I consider myself a bit of a sports fan. No matter the game, I enjoy watching one person/group of people attempt to score more goals/tries/points than the other person/group of people. That is, I enjoy it until the sport becomes so confusing and full of rules that I honestly have no idea what in the world is going on. Enter American football, or gridiron as it is more commonly known down under. Despite having played Madden games fairly regularly for over a decade, I still have little to no understanding about the ins and outs of the stop-start sport our trans-Pacific neighbours seem to be so keen on. Madden NFL 13, which seems like the fifteen thousandth instalment in the annually released Madden NFL franchise, intends to maintain my limited knowledge of the sport while ensuring that I never feel all that confident in my playmaking abilities while calling the shots.
As an annual release, the most important thing to look for in NFL 13 is the changes that have been implemented since the last game. And, skewing all expectations for an EA-developed sports game, there are some extremely significant changes that affect the core gameplay of each run, pass, and… football football. Firstly, it would be criminal for me to neglect talking at length about the entirely new physics engine, the “Infinity Engine”. I’m sure there’s some technical jibber jabber behind it, but what this means for you is that, for the very first time in any sports game, every tackle feels brutal. Hits have monumental weight behind them. You can almost feel the collision in your bones when your running back is walloped to the ground by a defensive linebacker who’s broken away from his marker (see? I know the words!). Additionally, Infinity ensures that every tackle is independently generated, meaning that there’s no more tiring repeated animations.
While very impressive, the engine has a rather comical side-effect – between plays, when you’re expecting to see players stand up, dust themselves off and run to the huddle, they instead have body parts tangling with each other, leading to frequent face-plants, somersaults, and tripping over. It’s good for a laugh, but happens between most every two snaps, thus breaking the reality that EA have strived so hard to create. It seems extraordinary that the game was released in this state, however, leading me to believe that there was simply not enough time to fix the engine and still release in September.
About “reality” – I’ve got a funny feeling that the new features, especially the revamped commentary system, will appeal far more to NFL fans than it did to me. I appreciated the commentary, to be sure, but it simply wouldn’t have the same effect on me. Additionally, I feel as though a chance was missed in using commentary to teach more inexperienced gridiron fans about the strategy and tactics of the game itself. More than once, I’d picked a play only to be greeted by the commentators stating their bewilderment at my formation, without so much as a sniff as to why there was something wrong with it. I feel like there could have been an optional “educational” mode or something, in which the commentators assist the player in a way that doesn’t entirely break the fourth wall but provides helpful tips while you’re choosing your play.
Commentary also feels a little bit undercooked – compared to other EA games such as FIFA, in which the commentary appears totally seamless, Madden NFL 13‘s commentary suffers from the inherent jointyness of sports game commentary (such as saying “the defending team” rather than the team’s name), but these concerns are dulled by the fantastic banter between the two commentators about certain players.
The TV broadcast aesthetic is an interesting touch. As you’d expect from what I’ve called it, every game in Madden NFL 13 feels exactly like I imagine a television broadcast of the sport would. Rather than simply observing the field from top-down as you’ve done in previous games, the camera frequently cuts to the players getting up, the quarterback at the huddle, or even the coach marching up and down the sideline with his playbook in his hand and that ridiculous looking headset on. After an extra point attempt, members of your team will jog up to the touchdown scorer and congratulate him. It’s little touches like this that add a huge amount of realism to each and every game in Madden NFL 13, even though a lot of the little touches would be lost on me, seeing as I’ve never seen an entire game in my life.
Updates have also been made to the actual gameplay, of course. What kind of instalment would it be without gameplay changes, after all? In Madden NFL 13, pass receivers will now turn their heads to the QB as they’re expecting the ball to be thrown – releasing before this will most often result in an incompletion. You can direct pump fakes towards specific receivers, rather than just performing a generic pump fake. Left stick passes are now tighter and the ball can be directed to a specific spot for only your receiver. These additions, however, are very much directed at those who play on All-Pro difficulty, not those sitting on the fence between Rookie and Pro, and without any sort of tutorial mode (apart from the vague tips presented during a single player game) they were of little use to me.
The most obvious alteration to Madden NFL 13 outside of in-game is the removal of the Franchise, Season, and Superstar modes. While I expected to be screaming bloody murder, a fresh addition called “Connected Careers” has been implemented to make up for this, which essentially combines all three gamemodes into one package, which can be played both online with up to 31 friends (yeah right, who has that many friends) or offline. There’s a virtual Twitter feed which has (whom I assume are) important faces in the field of gridiron journalism commenting on the happenings in your seasons, adding a further fantastic degree of believability. Not a fan of the “Be a Pro” Superstar mode? Well, now you can fill up a team with 31 other players, each controlling a character on the field. I don’t care how little you know about the sport – that shit is cool.
If you’ve read many of my reviews in the past, you’ll know that if there’s one thing that baffles me more than anything else in sequels, it’s the removal of customisation options. On that note, where has create a team mode gone? Who was it that said “yeah, add a new physics engine in, that’s cool – oh, wait, create-a-team, that’s gotta go”? It wasn’t a great mode, having gone without a serious overhaul for a number of years, and yet I still miss its presence sorely. Making the Hyrule Titans was one of the highlights of my past years with the franchise. Madden Ultimate Team mode is back, involving collecting and trading football cards to develop your custom team – implementing this mode with a custom team would have been ideal, rather than simply using the logo and name of an existing NFL team. Again, this mode will be far more appreciated by those familiar with the sport, mainly due to familiarity with positions and playstyles, but even if you’re new to it you’ll still get a considerable amount of enjoyment out of MUT.
Online is present but is fairly barebones – ranked and unranked games. Just what you’d want from a sports game, I suppose, especially since online Connected Careers are the main drawcard in 13. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure if it was due to lack of players near launch or something, but all of my matches seemed to be rather lag-ridden, rendering them almost unplayable. And one more thing – when did games stop packaging paper manuals in the cases? This saddens me.
Calling it the “best ever Madden” isn’t all that fair. In fact, it’s a given. EA have had a year to improve the franchise since last year’s release, and improve they have. The thing is, though – and I know this is probably obvious already – but if you want to get the most out of Madden NFL 13, you need to have a fairly deep knowledge of gridiron before diving in. A generic sports fan such as myself will be able to have a couple of days of unadulterated gridiron fun, yet will likely lack the motivation to micromanage the team or last more than one season in career mode. That said, the real time physics and Connected Careers mode signify a leap in the right direction for the series, marking the first significant change to the formula since 06, and I’m excited to see whether EA have made the same advancements in their other sports titles of the season. In any case, I’ll be playing Madden NFL 13 regularly, if only for the smile that spreads across my face when I hear “EA Sports: It’s in the game.”
Select Start Media was provided with a copy of Madden NFL 13 by EA Sports. The platform it was reviewed on was the PS3.
The fact that I have little familiarity with the sport had no impact in the overall score.