Madden NFL 13 Review: A Fresh Start For A Stale Franchise

Another year brings another version of the Madden NFL franchise. This year’s entry, like all the entries that came before it, comes with a lot of hype.

You have to give EA Sports credit for finding ways to creatively re-packages essentially the exact same game every single year. It really speaks to the popularity of the NFL that Madden continues to be one of the most popular NFL games out there.

It also helps that they are the ONLY NFL game out there.

I, like many of you, have found myself furious when Madden arrived very clearly not ready. It seems most every year there is one aspect of the game that is so horrid that you find yourself wondering whether or not anyone at EA actually tested or played the game before the packaged it up and shipped it out to stores. It isn’t that the games are unplayable. In fact, there are often aspects of each edition that are terrific. But I think it is safe to say it has been a long time since the Madden team put out a complete home run.

If this year’s version any better?

Let’s take a look.

To Infinity and beyond:

The obvious out of the box change here is the all new “Infinity Engine.”

All in all, the engine is a tremendous improvement. The balance, stumbles and tackles all look great and give the game a much more realistic feel. I’ve been playing the game for a little over a week and last night, just for fun, I popped in Madden 12. The physics looked absolutely ridiculous to me after playing Madden 13.

The engine isn’t perfect, as I am sure you have noticed in playing the demo. The main problem is that sometimes the player reactions are a little too sensitive, sometimes leading to comic moments that will send the poor electronic version of the real NFL player shooting across the screen or foolishly stumbling over another player.

For instance, in one game playing as the Chiefs, Tamba Hali sacked Philip Rivers. I took my hands off the controls to celebrate, leaving Hali standing next to the crumbled Rivers. As Phil rolled to get back to his feet, he brushed into Hali who suddenly stumbled and fell over him with such enthusiasm that he looked like he was trying to draw a charge in the NBA.

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Other times players will start to bend one way while being tackled before violently swinging back in the other direction. It is kind of hard to explain but I am sure you have seen a few of these moments. They tend to happen at the very end or after plays. They’re weird and kind of funny but I have yet to feel that they’re having an adverse impact on my game. The good far out-weighs the bad here and we have to realize that this is just the beginning for this new engine. This already massive improvement will only get better.

Die Super Linebacker, Die!

At long last, the days of the mind-reading DBs and “super linebackers” are over. No more will you find yourself throwing a pass over the middle, only to have Ray Lewis jump 12 feet in the air to pick off your pass with one hand while looking the other direction.

Madden 13’s new pass trajectory and receiver/DB awareness is excellent so far. The Total Control Passing is a lot of fun and is a real game changer on offense. Balls still sometimes inexplicably go flying 30 yards out of bounds but those occurrences are cut way down here. Hitting a receiver on a deep ball in the back corner of the endzone or on a back-shoulder throw is awesome and makes you really feel like your skill matters.

The receiver awareness is also a nice addition. If the receivers aren’t yet looking for the ball, the game ghosts their icon. When the player is ready, the icon lights up. It doesn’t mean they are open, per-say, just ready for the ball. It leaves you really kicking yourself when you get skittish in the pocket and throw the ball before the receiver is ready.

Playing QB is a lot of fun in Madden 13.

There are 20 new dropback animations as well as 1, 3, 5 and 7 step drops.

But the biggest change for me is the ability to break out of the play action. You still may find yourself in trouble if you are play-faking in the direction of a blitzing linebacker/corner or unblocked lineman but at least now you have a chance to get out of it and at least avoid the sack with an incompletion. It is a shame it has taken this long.

Rushing the Passer:

On defense, rushing the passer is also more fun. In past years, I’ve noticed that the amount of success my lineman/linebackers would have for each matchup seemed to be predetermined. If my OLB was outmatched against a LT, he’d lose almost every pass play. In fact, the animation would almost always be the same, usually with my guy getting pushed to the ground. Once in a while I might sneak through but on the while, I’d usually just abandon that player to play as someone else.

