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Madden NFL 13 review

Excellent

Trent Richardson is hurting. The Browns’ rookie, fresh off an NCAA championship at Alabama, has gotten a painful introduction to life in the NFL. Somewhere in the midst of being tackled by several Philadelphia Eagles, his head was forcefully twisted one direction while his body continued forward in the other. The helmet-to-helmet hit from Philly linebacker DeMeco Ryans will merit a fine from the NFL, but that doesn’t help Richardson at the moment. He’s doubled over on the turf, panting and trying to put himself back together.

These are the kinds of hits that are commonplace in the real NFL but, until now, haven’t been in Madden. While the game’s tackling and collision systems have gotten incrementally better this generation, Madden NFL 13 has taken it to an entirely new level. Thanks to the introduction of the Infinity Engine, a physics system that takes into account complicated things like muscle tension, mass, and momentum, the interactions of players when they collide are wildly entertaining – and often appear extremely painful.

The enhanced realism comes courtesy of EA Sports’ new Infinity Engine, and it’s a game-changer for the Madden franchise in the truest sense. Running backs stumble when their feet get tangled with teammates. Wide receivers spin to the ground after absorbing huge in-air hits. Quarterbacks bend backwards when sandwiched by tacklers. Each game brings something previously unseen – and Madden revels in it, showing slow-motion replays liberally with a “look how cool this is” vibe. It’s not just about looks, either, because you can never be sure if a ball-carrier is about to hit the turf or break out of a tackle. Genuine pileups happen all the time too, bringing even more realism onto the field.

Technical bugs do, occasionally, mar the experience, such as when players fall down like bowling pins when they walk too close to each other after the play ends. There are also plenty of times when ragdoll effects happen to players with limbs flailing about in weird directions, which can look awkward at best and comical at worst. Even so, the benefits of the Infinity Engine far outweigh the drawbacks.

It’s not just about physics, though. Madden NFL 13 also debuts RPG-style Connected Careers, a massive new way to play the game. Simply put, the old componentized ways of playing the game are largely gone – you won’t find Franchise, Superstar, Online Leagues, or anything like that – in favor of a streamlined and innovative way to experience the NFL. As either a player or a coach, you navigate the league surrounded by your friends (if you choose) and the media (whether you like it or not) as you seek to win championships and enter the Hall of Fame.

As an individual player, you can choose to create a guy, pick an active NFL player, or grab one of a handful of NFL legends (although most are locked behind Ultimate Team-based requirements). Your currency, so to speak, is XP, which you want to amass in order to increase your attributes. Accomplishing goals (in-game, season-long, and even career) gives you more XP, and you control only your player during practice and games. One of the many challenges is deciding when and how to allocate XP. Do you quickly improve inexpensive skills, or save them up for those powerful ones? There is no right answer, and your individual experiences change accordingly. No matter what, you’ll have all sorts of real-world media types reporting about you in the news and on Twitter – sometimes nicely, other times not so much.

Connected Careers also features Coach Mode; similar to an individual player, you can create someone, walk in the shoes of an active boss, or embody one of a few legends. On the field, it closely resembles the traditional Franchise, as you call every play and control whichever player you want. Coaches have their own personalities that lend themselves to certain types of teams, and similarly earn XP in practice and games by accomplishing goals to spend on attributes. A deep Scouting system is available during the season to use on targeted college players to help in the supremely entertaining and crucial NFL draft between campaigns. Player Progression is yet another key element, as you allocate specific skill boosts to every player on the team based on their individual performances during the year.

At any point, if you’re tired of being a backup QB or coaching a rotten team, you can retire and hop into the body of any other player or coach at that moment – no need to restart. You can play with friends too, similar to previous Online Franchises but emboldened with all of the RPG elements and media frenzy. In a word, Connected Careers is huge.

