Since the NFL and NFLPA exclusivity deal with EA Sports came into effect in 2005, both fans and critics alike have bashed the series saying it’s simply been a roster update each and every year. While there have been minimal additions to keep the game fresh, EA Sports still focused on just that — the additions. Aside from production values, the series has never seen much change. There have never been any risks until now.
Madden NFL 13 marks the most change in the series in over a decade, and the game demonstrates that change can be a good thing. Unfortunately, there might be a little bit too much change for some.
What Is It About?
With every entry in this long-running series, EA Sports has added some sort of nuance to refresh the way the game plays. Some have become series mainstays that helped give the gameplay some identity, like the “hit stick” technology introduced in Madden NFL 2005. Others, like the QB Vision Control added the following year in Madden NFL 06, haven’t fared as well.
Madden NFL 13 marks the debut of the Infinity Engine, a new gameplay engine that ensures that no two plays look the same. While that’s hard to guarantee, the fact of the matter is that the engine takes into account an almost unlimited number of details to make sure every play looks different.
The game also does away with a variety of the different single and multiplayer modes and streamlines them into one experience called Connected Careers, a mode of play that’s set up to be a staple for years to come.
This isn’t your grandfather’s Madden, so if it’s a new Madden experience you wanted, Madden NFL 13 just might be the game that finally gives it to you.
Why Should I Care?
Players who care about how good a Madden game is come in three categories. There’s the player who will buy every Madden game no matter what. Whether it’s because they want to keep their franchise mode as authentic as possible with legitimate roster updates or because they just support EA Sports. There’s also the player who owns a previous year’s Madden title wondering whether or not it’s time to upgrade, and there’s the cynic player who will do nothing but bash Madden while praising ESPN NFL 2K5 even though it’s way passed its prime. For purposes of being succinctly productive, let’s put a little bit more of a higher focus on the player wondering whether or not this year’s game is worth the $60.
The Infinity Engine and passing trajectories drastically improve gameplay.
Thanks to the new Infinity Engine, the game plays a lot differently than it has in the past. There are all sorts of new tackling animations that take advantage of pretty much every factor imaginable, and some nuances in gameplay definitely give it some much-needed enhancement.
One of the most significant of which is the new way pass trajectory is handled. In previous games, it just relied upon how hard you pressed a passing button. Now it takes into account the various attributes the quarterback has in addition to the kind of routes your receiver is running. Tilting the control stick certain ways allows your quarterback to more easily guide their targets, and it’s a nice addition especially noting the fact that the NFL is now a passing league.
Another welcome addition is the ability to abort out of the fake handoff when calling a play action pass. Madden veterans all know too well that those plays have a high probability of the quarterback getting sacked, so it’s an addition players can appreciate.
On top of that, the game seems to have done away with linebackers in the middle of the field jumping 20 feet in the air to swat passes, so that’s good news for offensive-minded players.
It’s easier to get interceptions.
Fortunately for players who like playing on the defensive side of the ball, there is some Kryptonite to the new passing trajectories. Appropriately named the “ball hawk” feature, defensive players can now hold onto the catch button to make it easier to nab interceptions. While fans of the more recent Madden iterations may be outraged at the fact that it’s a whole lot easier to get picks, it’s a change that needed to be made. Previous versions of the game made it way too easy for defenders to drop interceptions, so it should make armchair quarterbacks think twice before threading the needle between more than two players.
There’s some fresh, new commentary and broadcast graphics.
Whether fans like it or not, the CBS A-Team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms take over the commentating duties. While the two don’t provide anything near the exuberance Gus Johnson did, the ad-libbing the duo did during production are somewhat of an upgrade. In addition, Madden 13 also made use of various CBS-style graphics to give the game a more authentic broadcasting feel. Then again, it’s kind of awkward knowing that they’d also be calling NFC games (CBS is primarily an AFC football station).
In a perfect world, you’d be able to cycle between Madden and Summerall, Michaels and Madden, Michaels and Collinsworth, and all the other various teams the Madden games have featured over the years. Then again, there would be a lot of money and hours in the recording studio for that, so it’s probably out of the question.
The menus are confusing.
Not only has the gameplay been overhauled, but the menus been have as well. While menus in sports games this generation have been horribly intimidating for one reason or another, Madden’s have been rather easy to navigate. That’s no longer the case, as the game’s home screen looks eerily similar to that found in NBA 2K12, with a curious sidebar on top added for no apparent reason, especially since the same options on that sidebar appear on the home screen in plain view.
Some modes, like MUT, are back.
After taking time to figure out how to scroll through the menus, players will find that the regular Play Now and Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) modes make a return. Play Now is self-explanatory, and MUT mode remains largely unchanged. For those unfamiliar with MUT, it’s another mode of play that allows you to build a team from scratch using a deck of MUT cards that you can purchase in the game with funds that can come right out of you pocket as well as credit points that can be accumulated by constant MUT play. The rarer card packs have superior players, including NFL legends, to make your team more unstoppable.
