2012-09-06

Madden NFL 13 – Lots Of Improvements Make A Better Game

by Yo Snyder

With another football season upon us, that also means it’s time for
another edition of the Madden NFL video game. It’s the go-to franchise
for those who want to live their NFL fantasies, but it’s also a series
that often takes a beating for being too much “the same game.” Well,
unlike other annual franchises (*cough*Call of Duty*cough*), the point
of football is actually to be the same game. No one complains much about
the real NFL having “basically the same gameplay”, do they? I mean, I
understand what people are saying about the game always feeling too much
the same, and yes there are things that could be done to make the video
game play more like the real game, but sometimes I think the “too much
the same” criticisms aren’t fully valid when it comes to Madden. That
being said, there’s much less to complain about this year, as Madden NFL 13 makes some significant changes to help improve the experience and the gameplay, while a few familiar issues still linger on.

For the past couple seasons, I’ve felt rather strongly that even though I enjoy pro football more than college football, the NCAA Football
franchise has had the better overall experience. It’s use of XP, the
excellent online franchise mode, which is as fully featured as the
offline version, the great presentation and more just made it a better
football game to play. I’ve been saying that some of those elements
needed to make their way into its pro football big brother; and now they
have. In a rather significant overhaul, Madden NFL 13 now
features Connected Careers. This isn’t just another gimmick, it’s a
fundamental change in how one experiences Madden. Now your Superstar
Mode, your Franchise Mode, your online league and more are all wrapped
up in one. In Connected Careers, you can play offline or on, you can
play as a player or a coach, you can manage a franchise or just manage
the career of a single player; it’s all right there at your finger tips,
and you can change what you’re doing at any time. Tired of playing as a
coach, start as a player without losing any progression in your online
league or franchise, or start from scratch. EA Sports has put how you
experience Madden in your hands, and in doing so, have made a much
better game. 

The very fact that everything you can do offline you
can also do online is itself a vast improvement. While online leagues
the last couple years have been fun, the experience was admittedly bare
bones. This year, you can do everything you would do in the fully
featured Franchise mode. Negotiate contracts, scout new players, manage
salary caps and on and on. Even practices matter now. Run the two minute
drill and earn some extra XP for your team. This is the first time in
Madden that I’ve even wanted to do practices. This is what I’ve been
wanting, this is what I enjoyed in the NCAA Football game. Or, if you
don’t want to be a coach, you can follow the career of a certain player
or make one of your own. Again, you can do this in an online league if
you want. Awesome. Connected Careers makes the entire Madden NFL
experience a better one, and all I can say is it’s about time they did
something like this. 

The other major change this year is a new
physics engine. This comes with a few more wrinkles than the amazing
addition of Connected Careers, but the overall impact is definitely a
positive one on the Madden experience. Things like collision detection,
mass, speed and all that other fancy physics stuff now determine how
plays unfold and how players on the field react to each other. This
leads to a much greater variety of action on the field, and much less of
a “pre-canned” look to things like tackles, catches and blocks. An
example: my running back runs off-tackle, takes a glancing blow that
causes him to stumble onto the back of a blocker on the ground, but he
pushes off that guy, regains his balance, and runs for another seven
yards. It’s impressive stuff, and adds a sense of “anything can happen”
as every play unfolds. Receivers who get hit in the air might helicopter
around, an open running lane might be foiled as you trip over a player
on the ground; the new physics engine just gives this year’s Madden a
different feel, and that’s a good thing.

However, there are some
wonky things that happen as a result of the new physics engine. In
post-play scenes, you’ll often see players collapsing and falling all
over each other as they try to get off the ground. This can often lead
to some very Keystone Cops moments that are rather distracting. You’ll
also see some players fold and bend in completely unnatural ways that
will make you cringe and shudder at the thought of losing your star wide
receiver, only to see them bounce back up and get hurt on the
following, completely average looking play. And finally, sometimes it
seems like even the slightest of touches can have a big effect, sending a
blocker to the ground or a runner spinning wildly around, especially
considering how big and heavy these guys are in real life. Still, for a
first outing with an all-new physics engine, Madden NFL 13 is a
good experience, and as the team irons out the kinks with the new
engine, I think things will only improve in the coming years. 

