Aug 28, 2012

Madden NFL 13 Review

Lights Off
5 Incredible
Retails for: $59.99
We Recommend: $59.99
  • Developer: EA Tiburon
  • Publisher: EA
  • Genre: Sports
  • Released: Aug 28, 2012
  • Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
  • Reviewed: Xbox 360

Last year I enjoyed Madden 12 quite a bit. I thought there were some issues with the difficulty and thought that presentation was lacking a little. However, the game was much better than previous years and a little more accessible too. Madden 13 polishes the things that I liked about last year’s game, adds some incredible new features, but also makes some sideways moves in some areas.

Let’s get the bad out-of-the-way first. Getting into a game of Madden 13, off the bat it seems as though the presentation package has been given an overhaul and there are a lot of animation transitions that are similar to what you’d see on Monday Night or Sunday Night Football. However, outside of those new transition animations, the presentation all in all is pretty terrible. The in-between cutscenes started to get repetitive after my playing my third game. I don’t know what the deal is— maybe the Madden team decided to throw out all of the old intros and cutscenes and start from scratch instead of building on last year’s cutscenes. The pre-game player animations also look extremely silly, and it gets sillier when you see the exact same animation set at the start of each game. The starting QB in particular has a really goofy eyebrow movement.

Another issue last year was the commentary. Gus Johnson’s commentary was inconsistent and out-of-place. I think the team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms is much better (however boring they are) but there seems to be a little too many clichés thrown out by the commentators. Real commentators are not nearly as verbose as Nantz and Simms are in the game. Minimalist commentary is something that the NHL and FIFA series do quite well and Tiburon should take note of this. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz are also fully animated in the game intros which is a nice touch (and something that is rarely seen in sports games, but usually seen on real telecasts). However, its use is really limited this year.

The big gameplay improvement this year is the Infinity Engine, which is the new physics engine for Madden 13. While last year’s edition touted improved collisions that removed suction tackles, this year takes it to the next level with fully physics driven collisions. It makes for some awesome moments that you’d never see before. It also makes fumbles seem more believable as fumbles seem to be less random and more based on where and how the ball carrier is hit. I had a nice moment with the new physics engine when I had to hurdle over a bunch of players to get a first down, only to get tackled in mid-air and flip over quite realistically.

GameFlow was a feature I did not like at all in Madden 11, and thought it was improved quite a bit in Madden 12 by letting you choose between an aggressive or passing play, a conservative or running play and a recommended play. However there were shortcomings and they still exist in Madden 13. There is no play art nor indication of what the play type is in single player mode. In two player mode, it’s much worse as it doesn’t even show you what play is being called. Ask Madden seems to be a much more useful feature in this regards. Gameflow also comes in good use when playing in a Connected Career using a single player by allowing you to ignore play-calling altogether.

Another big flaw with GameFlow (and Madden in general since online was introduced) is that there’s no good answer to a hurry up offense. You have to rely on audible play calling which is extremely clunky. Online players use this knowledge to their advantage and use a hurry up offense, not as a real football tactic, but as a way to prevent their opponents from picking the defensive play they want to. I experienced this first hand online.

With Madden 13, I felt Pro was the skill level I could play at. That being said I did think it was a little too easy and All-Pro was a little too hard. I postulated that EA should scrap fixed skill level increments and instead go for a difficulty percentage slider. I still believe that is the ultimate solution. That being said I did find that All-Pro was a lot more manageable and it hit the sweet spot of difficulty for me. I never felt as though I was cheated on a play. Every time I was intercepted, it was because I made a bad passing decision rather than the QB’s throwing being wonky or the defensive players being too good. If I had a WR wide open, it was rare that he’d drop the pass which was also a source of frustration in previous years.

One thing I don’t like about Madden 13’s controls is that it defaults to Auto Sprint as ON and the option is all or nothing. Either ALL human players use it, or no human players use it. It probably should be tied to your controller profile much like the NHL and FIFA series control settings are. Also defaulting Auto Sprint to ON just removes a big tactile part of the running game to me. I guess part of the reason to do this is to simplify the control scheme so that it doesn’t take too much dedication to learn how to play. That being said most Sports games are just flat-out bad at teaching players on how to play and Madden is no different. It gives little effort on teaching the player how to play the game. Reading the in-game manual is the only tutorial to see here.

