Does Madden NFL 2013 get into the End Zone? The definitive review

It’s late August and almost Labor Day weekend and it’s the start of gaming season when Madden arrives.  This will be the first one I have bought since the 2009 edition and the reason being is that supposedly so much was changed and ‘rebooted’ to finally give the game a fresh coat of paint.  The madden series this generation has been accused (and rightfully so) of year after of giving tiny changes and being nothing more than a $60 roster update but supposedly this is the year all of that changes and with the early release that you can get prior to the full game, has it really turned a corner?

In my opinion, even after reading the ‘glowing reviews’, I can attest that it has but only marginally so, as some of the complaints I have had in years past, EA finally started to fix.

Interface

This by far is the biggest change in the game’s iteration as once you hit start you immediately are greeted by the menus that you need to use for the game and for most players, it may take some getting around but it’s clean and uncluttered and shows you everything that you need to get around the game.  There are still a few hidden items that you have to dig for but once you get used to the interface, finding them is a snap.

Controls

In my opinion, if you have played one Madden game you have played them all and this is no different. If you are even a casual user, you can pick up the controls and go play and one thing that I like and dislike is the gameflow menu as you call plays in the game. This was something implemented a few years ago to ‘help’ new users to the game and also make games go by quicker, which is fine but I wound up turning it off as I realized that on offense and defense, the AI seemed to call the same few kinds of play during the course of a game and if I wanted to be creative, I would have to call my own plays.  The one plus to that however is if you still wanted to let the AI call some other types of plays you can shift the menus and call ‘aggressive’ and ‘conservative’ kinds of plays from the playbook or, you can turn it off altogether and use the standard that we have been used to.   Other than that all the standard controls are there and I am sure that hardcore users will be right at home.

Graphics / Presentation

This by itself was the biggest surprise of them all and also still shows how far EA STILL has to go to reach the NFL2K5 benchmark. The graphics in this game have obviously improved and the Infinity Engine has added some realism to the game when it comes to tackles and contact but I still see a few quirks that just don’t make sense. RBs who don’t ‘flow’ around linemen and seem to get stuck as they try to hit a hole, players who tend to trip and fall in weird manners when plays are whistled dead and players who lay on the ground for long periods of time for no reason.  The player faces themselves a looking a little better but it’s almost clear to see that the graphics card put into the systems in 2005 can’t really render them correctly but today’s standards (yes we are in need of new hardware Microsoft and Sony!) and the crowd while looking a little more diverse still looks to be 2D cutouts in the stands. I do still not understand why EA can’t seem to work the same kind of voodoo that the 2K series can work …but I digress. As far as the stadium and lighting renderings, for the first time in a long time, EA finally is on the right track and getting the lighting system right; an early afternoon game and a late afternoon game lighting wise are 2 different creatures.  They still need to work on getting a 7pm game (which would probably end around 10pm) to get progressively darker.  Yes, it’s a nitpick but if you are going for realism let’s pull that out.  The crowd noise has improved as now it doesn’t sound like white noise as much as it has in the past. But as far as the positives, the commentary from Jim Nantz and Phil Simms is superb.  Finally EA is learning how to dynamically broadcast by ripping a page from 2K5’s book! The whole presentation itself feels more like a TV broadcast than a game and it’s something that has been missing for years and it takes a while for it to get repetitive but Simms and Nantz feel like they are both in the booth calling the game as opposed to just 2 voices phoning it in.  It’s cool to hear when they call out Papa John’s pizza as the sponsor, that Gatorade display that pops up giving stats and so on…but it still something missing.  It’s still kind of weird to hear that they are going to a post game show and….there is no post game show.  EA, after all of these years, even with the ESPN license, why can’t you still during a franchise game post scores during the game or for Pete’s sake in halftime? It may seem like a small issue for some but I have always believed that knowing the scores especially my division rivals always added a little extra sense of urgency or gloating to the present game I was playing and without this I have always felt that instead of playing a connected league / season, I was playing in a bubble without any way of knowing what was going on until the end of the game. It’s not difficult to do  and even the earliest Madden games had that feature so why this can’t be implemented is beyond me and has been a nitpick of this series since it’s been on this generation’s systems.

