbox 360/PS3)
Ray Lewis has to be one of the most inspirational NFL players in the league. That man just knows how to get people moving and ready to play the game. It was only right to have him introduce players into the new Madden NFL experience. While last year was not a banner year for Madden, I don’t even think it was over the .500 mark; EA Sports has made a bit of an overhaul to the games presentation, Franchise/Superstar mode, and included a brand new engine called the Infinity Engine to help provide a more realistic football experience. Do these changes and additions provide the best Madden experience since ‘05? While no Madden (as of now) will ever be better then ‘05, it surely does a heck of a job at bringing together the die-hards and casual fans together again for a great game of pigskin.
With an orchestral score playing through the menus before and after each NFL game, Madden ‘13’s presentation is beautiful. Stadiums and player models look exactly like their real-life counterparts, the Super Bowl introduction and ending is well done and believable, and the commentary team of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz is phenomenal. Though they can repeat lines at times and like to give away when there are movements on the defensive or offensive line, it’s still leaps and bounds better than last year’s iteration of Chris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson. Even the crowd has been improved as EA Sports managed to go around to each NFL stadium to record crowd reactions for each team.
There was so much detail put into the games presentation that it becomes shocking how EA Sports wasn’t able to get the rights to CBS because the game practically looks exactly like it, except instead of a giant CBS logo at the end, you get an EA Sports logo. Flat out, the presentation is top-notch and (hopefully) you’ll never get bored of watching the introductions to each game. Did I mention the orchestral score? Well I’ll mention it again because it makes the game sound epic.
Playing the PlayStation 3 version compared to the Xbox 360, I noticed that the 360 version, at least in the menus, transitioned a lot smoother compared to the PS3. Sony’s had some frame rate issues throughout the menus and seemed to slow things down while going through rosters and in-and-out of options was just quicker on the Xbox 360.
The all-new Infinity Engine headlines the new gameplay enhancement for this year. It takes away the canned tackle animations from previous Maddens and makes every tackle lifelike and unpredictable. Surely this is a good thing as players feel like they have more weight to them and tackles can look bad enough to call Roger Goodell, but just like FIFA 12’s player impact engine, you will run into some very odd moments. Players will run into their own teammates who get in the way only to fall back as if they’ve been shot, they’ll use their helmet to stop from hitting the ground and continue running, and there will be some collision detection issues where players’ hands will go through one’s body and intercept a ball. Case in point on the video I recorded below.
While some of these issues are pretty odd and it can get frustrating to have a possible good play stopped by being tripped up by your own player, these are the sacrifices that must be endured by a new gameplay engine. It doesn’t kill the gameplay experience at all, even if it has its random moments. If anything I welcome it with open arms. Seeing players doing a spin-a-roonie or sitting on top of another players face yelling “Whose Your Daddy?!” at the end of plays is just hysterical (they don’t scream that but in my head I feel that’s what they’re telling them).
The new engine does have its effects toward the running game as players will have to do their best to avoid contact with their own players and find holes to squeeze in a few yards. This is mostly during HB/FB draws or up the gut plays. Though they have to do the same when running on the outside, I’ve noticed that running backs with a ton of speed and agility completely own the outside run. More often than not, most of their yards will be gathered from power sweeps or any play that pushes running backs to the outside. I also found that doing a juke with those top speeds and agile players will cause them to “glide” to the left or right providing him a huge hole to run into depending on where the defense is during that moment. It tends to provide them a lot of yards or touchdown runs when done correctly.
Quarterbacks have been given some nice changes this year with new QB cadences, 25 new passing trajectories, and the ability to accurately place a pass in the right area for their receiver. It works well and receivers will do their best to catch any pass that comes their way but AI defenders seem to want the ball a lot more. Interceptions are pretty frequent in Madden NFL 13…a bit too frequent. You can’t go a single game without two or more interceptions but that may have to do with the more aggressive AI mixed with bad passing choices. They also seem to intercept a lot more on in or out routes. You’ll throw the ball as soon as your receiver makes the cut but the AI will somehow out work your player for that ball and just blast in front of him to take the ball away. Not saying it shouldn’t be possible, but as mentioned, it happens too often. Your receivers should be just as hungry to catch that football and fight for the edge and gain the upper hand to get the ball. However, I have seen that the AI will more often than not make a ridiculous interception catch then a simple one.
One last passing problem I ran into, which adds to the interceptions problem, is that when you combine passing with the new ability to place a ball at a specific spot using the left stick, the QB will sometimes under throw or over throw a football even though it’s not where you wanted to throw it. Just a small thing I noticed, but felt I should add.
I think a small tweak to the passing game and adjustment to the aggressive amount of interceptions should be a part of the September 11th tuner update. As of now, no word on what it will cover, but hopefully we find out soon what it will fix.
Defensive line interactions have been much improved and more NFL like. Before quarterbacks would be able to get a ton of time in the pocket to pick their target and throw to whomever they had open. This can sometimes last 5-10 seconds providing just too much time for the QB to throw. Now they have about 3-5 seconds, maybe 7 tops depending on how well the offensive line does against the defense. Playing against a blitz heavy defense though will have players adjusting the line and the route on the receivers a lot during the game and that’s only if you can spot it in time (or get the heads up by the commentating team).
