Madden NFL 13

Review

posted 8/24/2012 by Sean Cahill
other articles by Sean Cahill
Platforms: 360
Just like almost every red-blooded, American male, I love football.  Every summer is practically torture as we inch closer and closer to the kickoff of a new season.  In the gaming world, the launch of a new Madden is practically just as, if not more, anticipated than the season itself.  Just like any other year, Madden 13 has plenty of hype surrounding it, and the big question is whether the franchise’s yearly title is worthy of the Lombardi Trophy.
 
A New Engine for Gameplay
 The major change in this year’s game is the inclusion of the Infinity Engine, which has been created to improve upon the realism of the game’s aspects, specifically tackling, balance, and cutting.  There are times when the new engine shines, such as during the running game.  In past versions, the running game seemed very mechanical.  Running backs would almost move in a robotic fashion to the handoff point.  Building upon that, a running back could stop dead in his tracks if the player wanted him to and immediately reverse direction if a defender was waiting in the hole.  Those days are over, as the Infinity Engine has made momentum and cutting a primary point to focus on in building the realism in the game.  If a player does not have a high agility rating attempts to make too strong a cut, the balance of that player will suffer, even going so far as to have to put his hand on the ground to keep from falling over as momentum is picked back up.
 

Tackling is a very positive aspect of the game, which I feel received the biggest boost from the Infinity Engine.  Tackling motions have been rather dull in the past few versions, even with the innovations in the past couple of Madden titles.  The engine focuses a lot on the collisions in the game, especially when using the hit stick to issue a big hit in an attempt to jar the ball loose from a player.  Watching slow-motion replays of the trenches shows that players are actually using proper form blocking and moves to get past players instead of the players just being up against each other before a swim move is used.  The motions aren’t blocky or mechanical.  They are crisp and smooth.
 
The Infinity Engine seems to have its little issues, however.  While most of the motions of players during a game are fairly smooth, there are specific instances where the engine seems to speed up or slow down at random.  Turnovers are the biggest sticking point to this issue, primarily during the passing game.  Receivers and defenders will gain what looks like a sudden burst of speed at the end of a pass to either catch or intercept the pass.  The motions go from very smooth to inhuman rather quickly, which is a  letdown considering how well the engine works in just about every other part of the game.  On top of this, while I praised the tackling portion of the engine earlier, there is a minor flaw in that the tackles sometimes seem to go awry and players look as though they just run into each other and fall over instead of a tackle being completed.
  
The overall gameplay of Madden 13 has gone through a nice upgrade.  Motions are a little more locked in than in the past, especially with quarterback drop backs.  The drop backs help players time routes better and, probably as a lesser intention, to prevent quick roll outs in online play, but that is just my opinion.  I made a mention earlier of how the running plays seem to flow better, and the same can be said about the passing game, though I feel like the AI has really been ramped up on the upper difficulties, especially when it comes to defensive line play.


Those who are offensive junkies who have complained about the inclusion of the dreaded psychic defensive backs and “super-backers” when passing the ball can rest a little easier now.  Defensive backs and linebackers now have to see the ball in order to make a play on it.  There is no invisible sign that directs them to an automatic pick or pass breakup.  Madden and NCAA have been plagued by this for the last couple of titles.  NCAA improved by leaps and bounds from last year to this year and the change is just the same for Madden.
 
The defensive AI is a real mixed bag.  As I said above, the defensive AI can really be a challenge, and coverages are much harder to dissect this time around.  Putting a player in motion doesn’t reveal man or zone coverage anymore.  What may happen, instead, is that a defensive back that is set to cover a receiver may drop back into the secondary further to change the look from a one-deep to a two-deep defense.  However, one glaring issue is the zone coverages on the defensive side of the ball.  Players have a great feel for read-and-react on the ball, but sometimes players will take zones far too literal and actually pass up a player that is still in their zone in order to get to the center of a coverage area.  Hitch routes prove to be a fine example if a cornerback is showing man coverage but a linebacker is set to cover the short zone in front of the receiver.  The linebacker will buzz the receiver, but will ultimately not cover that player.
 