Game face and Connected Careers

New to this year’s Madden is the game face utility which lets you take a picture of yourself and put it in the game.  It’s been used sporadically in years past in NBA Live and most recently in the FIFA series. EA still has a lot of work to put into this feature because unless you are just pale, you have your work cut out for you to get your game face anywhere near close as you want it. It took me nearly 3 hours and some Photoshop help (I am a black guy after all!…heheh) before I finally got a rendition of me that wasn’t ghostly pale, blue or green and in some cases too orange.  Weird thing is, on the website itself, you can get a perfect rendering of yourself but somewhere between that rendering and the game download your skin color changes thus if you have patience to do this it may take a while to get it right and off you go.

The Connected Careers mode is cool so far not a big huge leap that it’s touted to be but it can keep you busy for far longer than you expected.  You can either create a player or coach (with or without your game face), use an active player or coach, or use a legend and put them in the game.  This biggest difference in playing as a player and a coach are these:

–        Playing as player is very similar to Superstar mode is that you have control over what team you start with and you have to work your way up the roster as you cannot come in as a superstar yet.  Also you only play when you have plays designed to utilize you. In order to build your player up you have to earn XP from practices and mini games. You can skip some of these and still get XP but not as much as you would get if you participated.

–        Playing as a coach gives you total control over the team and you play it like a regular franchise mode but also in order to improve your team you have to do things between weeks (cut your roster, go to practice etc.) to earn points and build up players.  These too can be skipped and like I just mentioned you get fewer XPs by skipping.

–        You can take a created player only in the player mode; you cannot create a player and bring him into the Coach mode.

–        You can start a career online with a few buddies and play as long as you want and even bring it offline (I haven’t tested it but will update once I do)

I also liked the virtual network mode where you have a twitter feed letting you know what happening around the league and I have noted to that when you are doing some things like negotiating contracts and so forth, players will chime in when they are happy or not happy about their situation, so now it’s important to keep your team happy and also the experts and they will give praise and criticism for things that you do during the game. It still doesn’t quite feel as ‘newsy’ as it could be unlike NCAA Football but its there and the potential is there.

Speaking of Twitter and Facebook, you can post results to your actual feed after each game if you desire.

So after 3 or so years, it looks like EA is trying to turn the corner to make this one of the better football games they have put out in years. There are still many technical hurdles that I am still surprised that NFL 2K5 has set that EA hasn’t jumped and still stumped as to why.  The presentation has gotten better but still missing a few things, the game play still feels about the same to me as I am not a hardcore player and I know that other reviews can give more details to the technical aspects of the game but overall, this Madden and the direction that EA is trying to take this series in, feels like after so long, it’s worth a buy and not just a roster update.

Football Ultimate Team 

Joe Montana, Emmitt Smith and Anquan Boldin playing on the same team?  In a Ravens uniform?  Yes, you can do that. EA Sports took a game mode from the FIFA Series and put it into Madden.  The idea is, using either game points you purchased or through special promotions, players can buy virtual packs of cards and in each pack you get different types of things such as players, coaches, uniforms, stadiums, playbooks and more.  Then you can incorporate it all into your team so in essence you can have a fantasy squad of all of the legends and today’s players. You can even trade buy and auction off players in the virtual auction house within that game.  It’s been a great and popular mode in the FIFA series and should do well in Madden.  You can take your FUT online and play vs. others, you can play solo earning more gold coins to buy packs of cards and you can also play challenges to unlock legends such as beat the 2012 Packers as coached by Vince Lombardi to unlock his card. This mode by itself can prolong the shelf life of  Madden long after the standard modes of play get old and stale and you are in need of a new challenge but remember, it costs so spend wisely!! 

7.8 out of 10.

@dreddeddeucce

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