This year, rushing the QB seems more realistic. Sometimes I’ll win, sometimes I’ll get mauled and sometimes it is a draw. It feels like every player has a chance to get by their man on any play but it also doesn’t seem too easy.

The Running Game:

As with last year, I feel the running game seems to be a bit too easy. I’ve been testing on All-Pro and I’ve easily averaged 8 or 9 yards a carry with Jamaal Charles. With Madden it always seems like the running game is either too easy or impossible.

Presentation:

The presentation in this year’s version is pretty slick. The commentary, in particular, is dramatically improved. No more Chris Collinsworth starting a long, drawn-out, canned monologue while you break off a huge run for a TD, kick the extra point and kick off before he finishes, followed by Gus Johnson screaming “TOUCHDOWN!”

Simms and Nantz are a nice change of pace. Natz’s effort is particularly authentic. It is nice to get a little more from him while the play is going on, usually right after the play snaps.

Simms provides the color and while I think he sounds pretty good in the game, there are a few odd moments here and there where he sounds confused. I’m not sure if he was going for an authentic “in the moment” kind of angle or if he was just having trouble reading the script while recording but there are some instances of pauses and stutters that sound a little awkward. He also seems to constantly be complaining that that the QB isn’t pushing the ball down field enough. Often, you’ll complete a pass for seven or eight yards on first down and Simms will flip out and talk about how the QBs numbers might look good on the stat sheet and he might be real accurate but he STILL didn’t get the first down.

Uh, Phil, I was under the impression that picking up eight yards on first down was a good thing.

Commentary in these games will always be tough and this is certainly the best entry in a while. It can be hard to know just how good the commentary is until you’ve played the game for a month or two but I am feeling pretty good about this one.

Hell, they seem to know all the players’ names this year, which is a big change from a year ago when multiple players were referred to by a mix of their name and some other player’s name.

The crowd sounds great as do the cadences. It is nice to hear the audio on the crowd get louder after a big play or a TD.

Connected Careers:

After making a big deal about how they re-imagined Franchise Mode in Madden 12, EA just got rid of the it in Madden 13.

Well, not technically.

Now we have Connected Careers, a mode that basically combines elements of precious Madden modes like Super Start and Franchise.

EA us billing this as the first true sports RPG and to some degree that is true.

You choose between either being a coach, current player or legend. Essentially, choosing coach launches you into traditional Franchise Mode where you have complete control, whereas choosing a current player or legend puts in you into Super Star mode. While similar, however, there are changes.

 

Coach

Becoming a coach affords you multiple options. You can play as any of the current NFL coaches, yourself or a legendary coach. Playing as anyone other than the current coach of a team will lead to that coach being immediately fired by the organization and so starts the story-mode.

When you get to the main page, you’ll find you can scroll through some headlines. The first I saw when I created myself as a coach was that the Chiefs had “moved on” from Romeo Crennel. There is also a fake Twitter window with various personalities talking about what is happening around the league. This is pretty cool but I wonder how quickly the comments will become stale. After a week of playing they all remained fresh. The downside is that now Skip Bayless can annoy the hell out of you when you are playing Madden too.

As a coach, you have total control over everything, just like in the old franchise mode. The big difference is that you can be fired for not performing. There are certain goals and expectations set for you and if you don’t perform, you could find yourself out of work. If you are not re-hired, it is essentially game over. You don’t, however, have to start all over. You can just move on as another coach. You can also switch to being a player or legend.

There is also an added element of XP. You gain XP for meeting certain goals in practice and in games. You can use your acquired XP to make your players better. The same is true in all version of this mode.

This mode is a nice change of pace from even last year’s Franchise Mode which, while “new” still felt stale.

Player/Legend

The first thing I wanted to do when I got my review copy was play as Joe Montana. Joe was a hero of mine growing up and I couldn’t wait to take the field with him.

Only I couldn’t.