The passing game has been almost completely reworked from scratch.  Following the lead from NCAA Football 13, Total Control Passing has been implemented into this year’s title, and while it really is nice to have a great control of where to pass a football, I have some issues with Total Control Passing.  The positive aspect to the mechanic is that it gives a player full control over where and how to throw a ball.  A player can lead a receiver, force him to stop, cut in any direction, and perform a soft pass or a rocket.  Multiple throwing trajectories and animations have been added into the game as well, which means a more realistic reaction to how a quarterback is moving while trying to execute a pass.  It’s generally a positive addition to the game, but my issue comes two-fold:  Crazy distance in passes and the ability to manipulate a route.
 

The first issue I mentioned above deal with the positioning of the quarterback and where he is running towards in comparison to where his receiver is.  For example, using Jay Cutler, who has one of the strongest arms in the game, I sent him on a rollout to the right side of the field and, right before getting to the sideline, had him throw across his body on a vertical route some 50 yards downfield.  Not only was the pass very powerful, but it was practically on the money.  So, in short, a quarterback was running away from the receiver, eventually throwing off his back foot, and delivered a near perfect strike.  That’s an issue.
 
The second problem is one that I noticed almost immediately in NCAA 13 and has been carried over into Madden.  Total Control Passing is a nice addition to the game, but to be able to make a receiver completely change a route by directing him on a pass that is basically being ad-libbed is ultimately breaking the mechanics of the game.  For example, Four Verticals now becomes the possibility to turn the inside routes into late post patterns.  Corner routes can be turned into out routes.  The real issue is that receivers generally aren’t looking for the ball and also practically stop on a dime to make their cut with zero slowdown in their speed or momentum.  I don’t want to completely bash Total Control Passing, but it needs to be tweaked in the future to prevent some major mechanics problems with the game.
 
Finishing up with gameplay, Madden comes with the ability to use the Kinect to change up plays on the fly.  Thankfully, the game is limited to verbal commands that make sense.  Instead of having to fumble through button controls, which if anyone is a veteran of NCAA 13 by now, the control scheme is a bit different and could cause some control problems when bouncing back and forth between the games.  The quick commands couldn’t be simpler for a Kinect owner to go through.  Some of the commands include “hike”, “Hurry Up”, “Spike”, and “Flip Play” just for some quick examples.  The Kinect does add a nice element to the game, though there can be some small delays in the commands if what is spoken isn’t loud and crisp.
 
Presentation
Tiburon and EA Sports stress realism in all Madden titles, but this is the first year that I feel as though the game projects itself as a broadcast over any other title in the past.  Jim Nantz and Phil Simms provide commentary not just throughout a game, but before and after in a far cleaner manner than years past.  The time was put in to make sure that the positioning of Nantz and Simms in their booth is consistent with each stadium’s press box.  The new engine does the game a great service with mannerisms and subtle motions during non-action sequences, especially with the pregame show.  EA and Tiburon recorded over 82 hours of unique audio for the broadcasters, making sure that the chance for repetitive audio is brought down to an absolute minimum.  Each stadium has its own pregame fly-in that includes several scenes of players warming up and an opening cutscene including a few stars from either team.  The scene takes the player right up to the coin toss, giving the full experience for those who have the little bit of patience to truly appreciate the atmosphere that Tiburon is trying to create for them.
 
Jim Nantz will eat your soul

Presentation, of course, isn’t limited to just the game.  The menu system has been revamped and is a little more intuitive than years past.  The opening menu is now listed as the “Home” menu at the top, which is a tabbed browser of sorts.  Quick access to the Play Now option, Ultimate Team, Career, and so on, are all located on the first tab.  The right stick tabs a player through the five options, which are Home, Play Now (both online and offline), Career, Gridiron (Madden Moments, Update Rosters), and Ultimate Team.  So, essentially, a player can stay at the Home menu if they want, or just tab through quickly to get to the option that he or she wishes to select.  It’s simple to guide through, which is a welcome addition.

