I don’t follow professional sports except for football. While I don’t live in the same market as my favorite team, I usually find a way to watch their games or listen to it on the radio. At the very least I watch the SportsCenter highlights and possibly catch the game later on NFL Network on NFL Replay. Even my wife commented how she couldn’t wait for football season to start. Now the biggest sign of the football season is upon us – Madden NFL 13 is now available.
New this year, Madden NFL 13 brings a rookie engine to the roster, determined to bring new realism to the game. It seems a bit surprising that we are getting a new engine, because there are strong rumors the next generation of consoles are launching in 2013, but sometimes you have to start from scratch and rebuild. Dubbing their new software the Infinity Engine, the developers have brought their A game to try to remove some of the scripted event complaints thrown at previous versions. The collision engine has been upgraded, making every tackle rely on pure physics instead of giving you the same animation time and time again. When you see one of your players take a hit, their bodies flex based on the direction they move, reel from the smash, and crumble if a lineman catches a defender crossways. The clipping issues found in previous games is all but gone. While the bodies may intertwine a little, you won’t see hands going through chests as they try to pick themselves up. Balls no longer pass through the stomach for a catch, as if the player is miraculously giving birth to the pigskin. A new balance system has them reeling in a realistic way, based on their center of gravity and balance. It’s amazing how such a small change makes such a huge difference. Another big surprise for me was when a receiver took a hit but his knee didn’t quite touch the ground. He suddenly recovered and bolted towards the end zone. All of this is in addition to a new field degradation system that gets torn up the longer you play on it, with rain and snow affecting the field conditions even more.
This new physics engine makes Madden NFL 13 not only the best looking game in the series, but it also affects the gameplay in significant ways. The field is much more unpredictable with these new animations, and you’ll have to see it in action to really understand what I mean. A quarterback who gets hit as he throws can see his ball sail high into the air with several defenders waiting below for the easy interception. A running back can get off-balance from an attempted shoestring tackle, regain his balance, and run into the secondary. When getting tackled, a player may fall straight forward or tumble sideways as he goes to the ground. Sometimes a player will go airborne if his legs get taken out from under him. It really depends on how the tackler hits the ball carrier that determines how the way they go down.
The look of the game has been improved as well. The player models have better definition, and the details of the new Nike uniforms can easily be seen. Each of the stadiums has been rebuilt, from the walls and domes to the scoreboards. The difference between turf and grass can easily be seen, especially in close-up shots. The new lighting engine brings high dynamic range lighting to the field, even tracking the position of the sun over your players at various times of the day. Madden has never been a slouch in the graphics department, but clearly they aren’t taking a year off before the launch of the new consoles!
While each year Madden tries to simulate a broadcast the best way it can, they have pulled out all the stops this year. The presentation feels almost like a CBS NFL game broadcast. The commentary this year is provided by Phil Sims and Jim Nantz, who you actually see in the broadcast booth before the game. Both look close to their counterparts, but virtual Sims has an awkward smile that makes him look a bit creepy. The banter between the two is fluid, as they recorded over 82 hours of lines together. Since they have worked together for several years broadcasting for actual games, they have chemistry that hasn’t been found in previous games. Before the game they’ll talk about the specific ramifications of the game, and if a rivalry exists between the two teams. The delivery during the game includes the right amount of excitement, and the pauses between segments in previous years seem less noticeable.
They say that the NFL has turned into a passing league, and after the accomplishments of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, it’s not hard to see why. The passing game has been upgraded to include 25 different trajectories. You can also lead your receiver by using the left analog stick after you have thrown the football. Breaking out of a play-action pass can be done with the right trigger if the defense is blitzing. Receivers and defensemen won’t react to the ball unless they are looking for it. However, even with all these enhancements the number of interceptions seemed to be incredibly high.
The Playbook method of calling plays is available, and it gives you the option of looking at the regular play, or you can request that the Playbook select a run or passing play to use to tweak your playcalling. This does make the game flow better. If you are a die-hard formation caller, then you can still use the three-play selection screen option.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some issues with the new engine. “Skating” players still seem to appear, especially during the replays. The momentum of a player who spins around after a catch seems a bit slow as well. A small amount of clipping is visible, but it only is on the player edges. I didn’t see a hand go through a chest. The slow motion replays after every play enhance these faults, but during actual gameplay you are too far back to notice. The replays slow the game down significantly. At least you can hit the “A” button and get back to the playbook while the replays are still playing in the background.
Unfortunately it seems that there are times when the substitute officials are handling the calls on the field. In one game a fair catch was called during a punt. The ball was bobbled but still caught before hitting the ground. The defender hit him, but no flag was called and the play was recorded as a fumble and recovery for -2 yards. In another game, the ball was caught in the end zone, but it looked like the ball hit the ground just before the defender caught it, making this a trap. This play would have been reviewed under the current NFL rules. Even though it would have gone against me, I would have called an incomplete pass. This won’t happen too often, but it seems like there is roughly one blown call a game.
Kinect has been integrated into the Xbox 360 version, although you won’t be using your arm to throw the ball. Instead you can speak out commands pre-snap to make adjustments. You can use it to call an audible on the line of scrimmage, create hot routes, shift your offensive or defensive lines, and change assignments. A graphic at the bottom of the screen gives suggested commands to yell out, but more are available than that. I had a problem with the Kinect recognizing my voice, and I’m not sure it was because of the noise of my surround system, the way I was pronouncing the commands, or if I was yelling too loud. In the end I would use it occasionally to hike the ball, but I would use the practice mode to get the Kinect voice commands down before actually using it in a game. There is no doubt that if you can get the commands down, you can enhance your pre-snap options.
The online and offline careers, seasons, and create-a-player modes are available again this year, but instead of being separate they are all wrapped into one mode called Connected Careers. Here you start by selecting whether you want to be a coach or player in either an offline or online league. If you want to be a coach, you get to call plays, make the player cuts, and be the one who gets the praise (or blame) for the way your team performs. If you want to be a player, you can either create a new player, play as an existing player, or take a player out of retirement and plug him into the current lineup. Want to see how Lombardi would have done with this current crop of players? How would Barry Sanders do with a more balanced and competent Lions team? Can you rebuild the Browns from scratch? Would you get drafted high and have RGIII or Luck expectations set for you? You can find out. It supports a total of 32 players either online or offline, so you can have plenty of your friends involved.
As you play through the Connected Careers you gain experience points. Experience can be gained during weekly practice sessions and playing games, but career goals also give you experience as well. You can get an idea of how well you and your team are doing by the virtual Twitter feed that shows up for each week. Ultimately you want to earn your way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Updates to the roster will be available each week, but you will need to have an Xbox Live Gold subscription for this feature. If you don’t, you will end up stuck with the current early season rosters. It might mean that the player who broke his leg in the preseason and is out for the year shows up every game in your season. You also won’t be able to take advantage of the online leagues, making the Season Pass that is included is pretty useless.
Madden NFL 13 makes huge strides this year, but also makes a few rookie mistakes. Seasoned football fanatics and casual onlookers should be satisfied with the end result. As seen in my previous Madden reviews, you know that I have had my fair share of issues with the game. If you have been skeptical of Madden before, this year’s edition is worth a look. If only they could do something about the number of interceptions.