Madden NFL 13 arrives this year boasting some of the most dramatic changes the franchise has seen since the advent of current generation consoles. With a new physics engine powering the whole affair, along with deeper, more engrossing careers, completely reworked defensive AI, and a revamped Ultimate Team mode, Madden NFL 13 seems like it should have been the greatest game in the series so far. Unfortunately, EA has changed too much too fast, and Madden NFL 13 is hit hard by growing pains.
The massive overhaul given to Madden NFL 13 brings a lot of drastic changes to EA’s perennial football powerhouse. Most notably, the new Infinity Engine alters every aspect of action on the field. No longer are there set instances of how players will react to one another. Every player interacts dynamically with the others on the field, which helps give players a sense of weight. The Infinity Engine also ditches canned animations in favor of new branching ones, which lead to a plethora of new and interesting tackles during the course of a game.
"It’s still a good game, but EA’s attempt to do so many new things in one shot keeps Madden NFL 13 from being a great one."
Of course, the Infinity Engine isn’t without its faults. As great as it is to see actual gang tackles or to watch running backs bounce off of defenders, it can be equally as frustrating for every time you’re brought to the ground by simply brushing against another player’s arm. Rushing the ball up the middle or scrambling with the quarterback is a bit tougher this year as well, since now in addition to avoiding collisions with defensive players, you’ll have to evade your own lineman. It certainly goes a long way in making Madden NFL 13 much more realistic, but it’s not perfect.
Defensive intelligence has also been rebuilt from the ground up this year. Gripes from both the casual and hardcore camps about serious faults in “too smart for its own good” AI over the past few years finally led to Madden NFL 13’s Read and React AI. The computer must now be aware of what’s happening by following the actual play, rather than instantly knowing where the ball is going to go milliseconds after it’s released from the quarterback’s hand. This upgrade is huge for all fans of the franchise, as not only does it go a long way in meaning longtime players can actively gameplan against computer schemes rather than relying on the same few plays over and over, but new fans won’t be as turned off by the cheapness of the computer’s defense.
While Read and React affects the defensive side of the ball most significantly, there have been some slight tweaks to the offensive intelligence as well. Players will no longer be able to throw the ball to a receiver instantly. Instead, wideouts running routes now have their corresponding button above their heads at all times. The indicators start out faded, but immediately spring to life once the receiver is far enough into his route that he will be expecting the ball. Obviously, for both sides of the ball, individual awareness ratings factor into how reactive a player is, but this AI upgrade is one of the first ways EA has managed to make progress in one area that benefits multiple audiences.
Off the field, EA has also re-envisioned how Madden is played on a few levels. Gone is the standard franchise and Superstar modes, and in their place is the all-new Connected Careers. You can choose to either play as a coach or player (all of three of which include create-your-own, current player, and legend options), and you’ll play for the hope of surpassing all the greats before you, and for the chance to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. From the outside, it might only look like a fresh coat of paint has been applied to the older modes. However, once you get inside Connected Careers, you’ll find one of the deepest, most detailed modes in Madden history. On the flip side, this only makes it more frustrating to learn just how confining your Connected Career really is.
Playing as a coach in Connected Careers easily provides one of the most satisfying football management simulations in any game to date. Not only will you earn experience as a coach, which can then be used to influence your GM abilities and how quickly your players earn experience, but you’ll also be able to upgrade your players on an individual basis as they earn experience as well. Previous iterations of Madden did allow your players to improve, but it was an unseen adjustment made by the computer at the end of a given season. Now your performance in the game can lead to rookies advancing faster, veterans not losing a step quite as quickly, and fringe players to reach their potential. Adding RPG elements to a game like Madden gives you a level of control you never had before, and it’s extremely enjoyable when it works.
Sadly, not all Connected Careers are created equal. Playing as an individual is just about the most fruitless pursuit you can have. Like the Superstar mode of old, the gameplay experience you get as the lone controllable athlete on a team is terribly boring. It’s still almost impossible to find any redeeming quality on the defensive side of the ball, and quarterbacks and running backs are still the only two positions that offer any kind of consistency. Moreover, when you are playing as a coach, you have control over everyone on the field. In this isolated experience, the lack of production from your teammates is disheartening.
