Review: Madden 13 is enjoyable, but shows signs of stagnation

Madden NFL 13, adds a new physics engine to the annual franchise, but the game’s improvements feel more incremental than groundbreaking.

By Jahmal Peters
Contributor

As the story goes, legendary NFL coach John Madden played a significant role in shaping the video game series that would assume his namesake for nearly a quarter century.

As reported in an IGN history of the “Madden NFL” series, the developers who worked on the first version of the game tried to adapt to the hardware limitations of the time by designing the game as a seven-on-seven version of football.

Madden, however, wanted nothing to do with a scaled-down representation of the game.

“If it isn’t 11 on 11, it isn’t real football,” Madden is quoted as saying in the article. “I’m not putting my name on it if it’s not real.”

One can only wonder what might have been had the Hall of Fame coach not exerted his authority over the creative direction of the product and forced it to be as authentic as possible.

This brings us to “Madden NFL 13,” a game that is enjoyable on its own merit but is the latest iteration of a series that has shown glaring signs of stagnation and has been devoid of any revolutionary features that once set the series apart in years past.

Connected Careers

One of EA Games’ most significant changes to Madden is “Connected Careers,” a feature that consolidates Online Franchise, Offline Franchise and Superstar modes of years past into a single play mode.

Connected Careers gives players the option of playing as their favorite NFL player or coach, creating a fictional NFL personalities or assuming the role of one of many NFL legends including Madden himself.

Depending on their choice, the player will then select a backstory (first round pedigree, undrafted free agent, scrub, etc …) of their created rookie player or assume the role of the player/legend they have chosen.

From there, it’s a matter of building a legacy for the player, coach or entire team.

Madden 13 does a great job of integrating the various modes into a united feature. Frustrated fans of prior versions’ Superstar mode should welcome Connected Careers. Playing the game from the point of view of a single player no longer feels like one is only getting a side dish while the main course is reserved for Franchise mode players.

Connected Careers does an admirable job of making the player care about fictitious rookies thanks to the inclusion of scouting and commentary similar to a previous EA Sports title, EA Head Coach.

EA Sports also added”Game Face” facial recognition software, which allows players to upload a picture of themselves and see themselves in the game.

A notable absence, however, is the inability to import draft classes from NCAA Football 13.

The Infinity Engine

For years, Madden players have clamored for the Euphoria Engine, the proprietary physics engine of Oxford, London-based NaturalMotion.

The engine has been used in many games including Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV.

But the engine’s most notable inclusion came in NaturalMotion’s own non-licensed football game, Backbreaker.

What the game lacked in authentic NFL teams, it more than made up for with realistic, bone crushing, NFL type hits.

When rumors circulated that Madden 13 would feature an all new physics engines, gamers were on the edge of their seat in anticipation.

Many diehard followers of the series knew it wouldn’t be the Euphoria Engine but they hoped the an in-house version, the Infinity Engine, would be just as satisfying.

It is not.

Where the Euphoria Engine delivered fluid and unique tackles on every play, the Infinity Engine still relies on a library of prerendered animations to determine the outcome of a hit.

And while new animations were added to the game, the player is still likely to see the same handful of animations play out in game after game.

The Infinity Engine includes a new balance system that features stumbling animations as a means to convey realism, but as with many features added to EA Sports games, the stumbling animations occur too frequently and at unrealistic times. This problem makes the game an even greater robotic feel than exhibited in previous versions.

Madden NFL 13 also features new tweaks to quarterback dropbacks, throwing animations and receiver awareness, but they all feel more like expected fine tuning instead of noteworthy additions.

Phillip Rivers working on his seven step drop in the offseason would never be newsworthy; Chargers fans would simply hope that it’s being done.

Similarly, writing about improved dropback animations feels more like grasping for straws than praising a welcome feature.

Commentary

The commentary team has once again been changed. Not so much for better or worse, but just changed.

The oft-excited and spontaneous Gus Johnson is long gone, as is his always recognizable partner in the broadcasting booth, Chris Collinsworth.

The “NFL on CBS” team of Jim Nantz and Phill Simms have taken their place, and Madden NFL features more than just their voices. Nantz and Simms are rendered in the game as character who provide pre-and post-game analysis.

But again, the change is not necessarily for the better.

Often, the duo will say the wrong things at the wrong times and remind players of announcing crews of years past.

The addition of the NFL on CBS overlays come along with the arrivals of Nantz and Simms. They benefit the game in the same way sizzle adds to the appeal of a tough steak – amazing right up until you bite into it.

Final Thoughts

Two major additions does not a new game make.

That is especially true when one feature is essentially a consolidation of existing play modes and the other is so poorly lacking it does not even feel like an addition at all.

As can be said about virtually any annual EA Sports title, if you haven’t played a game in the series before, it’s worth trying.

The same can be said for Madden 13.

On its own, this is a solid title that will yield long hours of enjoyment on par with any other major video game release.

Diehard followers won’t need this review as they will purchase the game every year religiously, even if it is literally the same game as last year’s version.

On the other hand, anyone expecting a landmark title worthy of being called the greatest video game football experience ever can remind themselves of the words spoken by fans of any struggling NFL franchise:

Maybe next year.