Game: Madden NFL 13
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Wii
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Imagine it is the fourth down, with the ball on your opponents’ thirty yard line. You have to decide, do you take the “easy” option and attempt a field goal through the uprights, or do you decide to go for it, engineering a dynamic play which nabs you a wonderful touchdown? This theoretical on-field situation accurately portrays the circumstances EA and Tiburon were in during the development of their latest Madden. As the only licensed gridiron game on the market, they know damn well that every yearly instalment is going to sell like Gangbusters. It would be simple for them to kick an easy field goal, and just make some minor changes to Madden 12, which – let’s face it – was a damn fine game of pigskin. Move Tim Tebow onto the Jets roster, and give them a Wildcat offence. Change Chad Ochocinco’s name back to Johnson, and stick Megatron on the cover. Job done, right?
You see, in a time where yearly updates of long running gaming series provokes a great deal of cynicism, what EA and Tiburon have done here is very much the equivalent of the risky, yet rewarding, passing play on fourth and ten. They have made some fairly radical changes to the gaming world’s premier American Football franchise, which could have backfired, but instead enrich and enhance the whole experience.
Even comparing the cover stars of this and Madden 12 is telling. Last year, hard hitting running back Peyton Hillis snarled at you from the box, threatening to be the breakout star Cleveland have been begging for, but went on to have a less than stellar, injury-strewn “Curse of Madden” season which culminated in being traded to the Chiefs. Madden 13 has a stunning capture of dynamic wideout Calvin Johnson about to take yet another catch.
Madden 12 was a hulking, feature packed bulldozer of a game, which, like Hillis, promised so much for the future. Madden 13, on the other hand, is a fabulous overhaul, which dazzles straight out of the box, and hints at an even better future for the franchise, much in the same way as the impressive “Megatron” has carved out two straight Pro Bowl seasons and sits among the elite wide receivers in the NFL.
GRAPHICS: I can remember being blown away all those years ago when they showed footage of Madden running on a Panasonic 3DO. If I could have somehow seen into the future at what Tiburon have come up with here, I think my then-13-year old self would have probably exploded with glee.
No player is as iconic and respected in today’s game than Hall of Fame-bound Ravens star Ray Lewis, and EA have pulled off a masterstroke in enlisting him to give a rousing speech when you fire the game up. Anyone who has read John Feinstein’s superb Next Man Up, which analyses a season spent in the company of the Baltimore-based franchise, will be aware of the power and presence of the man, and how much of a talisman and leader he is to his team-mates. Former Ravens chief Art Modell, who sadly passed away recently, would have been proud. It is an awesome intro sequence.
I will go out on a limb here. This is the most visually arresting sports game I have ever played. It looks incredible in full flow, and that is partially down to the all-new Infinity Engine, which allows players to react to everything going on around them, and means that no two plays will ever look the same. Some of the hits and multi-player pile-ups look brutal, and there is a sickening realism to the way they often end in a heap of tangled arms and legs. There are a ton of new catch and tackle animations, quarterback movement variations, player gestures and movements; at times it genuinely looks real, and certainly blew me away.
Similarly to Madden 12, certain players have their own signature nuances which are instantly recognisable. All of the smart new Nike uniforms are present and correct, and there are recognisable stadia. The dynamic lighting and motion blur which was used to great effect in the NCAA game makes a welcome return.
The match-ups are preceded by the NFL Flims-approved stadium fly-by, and the same superb true to life match introductions that ape those that take place before real NFL games. An eerily real looking Phil Simms and Jim Nantz introduce each match with a little studio interview time. The main event features some brilliant in-game between-play cutscene sequences, and a staggering amount of replay footage, which looks as great as anything you will see on a Sunday afternoon when settling down for some NFL action. The menu screens and dashboard during various game modes all look very nice. I particularly liked the inclusion of fake Tweets and the way the graphics actually resemble a CBS broadcast; and for those who are interested, I can confirm that Tebowing is included.
SOUND: Using an unprecedented 24 microphones, EA have captured real-life fan noise around the NFL universe, and used it to create the ultra realistic crowd racket that underpins the action. They have also borrowed a ton of audio from NFL Films to create a rich catalogue of player voices, quarterback calls and chat, as well as the bone-crunching sounds of tackles and other cartilage-destroying hits. Anchor Jim Nantz and legendary Giants QB Phil Simms return to the commentary booth, and provide over eighty hours of banter and analysis. I am surely not alone in preferring these two to last year’s combo, even if Simms can sometimes come across as a bit of a curmudgeon!
For the first time in aeons, EA have completely abandoned the licensed soundtrack stylings that characterise their other sporting games, and instead given the game an original soundtrack of booming, monolithic, TV sports broadcast tunes, which give the game even more of a sense of Sunday night authenticity.