While you have a modicum of influence on how the course of a game plays out as a quarterback, too much of the game is still left out of your hands. And I’m not just talking about the defensive portions of the game. Once you hand the ball off or complete a pass to a receiver, the computer takes over while you just watch events transpire. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the AI was making competent decisions, but the lack of virtual effort from your teammates can cause you to fall into “me first” attitude, and thus robs the game of all fun. There are few things more infuriating than putting together a good drive to score the winning field goal only to have your kicker miss it, or watching the running back juke his way into a four-yard loss when you had just inches to go, or staring blankly as a receiver carelessly runs straight into the middle of the field instead of stepping out of bounds after catching the ball on a sideline route.
That said, the presentation of Connected Careers is miles and above anything we’ve seen in previous Madden games. The faux Twitter feed, constant updates on not just NFL stories, but also NCAA stories, helps build a real and believable world around your own personal league. EA removed draft importing from NCAA Football and the ability to fantasy draft a league, which admittedly saps a lot of replay from Madden NFL 13, but that doesn’t make the effort put forth in drastically revamping the various career modes any less impressive. Connected Careers just feels incomplete, even when you’re doing it online with other friends.
Online Connected Careers work just like their offline counterparts, but all of the options can be combined into one giant 32-team league. You can be a coach in a league full of players. You can be the lone player in a league full of people gameplanning to stop you from making it into Canton. The mix-and-match aspect of the online is nice, and creates some interesting dynamics that weren’t previously available. It’s a bit weird to only play against a friend for half of the game (if they’re only playing as one particular player), and the whole aspect of sharing a personalized league experience is kind of lost in the shuffle of new features.
Ultimate Team also returns this time around, though it too has been reworked. Fortunately for all, Ultimate Team’s changes are mostly for the better. While EA still doesn’t quite get how collectible card games work, they are certainly trying to come as close to they can as the real thing, while still being able to monetize the better cards. Issues with how cards are acquired aside, this year’s version of Ultimate Team is actually worth playing, and takes some major steps forward.
First, there are more options than just playing against a human or playing against the computer. A series of challenges have been included that will help you earn coins for new packs, as well as limited edition cards to use later. EA finally realized people were just adjusting the game’s settings to maximize how many coins they could get for the least amount of effort, so this year they’ve made nearly every game quick and fun to play. However, Ultimate Team isn’t without its faults. Some legends in the regular game can only be unlocked from cards you find randomly in very expensive packs. Locking out one portion of the game by requiring you to play another is a cheap way to extend replay value, and with thousands of possible cards to earn, it turns Ultimate Team into a virtual hunt for needles in haystacks.
A lot of talk has surrounded EA’s commitment to fixing up Madden’s presentation. There are some very noticeable changes you’ll see almost instantly, including motion blur and more animations. Making the virtual game look more like its real life counterpart is never a bad thing, and the inclusion of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz only adds to the immersion. Oddly enough, people who choose play Connected Careers as a single professional miss out on a great deal of this presentation since the game simulates any event when they aren’t on the field. And it may just be the newness of the commentators, but for the first time in ages Madden’s play-by-play is actually good again. Player models look fantastic, but coaches look like weird bodybuilders. It’s not that big a deal, but if EA can get players right, why do coaches look so bizarre?
Madden NFL 13’s newest improvements create an impressive foundation for future entries. While the Infinity Engine adds great physics-based play on the field, it’s plagued by some growing pains that will be undoubtedly be worked out down the line. Connected Careers is dealt the same fate, as it too is a step in the right direction, but still reflects too much of the poor efforts EA put forward in the past. Ultimate Team and the presentation feature some standout improvements, but too much of Madden NFL 13 feels like a building block rather than a finished product. It’s still a good game, but EA’s attempt to do so many new things in one shot keeps Madden NFL 13 from being a great one.
Release date : 2012-08-24
Publisher : EA Sports
Developer : EA Games
Gameplay : Sports
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