Visually, it looks as though there are little changes to the game. There is an added motion blur effect, but it can actually look weird as players can be blurred while they are running even if the camera is situated exactly on them. It seems as though there was some work into making the 3D grass more noticeable in certain angles, but it still has the same issue where when you zoom out from field level, the 3D grass disappears. There are also some weird issues going on with player names (the floating text underneath players on the field) as some of them seem to be blurry while other players have sharp text under them. Crowd also isn’t great this year. There are just too many repeated animations and all of the fans across the stadium animate in lock step. And some of the crowd cheering animations look a little silly.

There are also major issues with players colliding into each other in hilarious ways in between plays. I get that it’s not the meat of the game which is probably why it wasn’t given priority, but I can see how casual sports gamers could look at this aspect of the game and think the game is absolutely broken. Slow motion replays don’t do the best job in flattering the new physics engine either. When players obtain possession of the football, it’s obvious that the animation is not fully dynamic as you can see the ball stop spinning and snap into place in the players’ hands. I’m hoping that the full limb movement for goalies in NHL 13 makes its way over to Madden next year to solve this issue. That being said, these issues along with some of the other presentation issues I mentioned earlier don’t really matter in the long run as most people usually get to a point where they are skipping through cutscenes after playing a few games anyway.

Along with the Infinity Engine, the other big new feature for Madden 13 is Connected Careers. This mode allows you to play as a Player or Coach in a Career mode by yourself or against up to 31 other players. The Madden team re-engineered their superstar and franchise modes from scratch to share the same code base so that they could bring new features across all modes going forward instead of having some modes have some features, and other modes have other features.

I found the Connected Careers menu (and really the entire game’s main menu) to be a little confusing. Usually, most sports games default to a hub where you can see standings, statistics, and upcoming schedule, as well as actions that you can perform within the league (such as playing your next game, trading players, etc.). Madden 13 splits these functions into completely separate menus which takes some time getting used to. It seems as though there was a better way to put this together. That being said, once you know where everything is, it isn’t too hard see or do what you want to do.

Perhaps the reason for the radical change in Career mode menu design was the renewed emphasis on news around the league (which includes a fake twitter feed from “real” football media personalities such as Skip Bayless and Trey Wingo). On the plus side, it does make you feel a little more hooked into the going-ons around the league.

Playing as a Coach in career mode is pretty straight forward, it works like Franchise modes have always worked. However, playing as a Player seems to have taken a step back. For whatever reason, you are given control of play-calling and making the snap and there is no way to disable this. The best you can do is just stick to the GameFlow recommendations. There’s also no special camera mode (nor are there really any camera options) while playing as a single player. I would prefer having a camera which closely follows YOU instead of focusing on the ball carrier.

This year is the first year that the Madden series supports GameFace which allows you to generate a 3D model of your head to put on your created Player or Coach in Madden 13. I tried this and thought it worked pretty well. However, the GameFace has to be created through the website, and that experience is absolutely horrible. You have to install a plugin. And then after reloading the GameFace page it asks you to install ANOTHER plugin. It’s rare to even see one plugin let alone two on a site these days.

Ultimate Team, a mode which is part Card collecting, and part RPG in terms of how you put your team together, is obviously back in Madden 13. I found that the card management system wasn’t great. It was hard to tell how many cards of a certain position I had in my Active Roster which complicated shuffling around my Active Roster cards and Reserved cards in a way that I was using the best players I owned. There really should just be a button which does this for you. This problem also exists with the Depth Chart where you have to manually enter in some players as the game has no ability at all to auto-assign your players to the depth chart. I also had issues starting an online game in Ultimate Team as opponents can see your team overall and will back out if you have a higher Team Overall rating than them.

Despite all of the weirdness in the presentation and menus, I think that Madden 13 really delivers where it matters— during gameplay. This is easily the best version of Madden released to date.