Madden is one of the longest running franchises in gaming history and we’re now on the games 24th incarnation by way of Madden Football 2013 (Madden ’13). Madden has gone from highs to lows, the early 2000’s saw Madden at its peak, but it began to trail off around ’06. Thankfully, EA have managed to get the series back on the rails with Madden ’13 becoming yet another improvement on the franchise. First impressions are the most important, which is a motto that EA more than most abides by, and you will soon see this being apparent when you ‘Press the Start Button’ on the splash screen.
The new navigation system has been re-made once again and EA have done a pretty awesome job of it. The new menu screen is easy to make your way through. It has a good amount of customisation and I love the little touches, such as having your NFL.com fantasy leagues not only viewable through the game, but you can even add, drop and manage your teams through your Xbox.
Madden veterans will soon notice that Franchise mode and Superstar mode, the two routes which all gamers took in older games, have been removed. In its place, an all new ‘Connected Careers’ moulds them together into this beautiful new creation. Through Connected Careers you can start off your career as a new or an existing coach/player. In addition to this you can also take control of 27 Legendary Players and 7 Legendary Coaches, such as John Madden and Walter Payton.
Taking on a head coaching role you will soon see the similarities with the old Franchise mode, you’ll also see the new features that EA has brought to coaching in connected careers. There is a lot more emphasis on team management from your teams’ cuts and getting the roster down to 53 players, through to scouting future draft prospects and managing your salary cap. Obviously for those that do not understand those parts of the game you can opt to automate the choices, but when it comes to game day it always feels so much better knowing that the team on the field has been created through your time, vision and preparation.
Don’t forget you are also instrumental in the progression of every player who plays a down in a game. Each time one of your players does something on the field they will earn a pre-determined amount of XP, the better the results the better the points. With those points you can improve aspects of said player such as stamina, strength, vision, pass accuracy etc. EA have even added Twitter updates and news articles to your coaching homepage. Yes they are all fake, but that’s not to say that these fabricated pieces of material does anything but further increase how immersive the coaching in Madden ’13 actually is.
If you choose to take control of a single player you’ll see similarities to the old Superstar mode, but again you will also see that EA have added additional features and twists to make the experience of controlling a single player even more enjoyable. Once you get past adding EA game faces and editing your name and such, you’ll be given a choice as to where your player was ‘supposedly’ drafted. If you go for a high draft pick you’ll have the air of confidence, but your expectations will be sky high. Go for a low round and your expectations aren’t so high, but you’re not as likely to turn heads. Choosing undrafted, you’re best bet is to have a career like Kurt Warner.
Your main aim as a player is of course to improve your stats and this is done through games and practice sessions. One thing that many, me included, couldn’t stand in Madden ’12 and older was the lack-luster and dire practice modes. It almost seemed like EA ran out of imagination when it came to designing the practices. Thankfully the imagination has returned and you’ll feel a lot more involved in the multitude of scenarios, which vary in difficulty, with your reward being based on your performance and how challenging your scenario was.
Connected Careers can also be played online again as a player or coach. You can choose to join or create a league with only CPU teams, CPU players or even a mix of the two. That sense of interaction and the realisation that your opponents are not computer managed makes for some nail-biting, heart-thumping, edge-of-your-seat games. Not forgetting that nothing beats a bit of friendly banter between Coaches & Players, something that simply cannot be replicated offline. Madden Ultimate Team has also been given a facelift, which makes it not only interesting for those who never really played it in the past, but it keeps veteran MUT players truly hooked.
EA have gone all out on the game’s physics with the creation of the new ‘Infinity Engine’. Needless to say, Madden ’13 is all the better with this new addition, and this is soon seen the moment you witness your first tackle. The engine makes the game so much more immersive. This is seen when you watch your Wide Receiver being tackled in the air, where in previous instalments you start motioning towards the turf you knew the play was done, not anymore, if you happen to land on the Defender and your knee’s never touch the ground, you can drag yourself up onto your legs and continue towards the endzone. One aspect of the engine, which is funny at first but a little irritating after a few games, is the after play animations. Basically when the play is done your players will still react to opposition (or allies) they touch on the field, this results in what looks like a drunken brawl as players trip over each other and they seem to have lost the sense of sight.
On the offensive side of the field things are looking peachy, with new passing mechanics and a generally smoother feeling to the game when fighting for that first down. Switch to the other side of the ball and we still find a few issues that EA have yet to address, most notably, coverage. To be more precise the choices your LB’s, DL’s, S’s and DB’s make whilst in play. You will invariably choose to control an LB when it comes to the snap, not because you enjoy being a Linebacker, but because you know that if an AI controls this particular lineman he’ll end up covering the wrong man, or dropping off too far. EA seems to have spent so much time on all other aspects of the game and come up short when they started on the defense.
Madden now offers Kinect compatibility where by you can call out plays (pre-snap audibles) instead of selecting them. This is a nice addition to the game, although in competitive games you will unlikely use it.
Visually, Madden looks stunning - it is after all what EA seem to best. Players are looking more and more realistic as each year passes and this instalment doesn’t buck that trend. The animations, as mentioned fleetingly above, are so much smoother and now even faster. Watching players getting tackled by three or four players is so realistic you could at times think you were watching the Eagles on game day. The actual player mechanics also look perfect; each Quarter Back has that unique throw, each Running Back that unique twirl or even a Linebacker with his overpowering stance staring your Quarter Back down. You can tell if it’s Lewis, Shady or Rodgers that you’re watching, even when they’re not sporting their own team’s jersey.
Madden ’13 is yet another improvement in this ever-lasting franchise. Madden ’10 was ok, ’11 was average, ’12 was pretty good and now ’13 is simply superb. The new Infinity Engine adds to this already enjoyable game and graphically it’s looking better than ever. The connected careers will add hours upon hours of enjoyment and you will quickly find yourself logging hundreds of hours of game-time. It truly is addictive trying to bump your player’s stats or take your franchise to the Superbowl. The Kinect compatibility is a neat twist, alas I think EA will improve on this in future instalments, for now though it seems a little gimmicky. There are a few issues, most notably with the Defensive mechanics within the game and a few drunken animations. Despite this, for NFL fans there can only be one game that you just have to buy this year, that is of course Madden ’13.