August is always a special time of year for me. As a gamer, I can always look forward to two things. First, all of the children will start school again, drastically cleaning up my experience. Secondly, I can look forward to another Madden title, which will get me geared up for football season. Most gamers scoff that the annual release is nothing more than a retail priced roster update, but the series’ dedicated fans froth at the mouth with the excitement that comes with each iteration’s (traditionally) minor changes. This time around, the changes are much more noticeable, leaving little room for a “rehash” debate, but I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing.
The most noticeable formula change that Madden NFL 13 presents is its completely reimagined physics system. The Infinity Engine adds an unparalleled level of realism to the on field antics, meaning that every player felt as if there was significant weight behind him, and each hit’s impact had much more force behind it than before. It only took me a few plays before I had my first “Holy hell…” moment as Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson was almost juggled in the air as three Panthers punished him for attempting a catch over the middle. His broken body fell to the turf as his season ended with a torn ACL. Now, I can’t be positive that EA has finally made it so that brutal hits will result in injuries, but this was a moment taken right out of real life.
The physics don’t end with brutal tackles, though. A weak tackle would bounce off a massive running back and, with a little bit of luck, he’d be able to recover his footing after stumbling, allowing him to continue his run. Receivers can also land on top of defenders while never quite touching the ground, providing them with a chance to get up and go. No two plays will ever play out quite the same, and it’s this feeling of unpredictability that really creates a level of excitement that I’ve never experienced on the field before.
Don’t expect this to always work out in your favor, though. It’s possible to trip up on your own blockers, something that seemed a bit too common on special teams plays. While in previous iterations you’d be best served staying as close to the pack as possible before breaking out, all it takes is one leg sticking out to trip you up and cost you valuable return yards in this release.
Series veterans will also have to adjust to the lack of canned tackle animations. This time around, plays aren’t finished until the whistle officially blows, and it took a few games for me to break my habit of reaching for my drink after a play wrapped up. Players specializing in the use of the Hit Stick will have to take note of this especially since, thanks to the Infinity Engine, there’s a much greater chance of your target bouncing off an improperly aligned tackle, leaving you in the dust. It really feels like you’re playing football as opposed to playing a video game.
While this is all a noticeable improvement compared to previous games, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. After plays are over, it’s not uncommon to find players tripping over each other, which tends to result in a massive pile of bodies. You can also expect to see some strange rag doll issues here and there, where players’ limbs will bend at impossible angles. There’s nothing here that influences gameplay, but watching someone’s leg turn 360 degrees without causing injury still leaves that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Instead of offering Franchise and Superstar modes like its predecessors did, Madden NFL 13 presents a brand new Connected Careers mode. Within this new option, you’ll be able to take on the role of an individual player or a coach, letting you progress through a career from that vantage point. You can choose from any existing player or coach, create your own, or pick from a few different NFL legends (although many of them are locked away from the start). As you progress through your career, you’ll unlock experience points that can be used to upgrade your player’s skills or get a few coaching bonuses. How you decide to spend these points is completely up to you, introducing a fantastic RPG element into the genre.
Do I want to throw a few points into a carrying skill that is pretty much useless towards my style of play in hopes of moving up the depth chart? Or, do I save them up in order to focus on the things I really need while riding the pine?
While playing Connected Careers online, the commissioner has the ability to decide whether to focus only on coaches, stick to players, or deal with a combination of both. This lead to some interesting match-ups, including one where I was taking on the coach of the Jets while only controlling the second string QB for the Panthers. I’m sure that the experience would have been more enjoyable if I had worked my way up to a starting position, but I can’t say I’ve ever really experienced anything quite like that.
The ultimate goal is, of course, to make it to the Hall Of Fame. As you progress, you’ll be able to track your legacy score and hold it up against some of the all-time greats. It’s a constant reminder of exactly where you’re sitting in comparison to them, and what you’ll need to do in order to surpass them.
In an effort to bring a bit more realism into Connected Careers, the menu’s news feed is regularly updated with stories from around the League, as well as some Tweets from NFL social media mainstays. It’s a novel take, and I can’t pretend I wasn’t excited to see Adam Schefter tweet about my player, even if he wasn’t impressed by my play. However, the novelty of the feature dried up rather quickly. Early on in my career, I stopped giving it anything more than a peripheral glance in-between weeks. However, in a full online league with friends, I can imagine that it will lead to plenty of boasting.
Of course, when you overhaul a major part of a game, there will be some fumbles along the way. For starters, you no longer have the ability to import your draft class from NCAA Football. While many players probably won’t notice its absence, it’s a bit of realism that a lot of players had come to look forward to. In the same vein, you no longer have the ability to start a career with multiple created players in play or the option to edit existing players, and the absence of those features was quite noticeable from my perspective. I understand that EA wants to offer a streamlined product; however, if I want to field a team of 7’6” 500 pound monsters in my offline season, I should be able to do so.
There are other noteworthy changes to be found throughout the game, and they’re generally positive. Defensive backs now have to have eyes on the ball before making an interception, removing the psychic element found in the past. Going further, the passing system has also received an overhaul, allowing quarterbacks to narrow in on throws with more realism and increased accuracy.
On top of all of its above-mentioned alterations, Madden NFL 13 also boasts a brand new commentary system featuring Jim Nantz and Phil Simms which, as far as sports game commentary goes, is actually pretty good. I noticed a few questionable calls, such as a time where they went off on a long-winded speech about how the horrible weather would end up influencing a game being played in the domed Lucas Oil Stadium, and they also gave away the defensive coverage more than I would’ve liked. However, on the whole, it’s one of the most realistic commentary systems I’ve ever experienced in a sports game.
The noted presentation overhaul doesn’t end with the commentary, though. EA Tiburon focused on trying to emulate what you see on TV every week as opposed to the live event. You’ll still hear some stadium rock music, but it’ll be more subdued in exchange for the classic CBS theme taking the forefront. The on field sounds are as crisp as ever. Quarterbacks bark out orders from the line of scrimmage and the sickening thud that comes from a massive collision only helps further the immersion.
You’ll also notice increased attention to detail when it comes to the visual side of things in this year’s offering. A few major stars have had full face renders done for this game, giving them a realistic look we’ve never seen before. When Adrian Peterson takes off his helmet, he actually looks like AP instead of some generic football player. However, the most notable improvements may also be the smallest. Receivers kick up blades of grass as they cut through their routes and the minute adjustments players make after incidental contact really makes you feel like you’re watching a football game.
EA took a huge gamble trying to reinvent the wheel with Madden NFL 13, and I’d say it largely paid off. There are enough new things here to win back the patronage of casual fans, while the core mechanics have been improved upon enough for the hardcore demographic to justify another sale. It may sound like hyperbole, but this is easily the best Madden game of this generation, and I look forward to losing countless hours to it throughout the season.