Review: Madden NFL 13 (Sony PlayStation 3)

Madden NFL 13
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Genre: Sports/Sim
Release Date: 08/28/2012

It’s been a while since I really sank my teeth into a Madden game. The truth is that I was suffering from series fatigue. Years of playing the game every year took its toll on me. So, I took a break, and this year I was just dying to get my hands on it. When they started talking about the new new physics system, I was even more jacked.

Madden NFL 13 is EA Sport’s latest football sim, and as usual, it claims to have a lot of changes. While some things have definitely been altered, a lot of things have just been moved around. How much change has there actually been, and how good are those changes? These are the questions we need answers to to, and I’ll be happy to provide what I’ve gleamed from my time with the game.

Modes

Firstly, several modes have no been placed under a single mode called “Connected Careers.”. CC contains what was previously franchise, online franchise, and superstar mode. When you start a career, you first select whether to play online or offline. Then, you choose whether to play as a player or a coach. Choosing a player allows you to either take over for an existing player, or create your own. Choosing a coach takes you to the typical franchise mode, albeit with a more personal identity. Any way you chose, you’ll be going through an entire NFL season from start to finish. Coaches get to participate in off-season activities like scouting and the draft, while players can just skip right to the games. You can retire a player or coach, yet keep the league active. Then, you can start a new career in the same league. This is pretty darn nifty. When you get bored of one character, simply switch to another without sacrificing all of the time you put into your own little football word.

New to the game is the use of experience. You gain XP by participating in practices, games, and by reaching milestones in terms of production. This experience can then be spent to improve players or buy boosts. This is a nifty system that allows you to evolve your player in whatever way you desire. Experience is hard to come by though, unless you’ve earned the starting job (or are winning games as a coach).

Madden Ultimate Team returns as a fun distraction. You’ll start off with a roster of nobodies. By earning and spending coins through games, you’ll be able to buy packs that contain new players. Also, you’ll be able to participate in an online auction house if you need something specific. There are solo challenges, as well as the ability to compete against other player’s teams. The mode is online only however, and you’ll need a connection in order to play even the single player options. Also, you’re more greatly rewarded for playing against other people than the computer. Still, the mode can be fun to tool around with once in a while.

There are a myriad of less involved things to do as well. Exhibition lets you jump right into the action, you can play online outside of a league, and there are a list of moments from actual NFL games you can recreate. These will be updated throughout the season, so new content should theoretically be added throughout the end of the year. You can also edit a number of options, sliders, and even the roster. I found that whenever I grew weary of one mode, there was always another to occupy my time.

The list of modes is pretty great, and sure to suck a lot of time out of players. There are some issues I had with individual modes, but I’ll get to those in a later section, as they aren’t so much problems as they are grievances. While there isn’t anything “new” per se, there at least has been some effort to change how they work. I appreciate the effort.

Graphics

The thing that everyone has been talking about for this game is the new physics engine. I can tell you know. There are a lot of good things this engine does, but it comes with some baggage as well. The new system works by calculating things like trajectory and impact when determining how players react to hits and other contact. As such, running into a downed player causes your player to stumble and possibly lose their balance. A glancing tackle attempt may send a running back reeling, but not necessarily take him down. The new animations look fantastic during gameplay, and add a whole new level of realism. However, between plays, the system breaks down. Players trip over each other when trying to stand up, or knock each other over with a simple brush of the shoulder. It looks like a darn comedy act. Overall, the engine is a boon to the game, but it has some bugs that need working out before it becomes a truly great system.

The rest of the visual package is par for the course. Certain players look like their real life counterparts, coaches look the part, and there are several signature moves in the game to adds some realism. The crowd is mostly a faceless mob, but that will likely never change. Some minor details have been improved, such as the way grass is kicked up during play and the amount of dirt someone gets on a jersey. A few new intros have been added to make the games feel like a real life broadcast. You get the idea.

Visually, the game works. It’s far from perfect, but the most important details are there. After all, it would be nigh on impossible to get everything right with so many players in the league and rosters constantly changing. The new physics engine sees a fairly major upgrade in that department at least.