GAMEPLAY: The Infinity Engine means that the game feels different than before, there is a real sense of the weight and build of each particular player, and a true uniqueness to the way they move. Making – and indeed taking – hits from various angles and directions all have a completely different feel and effect on the field. The actual game doesn’t play any differently, but things seem to be far more balanced and realistic than ever before. There is no repetition, and the collision detection is so realistic that you have to be aware of where you are running, as you can trip over team mates just as easily as ending up on the receiving end of a vicious sack. A nimble running back with excellent balance can be nicked by a tackle but stay on their feet to continue rushing. A huge tight end like Jimmy Graham will simply bounce off a tackle from a flyweight defensive back. While on the subject of defensive backs; they don’t seem to be as annoyingly superhuman as previously encountered, and will only react to the ball if they are expecting it, rather than the AI allowing them to home-in on the ball regardless of the play situation. Likewise, receivers actually seem to make an effort to get open, and there is a useful guide system (the icon above the head of the receiver will remain grey until they are in position). When defending, the new Ballhawk mode allows you to have your player simply go after the ball in an effort to intercept it or force a turnaround. Of course, this will be to the detriment of any other defensive duties you may have, but is an interesting addition.
There is an improved manual Total Control Passing system in this year’s offering. The left analogue stick can now be employed to direct the ball wherever you fancy, out to the sideline, onto your receiver’s shoulder, up high or down low. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and for many the standard set up will suffice, but it does give an unrivalled sense of control. Improvements have been made to areas of the game that hardcore gridiron fans will really appreciate, but may go over the heads of the casual gamer, however, take it from me, the tweaked play-action (it is easier to baffle defenders), slowed down pocket to help avoid a sacking, and plethora of realistic new animations make the world of difference when compared to previous entries in the series.
As a Jets fan, the first thing I did was try out Sanchez and co, and can confirm that they are as annoyingly inconsistent as their real-life counterparts, the whole game becoming a juggling act between ineffective passing play and jumbled Tebow and Greene-led rushing. It is all tear-jerkingly familiar to me and I love it, as it gives me my best shot of seeing The Sanchize ever get his hands on the Lombardi.
LONGEVITY: Madden is always fun with your mates, in on or offline match-ups. You can still do this here, obviously, as well as play the Ultimate Team card-based game, which left me cold last time out and had much the same effect here. The meat of the game is the all-new Connected Careers mode. Franchise, Online Franchise and Superstar mode have been amalgamated into an all-singing, all-dancing mode which incorporates clever use of real-life social media like Facebook and Twitter, and gives you to chance to try your hand at coaching as well as playing as an individual player. You can create your own player or coach – which includes Game Face photo support nicked straight from Tiger Woods – or play as an existing real-life latter day or legendary figure. These include the late, great “Sweetness” Walter Payton, and legendary party animal and genius wide receiver Michael Irvin, and you can insert these all-time greats into today’s game.
You control your franchise much as you did in previous games, and have a choice of on or offline play, only now you can switch between coaching and playing. When playing as an individual player, XP is gathered to help you work your way toward becoming the next inductee at Canton, Ohio. You can select your playing style, personality, and background, and get to work with your player on the training field in a number of drills and, of course, on gameday.
Coaching is an excellent all-round mode in which accomplishing your goals earns XP, which can be used to power up your team, improve your leadership abilities as a coach or even put together financial packages to help prevent players from becoming unsettled or retiring. So basically you get to know what it was like managing Brett Favre in the irritating twilight of his career. All the while you have stuff like the dreaded depth chart, scouting for new players and interacting to an unprecedented level with other Connected Career users all over the world to worry about. It is, for want of a better expression, laden with “RPG elements”, but it works so well and is infinitely more interesting that simply ploughing through the same old Franchise mode. There is so much to do it is almost overwhelming, and the way you can challenge your mates, take on everyone across the internet, brag about victories on Facebook, and create the ultimate NFL player carved in your own image means you will be playing Madden 13 for at least another year, and then some.
VERDICT: The new physics engine, outstanding graphics and presentation have helped create the most realistic depiction of the sport yet seen and a game which instantly feels like a huge leap from its predecessor. Connected Careers is a big step in the right direction. The interaction with social media – which is optional – is done just right and is perfectly in tune with the needs of today’s gamer. It does whatever you want it to do, you can simply try and win a Superbowl, or you may want to embark on a lengthy, Hall of Fame career. You can do this whilst deciding your own level of interaction with the online elements. There is something for everyone.
Remember when FIFA turned the corner and started to really compete with its Konami counterpart? Well, there is no rival to Madden’s crown, yet the big changes made here make Madden 13 feel as significant as when EA finally started doing the business on the soccer pitch.