Fans are some of the most intense, passionate, and critical members in sports society. The amount of hatred and distaste that can result from a bad season is enough for any fan to want to give up. But despite all of that, all seems to be forgiven as hopes are at their highest come the next season. That simple glimpse of what could be always makes fans come back. Sports games fans are no different.
Each year for the past 24 years a new Madden game has been released. As a die-hard Eagles fan and someone who has played nearly every one of those Madden games, I can tell you that I do not fall outside of these aforementioned fans. Hope is highest right at this moment – each and every year. For some, all hope is lost following that moment. But for others, hope remains stagnant. This is simply due to a difference in one’s expectations of what is to come. And it is my sincere pleasure to tell you that regardless of how high your expectations of Madden NFL 13 might be at this very moment, hope will not be lost this year.
But, there are of course those few outliers who just live to hate. Those of you can click that big X button in the upper right corner of your screen – or upper left you silly Mac users you. The rest, enjoy what follows after the break.
The majority of focus in any given Madden has always been on either gameplay or features. I always felt that this was an interesting way to approach advancing the series as it neglects at least part of the audience. Madden NFL 13 breaks this trend with tremendous success with the introduction of Connected Careers and Madden’s first true physics engine: Infinity Engine.
As many of you are probably already aware, Madden has leaned on its successful offline and fairly young online Franchise modes for a number of years. Superstar mode has, for quite a while now, been either unchanged or uninspired. Connected Careers seems to have been created in order to address all of these game modes. Quite simply, Connected Careers is a blissful marriage of Franchise mode and Superstar mode.
When starting Connected Careers you will be given the option to control either a player or a coach. You are given control of only one player or coach and the progression of that player/coach is advanced by spending experience rewarded during the season. The player/coach whom you control though is up to you as you can either be a created player/coach, an already existing player/coach, or one of 27 NFL legendary players or 7 NFL legendary coaches available in the game. Some of these legends are unlocked through playing Madden Ultimate Team but others seem to only be available through pre-order at specific retailers. Currently there is no word as to whether these players will be made available as DLC down the road.
Connected Career can either be played offline or online. This online Connected Career league allows players to choose what they wish to control. This means that you can have a 32 player league where everyone controls a head coach, a league where everyone controls a player, or a league where there is a mix of both – it is completely up to you. The ability to engage in what and how you play is hands down the best part of Connected Careers. But if you ever find yourself getting tired of your player and want to switch or have full control over your team and wish to be a head coach, you are able to retire and take control of someone else. Fearlessly fully invest yourself in your league as you will always have complete knowledge and control of its past, present, and future.
If Superstar mode is your game mode of choice, then going with a player for Connected Careers is the way to go. If you choose a created player or an NFL legend it is up to you to take them from rookie season and onto greatness. Once you have decided and you are on a team, it is time to get started.
While there are certainly some similarities between a player Connected Career and Superstar mode, the biggest difference is the amount of control you are given. This control is evident in the fact that you are able to audible in any position this year as well as have better control over your player’s progression. Per usual, a majority of your experience is obtained through practice. Practice in previous years has been extremely dull and boiled down to a set of ten plays that your offense or defense runs.
This year, you are given the choice of 13 game scenarios to practice. Each of these scenarios has various difficulties and as such, rewards a different amount of experience. You can play it safe and finish the second half with the lead, or go for a challenge and finish the second half with a huge deficit. Each of these scenarios are much more refreshing than what was previously provided in practice and will undoubtedly keep you much more interested in continuing.
As you progress through your career you will also find yourself facing various short-term and long-term goals – each of which rewards experience. Experience can then be spent on a number of player abilities. These player abilities you can level up will be broken down by abilities that apply to your position. While this is in fact a much higher level of changes you can make to your traits, the way in which player abilities is broken down is much more intuitive than in years past. For example, you can increase a “Feet in Bounds Trait” which will increase chances of keeping your feet in bounds during a catch. It is abilities like this that are unique and are actually taken into account under the covers instead of by a specific trait.
The combination of rewards and the always entertaining practice scenarios make this Connected Career an absolute pleasure to play. I can honestly say that my interest in Superstar mode in previous years of Madden dropped off after a season or two. There is no doubt in my mind that I will find myself playing a player much more this time around. And, as mentioned before, if I get tired of it I can always retire – preferably on my way to the Hall of Fame – and take on the role of a head coach.
The head coach role is very similar to what was considered Franchise mode in the past. All of the features that you are used to are still there – sans fantasy draft and NCAA importing – but is now given a much more enjoyable RPG touch. As with player Connected Career, a head coach is rewarded experience through practice scenarios as well as short-term and long-term goals.
Since a head coach doesn’t really have any statistics or traits to improve, a lot more thought and strategy needs to go into it. Head coach experience allows for the purchase of things that will make your head coaching job a bit easier. For example, if you have a franchise quarterback who is at the height of his career, but also coming close to retirement, you can spend experience to reduce the likelihood of this player retiring.
