There is, as I may have mentioned in past reviews, an odd balance that has to be struck when talking of any new version of Madden NFL. How much do you want to discuss what the game is as a whole? How much do you want to talk about the specific differences in this version vs. last year’s model? The answer lies mostly in who you think is reading the review – if it’s someone who is only asking whether they should upgrade, you want to go wholly towards what’s different and get very specific on the changes, while if it’s someone just wondering if this is a good game, you don’t want to focus entirely on a vs. aspect. I am going for something in the middle here, hopefully I’ll get there.
First off, and most importantly (honestly, this is in fact the most important aspect of the title) – it plays wonderfully and looks great while it does so. Picking up and playing (once you’re actually in a game) is easy, and you will constantly be wowed by how it looks. The streamlined playcalling—Madden recommends the “best” overall play, a run play, or a pass play—or the ability to go to the full playbook is simple. Of course, the fact that the Madden chosen plays change when you flip between overall, pass, and run and back again calls into question whether you really ought to be running any of them. Once you’re at the line (on offense) it can be a little tough to figure out which buttons you need to hit to change routes or call shifts (gee, if only there were a real manual you could refer to rather than having to pause the game), but it doesn’t take too long to learn the right moves.
And, the graphics. EA Sports constantly tries to make the game look more like the actual television presentation and while they’re not there yet, the camera angles in replays are well chosen, the stadiums look incredible, and the appearance of the on field action is tremendous.
Most of the sound works too. Where it fails somewhat—and this is going to be a regular complaint for anyone who has played in the past—is with the play-by-play. For reasons I am not smart enough to understand, play-by-play has to be the single hardest thing to work out. The commentating team for this year is Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, and while they have interesting things to say and are far better than last year’s commentators, what they’re actually saying isn’t always terribly relevant to what is happening. I love Simms, and I doubt that in reality, after throwing for eight yards on first down, Simms would criticize the quarterback for not getting that first down and explain how the QB just let the team down. Beyond that, in the very first game I played, I heard phrases repeated from Nantz-Simms team. My press packet tells me that there are 9,000 unique lines of commentary, and while I don’t know how many lines are said during any single game, I can tell you that the same ones pop up game after game after game.
Shifting gears, it’s time for a little bit of the nitty-gritty. One of the big changes to the title this year is the “Infinity Engine.” This is Madden 13‘s new physics engine, and it gets to do the fun stuff like calculate mass and speed to figure out if a player has been tackled or not (or whether the O-line wins the battle against the defense). On the whole, it does feel very natural on the field during play. There is a looseness—or maybe an added sense of freedom—to the way the game plays which is enjoyable.
The wheels come off a little bit in the post-play shots (the ones that occur after the whistle has blown and you get more of a television view). The collisions which EA touts so highly regularly continue to occur after the play has ended, but without the expected resultant penalties. That is to say, once the play ends, people still continue to trip over, knock down, and shove one another and this happens well after the whistle has blown. It gives the game a momentarily NFL Blitz-like feel, and that’s not something it should have.
What is worse than that, however, are the instant replays which come right after some plays. What you need to be exceptionally aware of—yes, we made this mistake—is that the play clock continues to run during instant replays. If you only have four seconds left in the half and need to use a timeout, don’t let the replay play out, the clock will run down to zero before you get to run one last play.
Another disturbing issue is the lack of intelligence the AI often exhibits. If you punt the ball down field and the returner opts to let it bounce 10 yards behind him in hopes that it’ll go into the end zone, the AI players on your team are not smart enough to figure that out. A long hang time and plenty of opportunity to do the right thing doesn’t influence they AI either. They will circle the returner like sharks as the ball, one which they easily could have stopped on the two, harmlessly bounces into end zone.
You may have read somewhere that the venerable franchise mode is gone this year from Madden (this would be the mode where you decide that you’re going to play as the Giants for the next 10 football seasons and control every aspect of the game). Yes, it is gone, but it isn’t. Madden 13 has this thing called “Connected Careers” as the main mode, and here you can choose to either be a player or a coach, and get to advance through the years as said person. If your character retires (or you retire them), you can jump in at that point as someone else. If you choose to be a coach, you maintain the same sort of front office decisions often available in franchise mode.
So, Connected Careers is more of a melding of other modes with a few additions here and there than something entirely new and different. Personally, I’d rather go back to the franchise mode with a separate route for having a player of one’s own. Honestly, if they hadn’t implemented a fake Twitter feed on your main page within a Connected Career I might like it a lot better. Like so much of Madden on a yearly basis, Connected Careers is more of a tweak with a few new coats of paint than anything else.
In point of fact, virtually everything here is a tweak or an update or a modification (okay, it’s a new engine and it does feel more free and life-like during a play, but it doesn’t feel revolutionary). Then, Should you buy the game? If you don’t own a previous Madden and like football, I unquestionably would purchase Madden NFL 13 over an earlier iteration (even though said earlier iteration would be less expensive). If, however, you bought Madden 12, you probably aren’t going to find anything here that makes this a must-have upgrade. It is a great game, it has been a great game for years, and they have certainly changed and improved things for this newest version, but $60 is a lot of money. Except, of course, if you’re a Giants fan because you know you want to get to play as the Super Bowl Champions.
Madden NFL 13 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: PS3, PS Vita, Wii, Wii U, and Xbox 360.