Time again for another NFL season to begin, which brings loyal NFL fans and gamers the newest iteration of the Madden NFL franchise with Madden NFL 13. This year marks improvements on and off the field which hope to please the many fans as well as introducing a new way to play online with friends. Can this years’ iteration bring the attention and hype back to the franchise or is it destined to be ridiculed for yet another year as fans cry for more?
Starting out with a rip roaring introduction that should get any fan in the mood to take to the field. You’re greeted with a new interface that’s split up via boxes on the main menu with an overlying menu at the top that can be scrolled through with the right stick. It’s sleek and gives players options when browsing. New lighting that mirrors game day broadcasts is also packed into this iteration and it looks to heighten the realism along with new camera angles for replays that are inspired by TV broadcasts; even the much talked about pregame presentations which feature virtual likenesses of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are included. Special pre-game showcases for Monday, and Thursday night games, as well as postseason matchups and of course the SuperBowl, also rear their head. The broadcast-like presentation is there to put you into the shoes of the on-field counterparts in ways previous Madden titles couldn’t.
Thankfully Madden 13 has changed for the better with Total Control Passing allowing for various QB additions as well as additions to the overall passing game such as new QB drops, pump fakes and new animations as well as pass trajectories; along with the ability to abort a play action, which helps counter blitzes and over four-hundred new catch animations. A brand new receiver awareness mechanic also brings even more realism to Madden as it ghosts the icons for you, until you look back at your QB signaling that you’re ready for a pass. If you’re thrown a ball while your icon is in ‘ghost’ mode this will dramatically decrease the chances of your catch. Total Control Passing is just the tip of the iceberg that are the gameplay tweaks.
The real star is the new Infinity Engine which affects player interaction, balance, muscle tension and more to create unique situations every play so no two will ever be the same. The engine allows for every tackle to be unique and, crucially, not a part of a canned animation. The downside is that it still has a lot of random bugs that see players ram into each other post play and create hilarious situations where one or both of them fall to the floor. The whole thing feels a tad over sensitive. However, when it comes to gameplay it creates a much more realistic environment down to hustling, and players ability to trip and stumble depending on situations.
Those Madden staples such as Franchise and Superstar mode have gone missing this year in favor of the brand new direction which EA has dubbed Connected Careers. This new mode allows you to play online with up to 31 friends in a league, or offline by yourself. Its goal? Choose either a player or coach, either created or currently in the NFL – or even a legendary one – and see if you can take them through their entire career to the Hall Of Fame. Legendary stars are great for the hardcore fans of NFL, however, many of them will be locked from the outset of the game and require time and dedication to Madden Ultimate Team. Your route in Connected Careers is a lot like Superstar mode, whereas playing as the coach is similar to franchise. So many elements will be familiar.
However, for the first time ever in an EA Sports title a deeper XP system, that almost acts like an RPG, where your choices matter now more than ever has been brought into the game. Being a coach garners XP for your entire team and the coach and can be earned through practice, which no longer includes a simple ten play repertoire – but now has different scenarios to practice through that garners different tiers of XP based on difficulty. The coach XP can be used to purchase things like retirement packages, specific position XP boosts, free agent packages and contract renewal packages. Packages increase the interest in specific players in specific positions to either not retire, join your team if they are a free agent upon making an offer, and likelihood of renewing contracts. If you choose to use an individual superstar, then you’ll only garner XP for their character which increases selected ratings by one point.
When playing Connected Careers online with friends in created leagues, you can create a private league or a public one, which can be a mixed bag of coaches and players – or set restrictions and difficulty levels if you are the league creator or commissioner. The commissioner also has the ability to progress the season at any point, so make sure to keep up and do all your actions otherwise you may be left in a hole and asked to retire. Connected Careers also has a faux Twitter feed that’s great as it gives a look at what fake analysts are saying all over the league based on your last game. When one user controlled team goes against another in Connected Careers it requires them both to be online to go at it in a game. It’s cool but can be a hassle if someone lives in a different time zone unless you are one of the dedicated Madden fans. Playing Connected Careers online is great fun as long as you have friends to play with. It’s a great step forward for the Madden franchise in creating a unified Madden nation.
Ultimate Team returns again this year and offers gameplay that you’ve come to know and love while adding new unique challenges. It takes you through games in a season and offers up coin for your troubles. It’s a great new way to rank up your Ultimate Team. New to this year is a feature that I’m glad is finally getting implemented, Gridiron Club. It is a lot like FIFA Soccer Club. Gridiron Club utilizes your EA account and gives you special Madden Ultimate Team card packs based on your Madden Loyalty dating as far back as Madden 08 including NFL Tour, Madden Arcade and NFL Blitz. Play Now is basically the same as always with online and offline choices including Team Play and head to head, also the ability to join communities is included. Also a part of the online experience is EA Sports Arena which is the in-game tournament system so you can win prizes, and it’s simple yet easy to sign up.
Madden NFL 13 has a lot going for it for newcomers, but for the Madden elite who purchase the title every year, the only draw - besides the Infinity Engine and a few features here and there – is Connected Careers. Connected Careers is be great for those with many friends who purchase the title year in year out, but not everyone will take to the XP centric gameplay and having to play in a league almost every day for risk being fired from your team. Some may even miss the classic Franchise and Superstar modes, which now can only be found in the Playstation Vita version. Sacrifices were made for this version, which makes the year-in-year-out player like myself feel like it’s missing a few features. Looking at another feature heavy EA Sports title like NHL 12 for instance, it included all previous modes (Be A GM, Season, Be A Pro, Hockey Ultimate Team, etc.) while still being able to introduce new modes like EA Sports Hockey League which is essentially Connected Careers for NHL fans that allowed you to create a player, use them on any team, start leagues or do drop in drop out games to level your player up. Why can NHL do this and still keep all the features, yet Madden could not?
In the deep bowels of Connected Careers you can get your Superstar and Franchise fix, but on a different level by playing offline with much more emphasis on the XP. If you can overlook that snag then Madden 13 is easily one of the best iterations of the franchise based solely on the addition of the Infinity Engine and what it does to gameplay. It might have its faults overlooked by many of the hardcore year after year Madden Elite. That is a very large if though that may resonate in the coming weeks with the hardcore fan base.
Audio/Visual – 3.5/5: The soundtrack plays a lesser part this time around it seems, however the sounds on the field are crisp and great. The play calling from the announcers is top notch and you barely notice any repeating.
Gameplay – 3.5/5: Madden NFL 13 plays like a dream for fans. From play calling, to the new engine everything is on par of what players have come to expect and wish these dramatic changes have occurred sooner. I suppose better late than never comes to mind.
Innovation –4/5: Innovation is rarely associated with Madden since it has been a cookie cutter franchise for the longest time. However this year, the Infinity Engine, Gridiron Club, and the potential of Connected Careers weighs heavily on the title as something that has broken new ground for the franchise.
Value – 2/5: Not the most feature crammed Madden with Franchise, and Superstar being taken out in favor of the new Connected Careers. The value is heightened if you have a few friends to play with in the new mode as well as Madden Ultimate Team.
Final Score: 2.5/5