If that wasn’t enough RPG elements for you, each player on the team is also given short and long-term goals that in turn reward experience. Each week, alongside practicing, scouting, and dealing with contract negotiations, you are also given the opportunity to spend that experience for each player and improve their abilities. The amount of depth this ends up adding to an already deep game mode is quite impressive and has been addicting each and every season I’ve played thus far.
What seems to bring this whole experience together is the league news and Twitter feed that is integrated right into Connected Careers. These stories and fake Twitter updates from analysts each week really brings your league to life and makes it a much more engaging experience as a result. Outside of some at times sluggish menu navigation, the presentation in Connected Careers is top notch and very easy to navigate.
Having experienced multiple seasons of both offline and online Connected Careers, I can honestly say that it is the greatest addition to Madden in years. I have put over 150 hours into Madden NFL 12 and expect to spend almost double that in Madden NFL 13 just because of Connected Careers. Although, I did get quite addicted to Madden Ultimate Team last year as well and am positive a good amount of my time will be spent there as well.
What previously felt like a disjointed game mode is now fully integrated into the Madden experience. Ever since its inception, MUT (Madden Ultimate Team) has had a lot of trouble with a consistent challenge for hardcore players, without seeming too daunting for the casual ones. Thankfully, Madden NFL 13 has delivered the best MUT yet as it does a fantastic job of striking this balance.
Madden Ultimate Team has vastly improved in not only its appeal but the fact that it can draw in and hook newcomers. One of the biggest reasons that MUT works so well this year is it does a much better job In providing the opportunities to build up your team, obtain new cards, and accrue a good amount of coins. All of this is achieved by providing players of previous EA Sports games MUT rewards as well as having seven one-time play scenarios which reward a respectable amount of coins and a couple of cards. These are stepping stones that previous years have been missing and are a very welcome addition.
Alright, go ahead and take a deep breath. This has been a ton of information and opinion to take in and I have only touched on the game modes. In the end though, one of the most important elements of Madden is the on the field play. This is where Infinity Engine comes in.
Infinity Engine is EA Sports true physics engine. This has been something Madden fans have been requesting for years. The NHL and FIFA series have seen the addition of physics engines and each of these engines were certainly not without their issues. Fortunately, Infinity Engine is the best launch physics engine yet for EA Sports.
Simply put, this physics engine works and works really well. There hasn’t been one game that I have played where my jaw didn’t drop in amazement. Player collisions and tackling has never been so real. To put this in perspective for you I played a game where my running back was wrapped up and tackled. However, what the defense failed to realize was that my running back’s knee never actually touched the ground as he landed on top of a player. I was able to push my way off of the tackler, get up, and run it into the end zone. It is moments like this that will make any Madden fan happy. What we were waiting for has finally arrived.
As with NCAA Football 13, Madden NFL 13 also introduces multiple new passing trajectories. Control of these passing trajectories is right under that left thumb of yours. The passing game has never worked so well and has finally allowed me to run the west coast offense more effectively.
Unfortunately, legacy issues are still riddled throughout the game and have been around for some time now. While I do not feel these are big deals in the grand scheme of games, there are some who may find it disappointing to hear that in the trench and open field blocking is still an issue. The choices that linemen and wide out AI will make when choosing who to block can be, quite bluntly, dumbfounding. It is here that EA Sports really needs to focus their attention in future years.
Linemen have actually never really seen much attention in the Madden franchise and this has to change. When controlling defensive players it is usually most beneficial to control a linebacker or secondary player as defensive lineman just feel like you have such little control over their performance. But again, I do not feel that this and the issues with AI blocking takes away from the Madden experience enough to turn anyone away.
One of the biggest elements of previous Maddens that did turn people away was commentary. I am not even joking when I say that I have a friend that refused to play Madden because Chris Collinsworth was doing the commentary. Honestly, I don’t blame him. The commentary has always been a problem and the addition of Gus Johnson in Madden NFL 11 and 12 was no improvement. This year though, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, the broadcast team of CBS Sports, is absolutely fantastic.
Jim and Phil bring so much life into each and every game as their commentary flows so well and never feels disjointed. When recording the commentary they were actually in the recording booth together and recorded many pieces unscripted. This brings about a much more realistic feel and I am happy to say the commentary is the best it has ever been and has finally met my expectations of what commentary should be like.
For those with a Kinect you are now able to use your voice to control certain parts of gameplay. Unfortunately, “How could you miss that interception you idiot” doesn’t do anything but you can call out pre-snap audibles. This is best for those that find the pre-snap controls a little confusing – and it is certainly understandable if you do. While the Kinect audio recognition works as advertised it is definitely something that seasoned veterans will want to steer clear of as I found it twice as slow to make adjustments versus using the controller. It is most definitely an excellent addition for those that aren’t too competitive though.
Madden NFL 13 is not only a huge accomplishment in the Madden franchise: more importantly, it’s a huge accomplishment in sports games. While not without its issues, this year has certainly brought an experience unlike any other with Connected Careers and the Infinity Engine. The amount of depth and realism overshadows any other Madden experience and is, without question, a game no sports fan should miss.
This review is based on a physical copy of Madden NFL 13 for the Xbox 360.