Audio

Phil Simms and Jim Nantz provide commentary this year. Supposedly, they recorded over eighty hours of material for this game. That might sound like a lot, but it doesn’t seem to translate to much variety when playing the game. Sure, it’s nice when a specific player is called out, but that doesn’t excuse the rampant repetition. Every single game, I hear the same dozen or so quotes. Between the defense loving when their offensive comrades eat up clock time, to how it was the running back’s fault for not making a cutback, they get monotonous. After a dozen or so games, I took to muting the game and listening to music.

The rest of the aural package is actually quite good. The crowd sounds more alive than ever, several player voices are authentic, and a hard hit sounds just as devastating as it does during a live broadcast. The new music is nice, as it resonates the same kind of feel as NFL Films tunes do. There’s less focus of licensed tracks, but you can hear them in the background of the stadiums.

Come to think of it, it might be worth keeping the sound on once I mute the announcers. It’s a decent package apart from them.

Gameplay

As always, Madden has a deep and complex control system. What a button or stick does can change depending on where the ball is located. Before the snap for example, circle button changes what character you use on offense. If you’re playing a QB, than the circle button becomes a passing option after the snap. For the ball carrier, the circle button performs a spin move, unless you’re running freely towards the endzone. In that case, the button performs a taunt. Those are the uses of the button just on offense. For newcomers, memorizing this scheme is a daunting task, but possible with time.

You’ll have a vastly different experience if you play as a coach then if you go as a player. As a coach, you’ll control everything. You’re the QB, the ball carrier, the kicker, the kick returner, and every other position you deem worth controlling. As a player, you only worry about yourself, although you still end up calling the snap and choosing the plays. Still, there’s a big difference when you’re looking for an open receiver compared to trying to get open AS a receiver.

There have been some updates to the gameplay. They’re mostly minor, but experienced fans will pick up on them. You can cancel out of a play action pass to get the ball more quickly. In general, PA plays go faster, so there’s a lot less risk when running them. The icons over potential receivers will be grayed out if they’re not expecting the ball. Throwing to them during this time will likely result in an incompletion. The good news is that they’ll look for the ball if they get open before the play calls for it. You can also lead the receiver with the ball, in an attempt to throw away from defenders. As you can see, this is yet another year where the passing game has seen some interesting tweaks.

There were some odd quirks I noticed throughout my time with the game. An AI QB seems determined to never throw the ball away. They hold onto until they get sacked or someone gets open. Also, there is a something wrong with the fair catch mechanic when returning kicks. Normally, you call for a fair catch, get the ball, and the play is dead. However, I’ve called for a fair catch only to suddenly be tackled for a loss or even end up forced to run. This should not happen, but it happens quite frequently.

Though there have been some noticeable changes for veterans to digest, the game is pretty much the same as it always is. That’s not really a problem though, as there’s only so much you can do with the sport. Madden 13 continues the trend of evolving the title slowly over time. It’s still a fun formula, and nothing beats the thrill of manually intercepting a ball, or breaking a long run on a normally stout defense.

Replayability

Each of the main modes is designed to be an absolute time sink. If you want your created player to thrive, you’ll need to take him through several seasons to have a chance of breaking into the hall of fame. In fact, getting into Canton is this year’s theme. The franchise modes give you weekly and yearly goals that add to your legacy score. You can compared your legacy with other players/coaches, and attempt to get up their with some of the biggest names of football history. For example, running backs will need to work hard to get their names next to the likes of Emmit Smith and Walter Payton.

Even if you don’t get into the time vacuum of the main modes, the other options can kill time just as effectively. One day, I found myself doing nothing but working on my roster for MUT. I played a number of solo challenges, watched the auction for deals on great players and pondered the best route to moving up in the world. Plus, there’s always an online opponent waiting.

There are literally dozens and dozens of hours you can spend on this game without scratching the surface. If you were to take the time to get a player from each position into the hall of fame, you’ll have likely spent well over a hundred hours before your through.

Balance

Perhaps the best thing about the Madden franchise is that it truly offers a customizable difficulty curve. Firstly, there are several difficulty settings. From “rookie” to “all-madden”, players of all skills can find a mode for them. On top of that, there is a system of sliders in place that allow you to tweak pretty much everything that goes on in a game. For example, the AI can’t run the ball at all on “pro”, so boosting the slider there can make the game more balanced.

