Madden NFL 13 Complete General Impressions

Posted August 24th, 2012 at 3:03 pm

With Madden NFL 13 the series is coming off a generally well received iteration but one in which still didn’t meet the expectations of many. Several core improvements have been made to gameplay – including the highly anticipated “Infinity Engine” physics – which may do enough to change the perception of stagnation built over this generation. Presentation on the other hand still comes up notably short. 

The obvious thing to go into first is the physics which completely pays off by providing a dynamic and fresh feel to the gameplay. In some sense it feels toned down a bit from the demo – somewhat stiffer – with the experience found in the demo being preferred to an extent. That being said it’s really well contained for a first attempt at a dramatic physics engine and ultimately is a hugely beneficial addition to the series.

In one situation it was fourth and short, LeGarrette Blount ran up the middle and got stuffed, but he fell onto a defender and rolled over him for the first down. Moments like that are appropriately rare. The benefits though can be seen on just about every play. Momentum really matters and defenders swarm the ball carrier. Though there are occasional tackles in which the players just bounce off each other there are far more collisions that look natural and affect the result of the play in a positive manner. It would be nice for the hit stick to be more effective by going low or high though. The NFL probably forced EA into neutering it.

The improvements found in NCAA 13 such as the numerous pass trajectories, QB drop backs, working play action, routes that have been useless in the past no longer being such, and more successful screen plays are all present in Madden 13 and even feel somewhat enhanced just by having the physics alongside them.

The running game is especially rewarding with power backs. This is due in part to the physics but also because runs to the outside are often yard-losers. Some combination of the blockers not getting to their assignments to seal the edge and defenders having seemingly accelerated sideline-to-sideline pursuit contributes to the trouble. Tosses and sweeps are rarely effective – but when they do work they are often for big gains – however stretch plays seem to work really well. Offensive line blocking still can use a lot of work but the amount of times they’ve just inexplicably blown a block or assignment have been reduced compared to the past.

Special teams is definitely an area in which improvement has been made. Though it’s still the neglected third of football within Madden at least now kick and punt returns are blocked well and there is the potential to break a big play. I returned one kick for a TD during the whole season of play while my punt return average was 9 yards – which was more than double the average I had in Madden 12. The kicking game goes back to the right stick – which I’m not a big fan of – but that has at least caused me to miss a few more field goals than I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

Possibly my favorite, which is somewhat of an unheralded addition, to Madden 13 is the “Ball Hawk” feature. Essentially holding down Y will get the player in position to attempt an interception and holding down RB will do the same for a deflection. Some may see this as taking out some user-skill, but given how inconsistently the controls would react to those commands in the past, this makes for a really nice enhancement. It’s allowed me to play better pass defense and get some user picks that I probably would have flubbed on prior. Playing as a safety in Connected Careers is especially fun because of this feature. In general the battle between defenders and receivers is much better and having the ability to make an intended play on the ball – whether controlling the offensive or defensive player – is a big part of why.

The CPU AI is definitely questionable at times. The coach makes predictable and generally conservative decisions. The most glaring one is that the CPU will never go for it on fourth and short in the opponent’s territory. They’ll either punt or attempt the field goal. Then, when they do punt, they just boot it into the end zone and don’t attempt to pooch it or go for the “coffin corner”. Late second quarter or late game situations have also yielded rough results for the CPU. It’s not as bad as found in the demo, but the CPU still needs some work done on play calling and clock management.

On default All-Pro the CPU struggles to consistently move the ball. They are generally competent on offense but hardly threatening. The main problem seems to be how often they have negative plays. They take too many sacks – probably to avoid throwing a bunch of interceptions as they’re usually coverage sacks – and get stuffed in the backfield on runs frequently. They’ll stick with the run even when it hasn’t been working. This leaves the CPU in 2nd and long and 3rd and long situations and they just aren’t equipped to convert them – nor should they be – but it means one bad play usually stalls their drives. In the Connected Career season my team finished 25th on offense and 1st on defense which will tell you a lot about how effective the CPU is on offense (hardly) and on defense (fairly strong).

The CPU also fails to put out the proper personnel on the field both in terms of splitting time and situationally. Taking the Saints as an example, Darren Sproles rushed over 20 times in one game. They had him running the ball at the goal line even rather than putting in Pierre Thomas or Mark Ingram. Thomas did get a few carries during the course of the game but Ingram never saw the field. Ultimately there has to be a better way for both the user and the CPU to bring out situation specific packages and tie players to the their strengths.

Games were generally close but more in the sense that I would have to lose a game for the CPU to win it rather than ever flat out getting beat. The CPU will hit the occasional big play but often would stall when in opponent’s territory and especially struggle in the red zone or on the goal line. Because of their inability to convert turnovers into points even a poor performance on my part would find me in position to win the game late.

Penalties are still relatively rare but when they are called it’ll either be holding or false start. There was one time when defensive pass interference was called – ironically it was within five yards of the line of scrimmage and shouldn’t have been.