Finally,
there are lots of little improvements that help make this year’s Madden
a benchmark for the series. The overall presentation of the game feels
very much like a Sunday game on CBS. You even have Jim Nantz and Phil
Simms calling the plays with some very natural sounding dialogue that
may sometimes impress you with how well it reflects what’s happening on
the field. You may not watch the intro and post-game stuff very often,
but when you do, it really gives the game a broadcast like feel that’s a
lot of fun. Also, crowd reactions have improved. When Manning threw his
third pick in a game, he got booed; at Mile High stadium! Cool. It’s a
small thing, but it adds a different kind of energy to the game. In
Connecter Careers, there’s a fun news feed with stories from your league
and even Tweets from analysts about what’s been happening. I didn’t
spend a lot of time paying attention to them, but when I did read them
they were pretty entertaining, Other games, such as The Amazing Spider-Man,
have tried to integrate imaginary social media into a game, but Madden
actually does it quite well. Another small thing that’s a huge relief is
there’s no more rock and hip-hop tracks playing over the menus. Like NCAA Football,
we now get a rousing orchestral score that just makes the game feel
like some epic football is about to happen rather than like you’re
listening to an iTunes sampler. All of these little things and more,
like a clean, stream-lined menu page, make this one of the best
presentations in a Madden game in sometime.

With all of the
positive strides forward, however, there are still a few lingering
issues that are as familiar as they are irritating. Linebackers are
still incredible ball hawks. Granted, sometimes I make bad decisions.
However, other times, those LBs make some incredibly acrobatic plays to
come away with the INT. The mere fact that two-thirds of my picks
wind-up in the hands of LBs over cornerbacks has me thinking that
something is just a bit off there, not including my own poor play.
Fumbles also happen with frightening regularity, no matter how well you
try to protect the ball. Then there’s the issue of the commentary being
repetitive or not reflecting what’s happened on the field. Over all, the
change in commentary is nice, but it’s still weird when Simms is
talking about how the quarterback and the receiver weren’t on the same
page and therefore the play was an incompletion when the quarterback
just spiked the ball. Long time critics will find many of their same old
gripes are still in this game, but overall, there’s much more that’s
improved then has stayed the same. 

Is Madden NFL 13 the
best Madden yet? Well, I don’t know about that, but it’s one that I feel
has the best year-to-year improvements. This year’s Madden feels like a
much better game than last year, not because the game of football is
vastly different, that pretty much plays the way it always has. Rather a
new look thanks to new physics, a great presentation, and the awesome
integration of Connected Careers means for the first time in several
years you really aren’t okay with staying with last year’s Madden. In
the past, I’ve often said that aside from few tweaks and updated
rosters, there wasn’t always a lot of reasons to upgrade your Madden
each year. With Madden NFL 13, there’s every reason to upgrade.
It’s just a better Madden game, and the experience really isn’t the same
as it was last year. If you love football, you need this game.

Score out of 7:

Graphics:
5 – Things look great as usual, with some especially nice lighting this
time around. Some players still look a little chunky. The menu layout
is extremely nice this year.

Sound: 6 – The lack of a “soundtrack”
makes a bigger improvement than you might think. Having that actual QB
voices for many of the players as they call out audibles and count the
snap is also nice. Better reaction from the crowds, and the crunching
sound of big hits make the game sound great.

Controls: 6 – As
refined as ever. It’s easy to navigate audibles and adjustments, get to
the player you want, and make the plays you want to play. Kinect gives
you voice control this year. Which is a nice gimmick and works well
enough, but aside from the novelty factor, especially when playing
against others, I just don’t use it. 

Gameplay: 6 – A new physics
engine give on-field play an entirely different feel, and that’s a good
thing. The new Connected Careers mode really lets you play Madden the
way you want and is the full-featured online franchise mode we’ve been
waiting for.

Story: 7 – Greatest story ever; get your team to the Super Bowl.

Content: 7 – Nothing worse than some hard-hitting, football action.

Final: 6 – Madden NFL 13
is a great improvement over last year’s game, and may just be one of my
favorite football games ever. Improvements such as the new physics make
it fun to play, and Connected Careers and a better overall presentation
make it fun to experience. This is the closest you’ll get to living out
your NFL dream life.