One area of little balance is the create-a-player mode. Chances are you won’t a starter off the bat. However, you’re also unlikely to get much playtime. That’s playtime that you need for experience. That’s experience you need to get good enough to become the starter. I spent my first season on the bench, earning a pittance from practices and seeing my character fail to progress. Meanwhile, the starter’s rank was shooting up because of the playtime he was getting. It was frustrating. I only became the starter when the team decided to drop him for some reason. I get that, in the real world, rookies don’t always start out of the gate. However, watching games get played instead of playing in them is simply not fun.

Online matchmaking for MUT is suspect. My first time online, I was put up against a team chock full of legends and top ranked players. His team had an overall rating of over ninety, while mine was below seventy. I got destroyed. I have no problem losing, but I do have a problem with the game not putting me up against someone of a similar level for my first game.

Originality

I think we all know that the day Madden wins the originality award is the day the machines take over. Madden is a franchise that makes its money by offering what players expect. They expect roster updates, statistic galore, and online offerings. Gameplay tweaks are important, but not as important as not breaking what didn’t need fixing.

I will give them some credit for the inclusion of experience. This seems like such a small change at first, but it really makes upgrading your player/team a more involved experience. I look forward to seeing what they do with this mechanic in the future.

Addictiveness

I’m torn here. I really am.

On one hand, I put so many hours into this game in such a short span, that I can’t help but say I was addicted. Heck, the day I started this review, I probably sunk a good six to eight hours in. In that time, I didn’t even touch my player career, or try to advance my online rank. I was just happily messing around with my MUT. I wouldn’t even stop playing the game to watch an actual NFL broadcast. I still intend to be working on this game for weeks to come. After all, my player can’t simply induct himself into the hall of fame.

On the other hand, there were a few extremely frustrating moments that made me hate the game on a temporary basis. Sitting through that first year as a benched rookie was tough. There was the never ending sense of monotony as I participated in practice, and then simulated the actual game because I knew I wouldn’t be playing in it. Fatigue can certainly be an issue here. I suggest switching up the mode you focus on constantly.

Appeal Factor

For fans who play year after year, the new physics engine will be a breath of fresh air. You can definitely see some serious changes on the field. The new experience system is worth looking at as well. While there hasn’t been a huge change to how the game plays, there’s enough new to look at to make this a worthwhile consideration.

For older fans who haven’t played on a while, this might fit the bill. The new stuff has promise, and this is perhaps the ground floor of an exciting new future. Of course, you may simply want to wait one more year in hopes they work out some of the kinks.

If you’re someone who has no interesting in Madden, this will not change your mind. Then again, I doubt anything would.

Miscellaneous

There are a number of little touches that add to the package. If you can connect online, then you get access to a Madden On-Demand, a service that offers tips and such to players who desire them. You can also join an online club that offers deals and other such niceties for future EA Sports games.

I’d like to point out a few general issues I had with the game.

When playing as a created player, the goals in practice should be to get better as that player. However, the experience you earn is not based on personal performance, but whether or not your team “won” that practice. This is silly. Why should I only get half experience if I run for over two hundred yards and score three touchdowns? I can’t control what the defense does, so why should I be penalized for their failings.

The amount of experience earned by a benched player versus the cost of upgrades is astounding. Through an entire season, I was only able to increase my overall ranking by one. That one point was not enough to earn me a starting job. I’m just lucky the team decided to dump the guy ahead of me. The most feasible and worthwhile practice offers a thousand XP for a win. The cheapest improvements cost twenty-five hundred experience. These improvements have little impact on your overall ranking. It took six or seven of them to get that point boost, otherwise known as more than half of the season.

MUT’s systems seems needlessly redundant. You can only have a set number of cards in your active list. There is a reserve list, but all you can do from there is move them to your active list. Why you can’t dump a reserve card into your collection is beyond me. It creates a ton of needless back and forth that quite frankly wastes the player’s time.

Despite these issues, I enjoy the game quite a bit. The overall formula still works, and creating a killer team from a low ranked club is still a rewarding experience. I’m glad I got back into Madden.

The Scores
Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Good
Audio: Enjoyable
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Good
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Madden NFL 13 makes a few nice changes, but offers roughly the same experience that each game in the series does. That being said, the experience is an enjoyable one. There are several modes to tackle, plenty of options to tinker with, and more than enough content to keep the disc in your system for several weeks. If it has been awhile since you picked up a football game, this one just might be something you’ll want to consider.

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