There are plenty of other core improvements to the game this year as well, including a beautiful new passing system that has eliminated our fears of throwing slants and seam routes, a much more polished TV-style presentation with classical theme music instead of bombastic rock and rap, and a built-from-scratch commentary system with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. The duo is a marked improvement from the hideous Gus Johnson/Cris Collinsworth pairing of last season, but between some curious comments (such as the time they referred to a meaningless preseason game as “one they’d never forget”) and a tendency to call out when the defense is using press coverage, there’s some work to be done here.

It’s not often that a stalwart franchise like this reinvents itself so significantly, but Madden NFL 13 has pulled this off with aplomb. Brimming with innovation on the field and off, it’s the best Madden of the generation.

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.

Madden NFL 13 on PS Vita Review

NFL coaches often talk of getting “back to fundamentals” and focusing on “blocking and tackling.” While the Madden NFL 13 franchise has incorporated massive changes to console versions, its debut on the Vita has eschewed many of those in favor of bringing the basic features every Madden gamer expects to Sony’s handheld. The result is a game that, while enjoyable, doesn’t achieve the lofty potential the platform provides.

Madden is strongest on the field, looking good in motion as you execute plays on either side of the ball. You’ll have no real trouble hitting receivers or finding holes to run through, and it never seems to chug even as it processes 22 players running in all directions. However, visual problems kick in before and after the play, as the introductory scenes and sideline vignettes get a bit choppy. Even rougher is the brutal-looking crowd that appears behind players during their post-play close-ups. None of these take away from the action on the field, but they’re definitely distracting.

Madden’s base controls are instantly familiar. A nice bonus is the smart, subtle use of the front and rear touch pad; examples include executing a juke when running for daylight with a double-tap on the back and sending a receiver in motion by tapping him on the front then sliding your finger in the desired direction. None of it feels forced, and over time this motion began to feel natural.

You can choose from Franchise, Superstar, Madden Moments, and Online Play. Superstar, which features the bite-sized experience of training your player in practice then running him through his paces in compacted games, lends itself beautifully to the Vita. When you couple that with the fact that the NFL has a bunch of compelling stories this season with players like Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, and Peyton Manning (to name a few), the mode is a stand-out in this year’s game.

The real problem, honestly, is what’s not in Madden NFL 13. There are no cross-play or save capabilities between the PS3 and Vita versions, which instantly reduces its appeal to owners of both systems. There are also less of the Connected Careers features that shone so brightly in the console versions of the game. While cool options like rookie scouting and practice mode in Franchise were able to make it in, much more didn’t. For example, the media frenzy and RPG-style leveling up Connected Careers offers is absent here.

This is not simply last year’s Madden ported to the Vita, though. Much of the new presentation has made it, including the commentary team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, as well as the cleaner, TV-style audio and visual presentation. Gone are the days of the bombastic rock/rap EA Trax mess, in favor of a professional orchestral set. This is most welcome.

Ultimately, Madden NFL 13 on the Vita is like a top draft pick that makes the team but doesn’t put up Pro Bowl numbers. It provides a healthy portion of the traditional Madden experience, but lacks the niftiest new parts of Connected Careers as well as the ability to use cross-play with the PS3. Because of that, it’s a reminder of years past when it could’ve been cutting-edge.

Good

  • Core gameplay is fun
  • Smart, subtle touch controls
  • Nifty rookie scouting

Bad

  • No PS3-Vita cross play
  • Choppy cutscenes
  • Missing Connected Careers

Score: *** 1/2

More Info

Release date: Aug 28 2012 - Xbox 360, PS Vita, Wii, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS Vita, Wii, PS3
Published by: EA SPORTS
Franchise: Madden
ESRB Rating:
Everyone

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13 comments

  • bram00 - September 16, 2012 4:17 a.m.

    I just have a simple question: After all these iterations of Madden, they still are having problems making the menu system coherent???
  • vantage - September 4, 2012 6:59 a.m.

