EA digs deep for a playoff-worthy push
Whether EA Tiburon will admit it or not, Madden NFL’s been in a bit of a slump. But after a few rough seasons, the developer went back to the chalkboard and drew up an aggressive new gameplan for Madden NFL 13 that promised to rewrite the playbook on key elements like gameplay, animation, and game modes.
I’ll admit I was intrigued by the idea, but I was equally skeptical about EA Tiburon’s ability to pull it off. It’s no small thing to rewrite the legacy of a game that’s spanned over 20 years of breakaway runs, last-second bombs, and Hall of Fame careers, and with all the tuning, polish and luck required to hit paydirt, they definitely had their work cut out for them. But now that I’ve finally had a chance to put the game through its paces, I can happily say they got awfully damn close.
First and foremost, the animation system is a huge step in the right direction. Essentially advertised as the future of football animation, the Infinity Engine comes through for the most part, delivering the most diverse visual representation of the NFL to date. Jaw-dropping runs, high-wire circus catches, and punishing hits are a critical part of the Sunday stage, and Madden NFL 13 delivers them in spades. And while Tiburon definitely could’ve used some time to clean up the post-play hilarity that results from this real-time behemoth, you’ll lose count of the number of times you witness amazing.
The AI received a similar rewrite to handle all that horsepower, and it succeeds in most instances. Receiver-to-DB interactions are much improved, linebackers are a lot less shady, the line play is often as organic as in NaturalMotion’s Backbreaker, and the way the AI makes use of this new movement model brings about much-needed additions like blown coverage, overpursuit, and second-effort yardage.
But for all the improvements, Madden NFL 13 isn’t without its rough spots. For example, despite the fact that the AI is now required to actually see the ball to make plays on incoming passes, players are still instantly aware of the ball once it’s caught. Also, defenders still make ridiculous plays on the ball once you bump up the difficulty, and line play suffers from some horrendous feats of holding that make it hard to play on the D-line. But when all is said and done, Madden NFL 13 offers up one of the best gameplay experiences in the franchise’s 20-year-plus history.
I was also pretty pumped for Connected Careers, and there are definitely some solid changes here as well. The Twitter feed, weekly news, revised player progression, and revamped NFL Draft add a lot to the experience, as does the ability to hook up with 31 of your friends as a player or coach. But the menus often fail to emphasize the right things at the right times, scouting players is much less fun than it is in NCAA, and the removal of key management tools—like re-signing players regardless of contract length—leave this signature mode with a lot of room to grow.
Speaking of things that need a reboot, Madden’s all-new presentation is easily the biggest stumbling block in 13. The commentary from Jim Nantz and Phil Simms is repetitive, oblivious, and routinely underinformed, and the TV-broadcast elements love to leave out key stats even when they have room to display them. This was supposed to be a bright spot, but honestly, these elements still pale in comparison to games made over a decade ago.
But like any playoff contender, a few bad players won’t necessarily ruin a good run, and in that sense, Madden NFL 13’s strong points far outweigh its weak ones. The game looks incredible, plays a much better game of football, and offers a wealth of replay value. It’s far from perfect, but if you’ve been waiting for a Madden title that breaks the next-gen curse, this is definitely it.
SUMMARY: After a bit of a down year last season, Madden NFL 13 rebounds nicely with a host of new features and creative revisions to legacy features, led by the eye-popping visuals of the physics-driven Infinity Engine, a shiny new Career mode, and more AI fixes than you can wave a Terrible Towel at. All in all, it’s clear the team at Tiburon took a hard look at ways to bring the franchise back to its former glory. Some annoying bugs persist here and there, but overall, Madden NFL 13 stands as one of my favorite football experiences of this generation.
- THE GOOD: EA Tiburon’s willingness to finally break some f***ing eggs.
- THE BAD: The frustrating player-swapping code’s tendency to give up big plays.
- THE UGLY: The number of aspiring breakdancers in the NFL. Seriously, guys, add some new get-up angles!