Replay Value: 8.9
As you may know, I’ve been a fan of the Madden games since they first premiered nearly a quarter-century ago. The fact that I haven’t really become immersed in one since 2004 doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve sworn off the franchise; it just means my interests have altered and I have less time. Still, I always like to see how the long-running series advances with each passing year; sometimes, it doesn’t advance much at all and occasionally (as it did last year), it actually goes backwards. So how’s about Madden NFL 13?
Well, EA has made much of one improvement in the graphical arena: More animations and more refined animations. The good news is that such an upgrade is evident almost immediately, the bad news is that upon closer inspection, we still see some subpar player modeling and detailing, and there remain a few goofy movements when on the field. For the most part, though, this is a fine, top-quality presentation that brings out the crushing vibrancy and corresponding pageantry of the sport. Sure, one could say, “yep, it looks like Madden” and they’d have a point, but an objective analysis tells the story of an impressive visual display.
The sound features another significant improvement, and that’s in the area of commentary. Last year, we had a surprisingly stilted and boring delivery from capable analysts Cris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson; this time around, we get more realistic and more diverse discussion from veteran announcer Jim Nantz and ex-QB Phil Simms. They don’t invade every second of the game, either, which makes it nice. I think EA got a little overzealous with the idea of commentating in their games; we’re playing, not watching, so constant chatter can be annoying. This has just about the right balance. The effects are also quite stimulating and sharp, despite some small balance issues on the field of play.
You know, we give storied franchises a lot of flak for branching out and trying new things. Sometimes we misconstrue that effort as a betrayal, in that we want our most beloved titles to remain familiar. At the same time, we demand they get better…so obviously, you see the Catch .22 here. We have to be specific in our fan desires: We don’t want it to be so different that it feels like a completely different experience, but at the same time, “better” has to mean more than superior graphics and other technology. We require better mechanics, better physics, better everything.
I see a decent cosmetic upgrade in the new Madden and it sounds better, too. But as always, especially with sports games, the heart of our enjoyment centers squarely on the gameplay. And for most of the hardcore pigskin followers, they’re going to appreciate a few significant updates. First on the list is the Connected Careers mode, which makes the old Franchise mode seem limited and restricting by comparison. Connected Careers lets you play online or offline and you can choose the exact player you wish to control throughout the Career. So if you pick a QB, you’ll only be involved in offensive drives; the defense will be simulated.
This works extremely well, and that goes double if you want to be a coach and manage absolutely every aspect of this complex sport. Plus, you can switch between the head coach and a player, giving you shifting perspectives and allowing you to have fun with wildly different parts of the game. Personally, being a 49ers fan, I wanted to take control of some of the best players of the 80s and 90s but the choice is yours; all fans have their favorite teams and players, and Connected Careers lets you do more with both than ever before. Remember, this encompasses everything if you wish, including drafting new recruits and developing a true contender in the NFL from scratch. It's a definite challenge!
As for the basic elements of the gameplay, such as control and general atmosphere, it’s largely unchanged from previous installments. However, I did find a bit more reliability in the running game, in that it felt more fluid and realistic, and I wasn’t either getting trashed or exploiting some cheap trick. That could just be me, though, as I don’t recall spending a huge amount of time trying to run the ball last year (mainly because I immediately found it annoying). And besides, all that depth and intricacy is here in full force, so there’s little to complain about from a strategist’s viewpoint. Call those blitzes and hot routes, you creative playmaker, you!
Obviously, I’ve had the most fun with this franchise when I’ve played with other people. That would likely remain true for the new iteration, if I had the time to keep playing well into the season. Heading online or playing with a friend sitting right next to you still has that fantastic competitive feel, and I didn’t have much trouble getting involved in some intense situations. There are few visible problems with the multiplayer and this will allow you and your friends to have hours and hours of glitch-free entertainment. I can’t guarantee there aren’t a few issues here and there, especially if you play for a ridiculous amount of time, but the stability seems sound.
There are really only so many ways you can improve on the sport of football. Try improving too much and we’ll end up with a different game. So I like that this still feels like Madden, and I like that EA Sports has taken the necessary steps to make it feel even more authentic than ever before. Still, I wish they had addressed a few of those lingering issues – wonky ball physics, unimpressive character modeling, lack of diversity among teams – rather than become so obsessed with the cosmetic aspects. There is more that can be done with the gameplay structure, so it’s not like we’ve peaked.
But sometimes, you just get lost in the sheer size of these massive sports simulators, which make the older installments seem downright comical by comparison. They’ve brought back many of the NFL’s legends, we can do just about anything we wish (and Connected Careers really helps in that capacity), and in short, it’s hard to come up with a feature that we’re missing. It really does seem like absolutely every last component of the sport of professional football is covered, which actually shouldn’t be too shocking…after all, they’ve had a long time to bring us such an overwhelmingly complete package.
Madden NFL 13 is a great football game. I don’t think there’s any denying that. The designers have improved on several visual elements, the commentary is better, the depth and scope is unparalleled, and the competitive part remains a highlight. More can be improved upon in the gameplay realm, though, and I’d hope they focus on that for next year’s entry. Yes, it’s just Madden but the “just” part is sort of an insult to a series that has delivered so consistently. They just need to recognize that a few more important steps must be taken as we enter a new generation…
The Good: Better and more realistic animations. Much improved commentary. Solid control and great momentum physics. Connected Career is hugely awesome. All the depth and intricacy football fans crave. Love the legends!
The Bad: Player models need updating. Not enough gameplay upgrades. At its core, many of the old Madden bugaboos remain.
The Ugly: “Still doesn’t matter too much which team I use…”