    I expected the worse from this game, but surprisingly it has not been a disappointment. This has to be the best Madden ever made, period. It's got the most realistic gameplay, especially with the new tackling and the music doesn't have to be muted because it's not boring! Here's a video of me playing the game: http://goo.gl/ZjjC7 Enjoy fellas!
  • lokdawg78 - August 27, 2012 8:32 p.m.

    Richard, I have a question about career mode. One of my favorite past times for the past 6 years has been to pick up a new copy of Madden and start a franchise with the Bears with my friends and brother. We would all input on management decisions and the like, but when it came down to important games, all 4 of us would pick our favorite players on the Bears and go to work. Does the career mode have the ability to play co-op games during the season?
  • GamesRadarRichardGrisham - August 28, 2012 8:50 a.m.

    That's a great question and one I don't 100% know the answer to; I didn't think to try something out like that. My gut, based on all the stuff that I have done, though, is that this specific way of playing is not supported. I don't think you can have multiple players on a single team in Connected Careers. However, you *may* still be able to be a COACH in Connected Careers and have your friends play individual positions in a season game. But like I said, I am not 100% sure. I can check when I am back from my road trip in a couple of days and report back!
  • ASilentCircus - August 26, 2012 2:31 a.m.

    The new rating system looks horrible as does that screenshot of the sideline behind Griffin...
  • SentientSquidMachine - August 25, 2012 9:16 a.m.

    I know they added a FIFA guy to the Madden team, but did they really have to add the horrible guys awkwardly falling over each other in slow motion for no reason....I call sabatoge.My last madden was '10, and before that, '06...I really want a new Madden, but I'm on the fence with this one.
  • OD-Apache - August 24, 2012 10:50 p.m.

    Hear's my question though, Richard; How is the off season for both Player and Coach "modes"? I've always wanted more character development instead of just pressing A for 10 seconds to get to the next season. It's not very engrossing and it makes previous career modes, and NCAA as well, very bland for me. Imagine if NCAA and Madden had a more rich individual career mode, where in NCAA you try to balance schooling and workout's year round while trying to "stay out of trouble". (Can't get to heavy otherwise they'll slap a T for Teen on the box.) Your player than turns into a character really. When it's time to go Pro, the transition into Madden would be even better. How you handled yourself in NCAA greatly influences your image, like developing leadership attributes versus super-stardom, and your teammates will react differently based on that throughout your career. You get to experience the business side of things; contracts, trades, endorsements, ownership, dealing with injuries and maybe even having to retire before you are finished, all first hand, not on some menu page. Imagine how rewarding it would feel to watch as your character stands at the podium of his own Hall of Fame speech. Then the credits roll...and you unlock the Dancing With The Stars mini-game. That would be AWESOME.
  • GamesRadarRichardGrisham - August 27, 2012 12:32 p.m.

    The offseason is really interesting. As a player, you get to choose what attributes to focus on and/or you can demand your release if you're unhappy. As a coach, you get to scout players in the upcoming draft, choose player development bonuses, and actually do a real-time draft (which is REALLY fun). As to what you'd like to see, I believe that there will much more of this over the next year or two. The foundation of Connected Careers - media following you, practices to make you better, getting the ability to choose how to improve yourself, demanding a release or a trade - seems to be setting the groundwork for a whole lot more of that. Kind of like My Player in NBA 2K, which has things like press conferences where you control (to a degree) what your player says, endorsements, and things like that.
  • avantguardian - August 24, 2012 4:58 p.m.

    i don't know man, all i could think of while playing the demo is how much better ncaa is. and the commentary was AWFUL.
  • GamesRadarRichardGrisham - August 24, 2012 5:08 p.m.

    I love both games this year - and the commentary in NCAA 13 is definitely better than Madden 13. What's best commentary-wise this year is that it replaces last year's, which in my opinion took AWAY from the game. This season, it may not make the experience that much better, but it's certainly a major improvement. As I said in the review, definitely some more work to be done on it.
  • Redeater - August 24, 2012 3:12 p.m.

    I miss 2k.....

Showing 1-13 of 13 comments

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