Can Madden finally lift its current-gen curse?
I’m gonna let you guys in on a little secret. I wasn’t always the biggest fan of NFL football. But after spending over half my career designing games based on the megasport, I kinda came around. As such, I’m pretty damned picky about what passes for a “quality” installment in the Madden franchise, and after a bit of a slump on this round of consoles, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical to see if Madden NFL 13 would be the one that gets me to forget the fact that EA Sports flipped us fans the bird when they signed the NFL to an exclusive contract in late 2004. What I found in my recent hands-on just might surprise you.
Fun with Physics
There’s actually a lot to love about Madden this year, but unlike the last few revs, there’s one thing that leaps out like a lightning-fast linebacker in punt coverage—and that’s the game’s new physics-driven engine, a core building block for the next round of consoles that’s getting its trial 40-yard dash in 13. Unlike most buzzword-driven bullet points, this one actually means something—every animation’s now driven by “science,” meaning that player size, speed, and power all come into play on every inch of the player model, ensuring that the chance of you seeing the same play twice are virtually nonexistent. It also means that ugly flaws—like the ball clipping through a running back’s chest or linebackers popping into place to complete multiplayer animations—are now ancient history.
Send the Developers Blankets—It’s Cold in Tuning Hell
I could go on about how awesome Madden 13 looked, but you can check out the videos flooding the net for proof. That said, it’s apparent that this massive shift in technology is also going to take its toll on the game’s programming and design squads, as the developers are going to have to do some major rewrites to the AI to ensure that all this fancy flailing doesn’t result in a ton of nasty bugs and glitches. We’re obviously seeing an older build, but this game will definitely need some work under the hood if EA Sports hopes to head to the house in style this season, so keep your fingers crossed!
Legacy Issues Be Damned!
Luckily, the team isn’t just focused on fixing the flubs created by their new animation system. They also seem to have taken the annual knocks on Madden’s most stubborn AI issues to heart, focusing on eliminating as many of the offenders as they can manage, including omniscient defensive backs and leap-of-legend linebacker swats, which means that fans will finally get to play actual football instead of playing Madden. Though, technically, they’ll now be doing both. You get the idea, I’m sure. Anyway, the point is that die-hard fans of the sport who’ve attacked Madden’s legacy issues are going to need to find new angles, because the team’s definitely taking the idea of being their own biggest critics to heart in a big way.
A Passing Fancy
I want to point out that all these fixes doesn’t mean that Tiburon decided to take a mulligan on innovation in the gameplay department. One major shift I saw was in the passing game, which will now benefit from a forehead-slappingly obvious progression mechanic that causes the passing icons of receivers to blink when they’ve reached their key point in each route, meaning that even novice huddle-handlers will start to read and react like the pros. Of course, Tiburon’s also made some major adjustments to the O-line and D-line to encourage proper use of the pocket, so I’m also going to enjoy watching legacy Madden players suck turf when they try to drop back 50 yards and chuck it—and I blitz their cheeseball faces off online.
Fiddlin’ with Franchise Mode
As luck would have it, I’m also likely to find better opponents this year, as the design team’s blowing up Franchise like Albert Haynesworth in his face-kicking prime. Tiburon’s bringing in the idea of a “connected” Franchise mode where folks can play as an owner, coach, or player in a 32-player online race toward a bona fide NFL dynasty—a process that’ll also benefit from an RPG-style progression system that blends the ideas from fantasy football and Facebook gaming in a fashion similar to Quick Hit Football, but with much more depth and accessibility. It should be a real time-sink.
Are you guys ready for some football? Will this year be Madden NFL’s big year, or are you just over it at this point? Shout it from the bleachers, people!