The CBS feel to presentation is a welcome one – particularly the music and commentary booth lead-in – and the team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms add serious gravity to the games. The commentary flows significantly better than it has in previous years. At times their statements can be fairly generic, particularly within Connected Careers, but it’s easy to see the potential for the commentary going forward. They do occasionally make mistakes in their calls but that can be overlooked rather easily – that they call out every adjustment made quickly becomes irritating however. Still it’s a much brighter area than it has been this entire generation and it’s just the first year with them on the job.

The game intros won’t stay interesting for very long, but when understanding they’re essentially covering up for some loading time they aren’t a bad thing to have. It would have been better if the players used in them were consistently more relevant or changed up and if the poses weren’t always the same. The team entrances which debuted in Madden 12 are gone during the regular season but the Nantz and Simms lead-in works well enough – there just isn’t that sense of initial excitement that came with the entrances. The halftime show is probably something best skipped through. It doesn’t even have actual highlights from the game.

Like the NCAA Football series replays are a mishmash of shots that come from cameras that don’t exist and are shown in ultra-slow fashion. In this area Madden 13 regressed from Madden 12 which had some really nice, timely, camera cuts and an overall broadcast feel. There was room for a lot of improvement still but instead of building on that they once again changed the vision and that makes it one of the more disappointing aspects of the game.

Crowd noise is improved – though ultimately it just seems like the crowd has been made louder and that they stay at too constant of a level. Their reactions are not always on point and they don’t ramp up the noise in all situations that are warranted. There have been times where they’ve seemed quieter on third down or when in the red zone. The crowd also doesn’t react to the results of challenged plays.

One area that is severely lacking and oftentimes frustrating is the challenges. The NFL instituted a new rule this year in which every turnover – just like every touchdown – will be automatically reviewed. This doesn’t happen in Madden 13 and in many cases on turnovers there isn’t even the option presented to manually challenge them.

Graphically the game still excels, with player models looking better than ever, but the lighting can be problematic. During day games dark jerseys can look black depending on the direction of the sun and shadows and in some cases the two team’s uniforms can be difficult to distinguish under those conditions. Most of the coaches look so exaggerated in stature that it’s questionable how they got approved. It’s still a shame that Madden doesn’t have a screenshot feature. The game looks fantastic in pre and post-play scenes, replays, and images.

The Game Face feature has gotten strikingly accurate. Faces can be built through the website here. Unfortunately everything tested using the Game Face within Madden NFL 13 seemed to be broken. As a created Game Face coach in Connected Careers the game continually froze up – with there even being the problem of the league settings never being presented at setup. In Connected Careers as a player my guy came out ghost white. Ultimately I just had to restart both and go with either a created coach/player not utilizing Game Face or just to take over a current coach/player or a legend

Kinect for Xbox 360 voice commands are still hit and miss like in the demo. What has been discovered is that the game noise seems to adversely affect how Kinect picks up the commands. In Practice mode, where there is no crowd or commentary, it recognizes the voice commands much more consistently. Within games though shouting for “no huddle” is about the only thing I’ve found myself using it for. There simply isn’t enough time to make multiple worthwhile adjustments through Kinect particularly when it isn’t reliably interpreting the requests.

The legends have been implemented in a clever way. Sadly only a portion of the full roster of legends is actually available to use in Connected Careers. However having the option to take those guys into the mode is great – and they even wear their old gear. It’s a shame that 16 of the 25 players and 6 of the 7 coaches eligible for CC are currently locked away. Those held back as pre-order incentives will be unlocked for all in September while the others can be unlocked by obtaining them in Ultimate Team mode. The full roster of legends is presumably available to collect immediately within Ultimate Team mode.

Other Notes
•Seems that surprise onside kicks have been removed.
•Like the effectiveness of pump fakes. They’re just a little too drawn out.
•Like the ability to cancel play action with RT.
•Like WR fades into the end zone.
•Lack of stadium specific quirks. Ex: Altitude in Denver affecting kicks.
•The no-huddle system needs to be revamped.
•With accelerated clock on there’s no downside to huddling in the last 2 mins.
•Star players make big plays.
•Sacks and fumbles tend to come in bunches. Can make it feel sloppy at times.
•Assisted tackles aren’t being recorded.
•Fair amount of injuries though not enough minor ones happening.
•The ability to tweet and post to Facebook game results is a nice addition.
• Fantasy Football has a tie in with the game again.
•Can’t believe the Jumbotron graphics like “sack” and “injury” are still around.
•Nice touch having Jason Witten and Tony Romo on the sideline with hats on backwards.

Madden NFL 13 won’t necessarily be the turning point for the series in recapturing consumers who may have soured on it. However it’s done enough in one year that anyone will be able to recognize the improvements to gameplay and at least the attempt to advance presentation which has much farther to go. Content wise Madden NFL 13 is rich with the impressive Connected Careers in play – and hopefully a carry-over of the excellent online play from last year – in addition to more niche features like Ultimate Team and integration of legendary players and coaches.

Madden NFL 13 may not represent a revolution but it does achieve a sense of revival that could generate the momentum needed to really take the series to the next level. Check out the comprehensive write-up on being a Coach in Connected Careers here. Look for online impressions next week and the full Hits and Misses review to follow!