That is because Madden Ultimate Team is still around. If you want to play as most of the cool legends, you must first unlock them by playing MUT. If you have played MUT before you know it takes forever to accumulate enough points to buy good packs of cards. When you do, you often get crap or another version of a card you already have.

At least that is my experience with MUT.

The first time I tried it I eventually just got frustrated and used real money to buy a high-level pack of players. Then I got mad at myself for doing that because in my view, buying packs with real money to just put together an awesome team totally defeated the entire point of the mode, which was to build a team.

Anyway, I am sure EA realizes that this happens and I am sure that is why MUT will never go away.

It isn’t just Montana that is locked up in MUT, either.

Here is the list of guys you can’t play with unless you unlock them:

Vince Lombardi

Joe Montana

Warren Moon

Troy Aikman

Steve Young

Otto Graham

Deion Sanders

Shannon Sharpe

“Mean” Joe Greene

Derrick Brooks

Dick “Night Train” Lane

Rod Woodson

Ronnie Lott

 

Yeah. So pretty much everyone.

But what you CAN do is BUY legends packs that will get you a legend or two. You can even buy THREE legend packs at a time for lots and lots of Microsoft Points.

This is the worst kind of scam. I caved, bought one pack, hoping I’d get Joe. No dice. I ended up unlocking Otto Graham instead.

If I ever want to play as Joe, I’m either going to have to pony up or spend countless hours playing a game mode I hate.

Not good, EA.

 

Playing the actual mode as a player is kind of tedious.

I created myself as a QB using Game Face. It was cool to see myself as a video game and highly recommend going through the process.

I chose to be a QB and to be taken as a high draft pick. The mode consists of basically two actions each week. You practice and you play. Practice is boring but you have to do it if you want to get XP and improve your rating. The games are a little bit more fun but you can only control your own player which basically just drove me crazy. It is frustrating when you hand off the ball and watch the RB take a terrible angle only to get hit for a loss, thus putting you in a 3rd and long situation. Then, once you’ve punted, you go immediately into simulation mode. You can’t control how the defense does and you essentially skip to the next time you have the ball. This gives the game a very disjointed feel.

The lack of control means your control over winning and losing is significantly reduced. For me, at least, this is very frustrating and kind of boring.

I don’t want to trash the mode because I am sure there will be people who will really enjoy the realism here. Real NFL players can only do so much and are sometimes at the mercy of their teammates. I think if you are patient and can really get into the details here you will have fun. Still, I’d like the option to be able to control the other players on the field.

One important note is that all positions are not created equal in this mode. You either want to be a defender or a QB/HB. I did a quick test playing as legend Michael Irvin and it was absolutely one of the most boring video game experiences ever. You run your routes and if you are lucky, the QB will look your way a handful of times per-game. Even then, there is no guarantee you will be open or able to catch it. I played two games as Irvin and caught 2 passes for 12 yards. Maybe I just sucked at running my routes but I don’t think you want to play as a WR.

Legacy and Hall of Fame:

The basic goal of the game is to build your legacy and eventually enter Pro Football Hall of Fame. There wasn’t enough time for me to achieve that honor so I can’t speak to it.

Overall:

This, like most Madden entries, is a fun game. There is a lot packed into this version, a lot to digest, which has made writing a very detailed review after just a week before the game is released quite tough.

Still, what I’ve gone through has been enjoyable.  If you’ve been holding off buying Madden the last few years I think this is the game to come back for. The new engine and improved game play are the main reason. For me, the jury is still out on connected careers as there are so many options that it was hard to get very far into any one of them.

EA has done a nice job of improving upon Madden 12 and they’ve limited the mistakes and bugs to the point where you won’t feel like you wasted your money. Yes, it’s the only game in town but it is still a pretty good game. The improved passing, physics, ball trajectory and AI alone make this the best Madden entry yet. It really feels like a new beginning for a franchise that had started to feel stale.

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