Other modes, like Superstar and Franchise, have been combined into Connected Careers.
But MUT is last year’s news. The new mode of play that everybody will be talking about, for both good and bad reasons, is Connected Careers. Connected Careers, in a nutshell, takes the personality of the old Superstar Mode and the detail of Franchise Mode to create a streamlined simulation of the NFL through either the eyes of a player or coach. So if you choose to be a player, you’re pretty much playing Superstar Mode with Franchise-like specifications, and if you choose to be a coach, you’re pretty much running a more detailed franchise mode. Another cool thing is that this can be done entirely online also. (Unfortunately, while testing it, we weren’t able to form an entire league of players, so we won’t address this too much.)
The development of your player or coach are reliant on XP, experience points that you get for accomplishing the different goals and every day tasks a player and coach have to go through in the NFL. For players, it’s more reliant on their weekly performance on the football field. For the coaches, it’s for their week-to-week and annual handling of their players and skills with management. For example, a player will have to focus on getting themselves as much time in the spotlight as possible, while the coaches have to take in pretty much every aspect of the game to be successful.
When using a coach, you take control of your team starting with the first pre-season game. You have to handle mandatory cuts and practice various in-game scenarios with your scout team, and some of them are extremely difficult (like winning a game down by 32 with six minutes remaining), which is fine since the harder assignments net your more XP. You can even just simulate them and accumulate points that way. You go through pretty much the same workload week after week, and it doesn’t change until the off-season.
To give the game a realistic feel with modern media, you can read fake Twitter posts made by popular NFL personalities, such as ESPN’s Adam Schefter and the always entertaining Skip Bayless, or you can read the fake scrolling ticker that appears on the bottom screen. These are all nice touches and really give you an idea of what others may think about your moves.
The beauty of it all is if at anytime you feel nothing is worth it, you can quit. Players can request their release from their given squad if they aren’t getting enough playtime, and coaches can resign. The problem with quitting any of these professions is that if you can’t find a new employer within a certain amount of time, you’ll be forced to retire. Then again, you can also decide to use a totally different player or coach … or legend.
As streamlined as Connected Careers may be, there’s one BIG problem.
While both Superstar Mode and Franchise Mode have appeared to be given facelifts in Connected Careers, they are far from what veteran Madden players will remember — especially Franchise Mode.
Connected Careers does away with several Franchise Mode staples, namely the ability to play local multiplayer, the ability to take control of more than one NFL team, the ability to import rosters from the current year’s NCAA game, and — what’s set to break a lot of hearts — the All-NFL Fantasy Draft.
There are hundreds, thousands, and maybe even millions of players who relied solely on Franchise Mode to provide themselves with the most replay value. There are tons of people who loved the fantasy draft, and there are tons of people who always imported their NCAA rosters. For me in particular, I always used to use the Packers in Franchise Mode while my brother tried to bring the Tennessee Titans back to prominence. Now we don’t have the option of doing that in the same league, side by side.
There’s really no reason why those gameplay privileges were revoked, and if it remains this way, whether it’s now with a lack of DLC or updates to alleviate this, or whether it remains the case with future editions of the game — I wouldn’t surprised to see a bunch of boycotts.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Change is the name of the game, and Madden fans who wanted changes in the main gameplay will get them here and should be pleased with the improvements.
As far as the production values go, the game looks better than it ever did, but due to the change to the Infinity Engine, some tune-ups need to be made here and there. All the reports you’ve read and heard about players awkwardly tripping over other players simply because they got touched are all true, and there’s even a video out on YouTube showing Brandon Weeden of the Cleveland Browns throwing a long touchdown despite already getting tackled.
The halftime show is also rather useless. It doesn’t even show any highlights, just random clips of player close-ups that will get repeated every game. 2K Sports has been outdoing EA Sports with this for years. You’d think EA would take note.
In terms of the presentation, it’s a step in the right direction of realism, but it’s still in need of dire improvement. Whether you like Nantz and Simms or not, they do a good job, but there are quite a few mistakes the team didn’t take note of. For example, after almost every first quarter, Nantz will say “15 down, 45 to go.” Sorry, but not everybody plays 15-minute quarters in Madden. Also, Simms will repeatedly say, “Well, he caught it, but he didn’t get the first down … ” a lot, especially on first down. You don’t need to get a first down on first down. It’s obvious some polish is needed there. They don’t look right either. Just look at the banner image on top.
In the simplest sense, on it’s own, Madden NFL 13 is an absolute joy to play. The Infinity Engine is still rather early in its development, but the gameplay is miles better than what we had when the first game this generation came out in 2005. Connected Careers also marks a step in the right direction of the series, but in editing the Franchise Mode experience too much, it appears that the developers did too much addition by subtraction, and that’s going to enrage longtime fans of the series.
One can’t help but feel that this is an unfinished product, a beta if you will. When first playing the game, it’s just as easy to see the hiccups as it is to see the improvements, and that shouldn’t be the case in a game of Madden’s stature.