Connected Career
The days of Superstar and Franchise mode are gone as we all know it.  The two modes have been changed into what is known as Connected Career mode.  The interface for both modes is almost exactly the same, featuring the gamer taking over as a current player, coach, or creating a player or coach from scratch.  I am excited to see that Madden is now included in the Game Face download to make it easy to create a person that looks just like myself.  For those who aren’t familiar with Game Face, EA Sports’ website will allow a person to upload a picture to the website and have it turned into a 3D in-game version of them.  That picture can be downloaded into Madden and be used to create a player or coach that is their exact likeness.  It just makes me wonder why it took so long to implement it when it’s been used in FIFA and Tiger Woods PGA Tour for a few versions now.
 

Connected Career, whether choosing the route of player or coach, has a slick interface to cover all of the necessities.  There are some nice additions that aren’t really good or bad, such as the Twitter feed that can praise or mock a player, including hearing about it from the persona of Skip Bayless.  A newsfeed keeps the player interacted with the rest of the league to see the major stories that develop as the weeks go on.  Goals are set in place that will earn a coach or player much needed experience points in order to boost up the player.  This is a fantastic addition to the game on the coaching side, especially.  The points that are gained can be used to boost the stats of any player on the roster.  On the flip side, it’s no shock that the experience gained goes directly to the player being used in the mode.  Practices are there as challenged to earn more experience points instead of just relying on in-game statistics and accomplishments.  The better a player does, the quicker they progress.  Of course, goals change throughout a season for individual stats and season goals give big chunks of experience to distribute.  There is no real push to use the experience in a given period of time, so experience can be stockpiled for later use if a team is strong enough already.  The choices are really limitless.
 
A gripe that I have with the connected career, however, comes into play with the practice mode.  I feel that a mixture of what NCAA 13 does with the Road to Glory mode and the system in Madden would be best.  In NCAA, experience is gained play to play in the practice mode.  Points are awarded for gaining yards, scoring plays, etc.  In Madden, experience is only gained if the conditions of the practice are met.  This can lead to some early frustration, especially since it seems that the experience total for many of the practice modes is quite meager.
 

Online Play
Connected Career can be done offline or online with friends, going up to 32 players strong whether it be done via player or coach.  This is showing the next step in leagues with friends, considering that NCAA’s Online Dynasty mode has been a huge hit for fans of the college game.  It only makes it that much more disappointing that draft classes and superstars aren’t able to be carried over into this year’s game.  I really enjoyed being able to transfer over a full draft class to have rookies that I would know once a viable roster download became available.
 
The EA Servers have been improved upon, making matchmaking in online play a much simpler task.  New parameters have been added in to make sure that, as a gamer plays more games online, the better the matchup will be in getting someone that is right at their own skill level.  The system will only be tested in time, though.  My experience in online play was pretty limited, but the couple of games that I managed to get in ran at a very smooth clip with little buffering or delays in the actual gameplay.

The usual selections will be waiting for those who are eager to jump straight into ranked matches, whether it be to hand-pick the way they want to find an opponent.  Of course, there will be lobbies for those who wish to interact with players from around the nation for bragging rights, though I feel that the lobbies have become a little outdated since almost everyone would prefer voice interaction and not typing everything out, even with an accessory attached to their controller.

Final Thoughts
I've always found that sports franchises are among the most difficult titles to review.  Tweaks are added here and there to make sure that problems in previous titles are taken care of for future titles.  The ones that always seem to interest me the most are the titles that are built from scratch.  Madden 13 gives me that feeling, considering that a new physics engine was brought in to revamp the title.  The connected career mode is a blast to play, and I'm certain that it will become far more fun once I hook up with friends online to interact with each other as players or coaches.  As with just about any sports title, the issues that have plagued the past titles are fixed, but new ones always seem to pop up.  It's a give and take with Madden 13, but, in the end, it's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination.  I just don't believe it's a top-tier sports title.
Page 2 of 1