The AI has truly become a worthy opponent. While on Rookie and Pro you can normally smash the computer, when you go into All-Pro or All-Madden, that’s when real football knowledge comes into effect. It will make you think twice about using blitz too often and when to correctly use a Cover 2 or Cover 3 defense. They will keep you on your toes and I have to honestly say that it’s the most fun I’ve had against the computer in any Madden game in sometime.
What happens when you take Franchise mode, Online Franchise, Be a Superstar and combine it into one? You get the all-new Connected Careers mode. The RPG of the football world, Connected Careers takes mostly everything franchise related and superstar related and puts it all together for players to either play alone or with a group of 31 friends. With a ton of options allowing players to recreate themselves as a player or coach or using a current player/coach or legend; there are a ton of options when starting your Connected Career. You can even choose whether or not to make it a coach specific league or a locked player league pitting everyone as a QB of his or her team of choice.
Regardless of what you choose, players will gain XP to up their player/coaches rating and complete a list of individual goals throughout each season. As they improve their ratings they will also fill up a legacy score, which will ultimately prove if they are Hall of Fame material by the time they retire. The nice option is, if you do retire, you can start up another position for another team and continue with your league without changing any of the settings.
The only thing about Connected Careers is that when I say it’s the RPG of football, I really mean it. Trying to gain XP can be a tall order and the XP packages that provide the most impact to your players’ ratings are the most expensive. Plus, the achievements for the game are pretty lengthy for those who like to improve their gamer score.
As a coach you’ll have plenty to do with getting the rosters set to 55 in the pre-season, to re-signing players throughout the season, and then going through the trading block to get the any pieces that may help you get to the play-offs and hoist the Lombardi. I really wish there was some sort of tutorial or tips throughout the mode to help explain some of the parts in Connected Careers because I often found myself confused at what to do and ended up missing opportunities to re-sign a player or help them progress. There’s even a news feed to update players on things going on around the league with their team or others. Twitter is even associated in the feed providing tweets from superstars and analysts opinions on current events in your league. Players will also notice that Skip Bayless is still a douche even in a video game.
I did simulate a year of Connected Careers as the Houston Texans and they ended up having a record of 6-10 by the end of the year with the Colts and Andrew Luck blazing through the division with a 12-4 record.
Editors’ Note: While trying to write down the records and stats for that season, Tropical Storm Issac decided to give my house an electrical reboot and I wasn’t able to get them down in time. Which brings me to an odd thing with Connected Careers; it does not auto-save if you are offline. Auto-save is only used on Connected Careers if you made an online league. You have to manually save if you decide to play offline. So be sure not to forget.
Another bug I ran into was when playing as a QB for the Seattle Seahawks in Connected Careers. The punter for our team completely botched the kick 4 times in a game. I went ahead and played a few games after that and still saw him doing it. I mean, this guy was kicking the ball 7 yards past the line of scrimmage and giving the opposing team amazing field possession. What made this weirder is the fact that the team, who got the ball 25-35 yards from their end zone, never entered the end zone or managed to get 3 points.
Many are already a bit disappointed with Connected Careers, as players don’t have the option to fantasy draft, randomize teams, edit players or attire, and even import draft classes. All of these were already in the game last year and a lot of fans are scratching their heads as to why EA Sports took these out. In the end though, Connected Careers is a good first start at what will be the future mode of Madden for years to come. It will surely take a lot of time to complete everything in this mode.
The same can be said about Madden Ultimate Team. It’s made its return and better than ever. You’re given a choice of some of the best players in the league and whomever they choose will be the teams captain and part of their roster. That starter pack will come with everything to get you going so be sure to pick the captain that best suits your play style or favorite position. Besides head to dead against a friend or CPU, players can play online or participate in solo challenges that pit your team against a very good football team with a high overall. They won’t allow you to continue with the list unless you reach a specific MUT overall and they do provide nice incentives for completing the challenge like a specific player or coach and credits to purchase more packs in the store.
While not everything is better with Kinect, EA did try their best to make use of the peripheral by allowing players to make calls on the fly with their voice. Only for use when playing against the computer, it’s not a bad feature. Driving down the field with the Eagles and scoring a touchdown by calling no huddle and calling all the plays available was pretty cool. However, I felt as if I had to yell at my Kinect since it was next to the speakers on my TV and couldn’t always catch my voice. Other times commands weren’t even recognized like saying “run” when on the defensive side of the ball. It is a bit of a novelty but to be honest, considering what else EA Sports could have done, I would prefer to keep it a voice-only option and they played it safe.
In this current console generation, Madden NFL ‘13 is the best Madden to date. It’s fun, it’s accessible to newcomers, and it’s deep enough for hardcore players. It’s not perfect by any means and with this being the first year of the Infinity Engine and the first for Connected Careers, there is still a lot of work to be done. For now, though, it’s a great football game, and for many, that’s all that matters.