The Madden franchise has faced intense criticism throughout this console generation and much of it has been warranted. EA Sports took the approach, with their intimate exclusive partnership with the NFL, of trying to appease the largest crowd possible with the thinking that producing a bland and inoffensive product would benefit both parties. Instead what that resulted in were titles that notably lacked innovation, imagination, and ultimately in their execution.
That only proved to turn away consumers who have much higher expectations and sales for the most part stagnated. The company began losing traction with dedicated consumers while failing to reel in new ones. The releases were sufficient in many areas but never excelling in any of them. EA and the NFL showed a fear of innovation – they didn’t want to come up short and turn potential consumers away. So rather they played it safe.
That all changed with Madden NFL 13. EA has now demonstrated a willingness to take risks – much to the chagrin of those who feel certain elements went by the wayside – with attempts at innovation and true advancement in critical areas for the series. While there are still many aspects that demand improvement it’s a change in philosophy that should be met with optimism.
Continue on for the areas where Madden NFL 13 succeeded and those that is came up short in this Hits and Misses review!
•Infinity Engine Physics
The call for physics has been strong in recent years and EA delivered a tempered but effective system. It’s not just about looks as the results on the field are altered due to the physics. It’s impressive that they were able to reign it in enough to avoid most of the instances where physics could play a detrimental role. Yes, there are some silly sequences post-play, but the important thing is what happens during the plays and it’s been all positives.
The physics matter when it comes to momentum and interactions and it has produced some genuinely thrilling moments that again are rare enough to actually feel special. The physics aren’t always totally apparent though – and the claim that no animation would be repeated is a faulty one – but there is a valuable dynamic element to it all.
Even bigger than the physics is the shift to Connected Careers which houses under one name and feature set what has been known as Franchise, Superstar, and Online Franchise modes. It brings in a new XP based progression system along with better scouting, free agency, and NFL Draft features.
It’s a big change and one that has definitely been overwhelming and confusing to some. Missing features have drawn the ire of those who value them. However bringing all those modes under one roof will prove beneficial in the future and evidence of it already is undoubtedly established.
Elements like the Twitter feed, NFL Draft presentation, player backstories, collegiate player storylines, having ratings based on schemes, and a free agency system broken down to “weeks” are effective. Leaving out important things like a transaction log is damaging as is the lack of ties to the league and events surrounding the team once actually playing a game. Practice is poorly conceived and preseason games are a disaster. There are “love it or hate it” parts of going though as a Player but despite that it’s still a better experience than Superstar of old.
How well Connected Careers holds up with multi-user leagues is still under evaluation.
Important legacy issues were addressed this year with working play action, new pass trajectories, improved QB drop backs, routes in the passing game balanced and more effective, blocking on kick and punt returns made much better, screen plays set up well, and receivers and defenders will go up and battle for a ball. All of those things are also enhanced by the physics.
An unheralded new feature is the “Ball Hawk” ability where holding the catch or swat buttons will get a player in position to go up and make a play on the ball. It’s an effective solution to problems with responsiveness and timing without making the whole process feel automated. Offensive line blocking however is definitely an area that needs focus going forward.
Last year Madden NFL 12 delivered arguably the best online play experience for a sports game to date. Madden 13 expands on that with new ways to play online and performance that remains consistently good. Standard ranked games are a bit on the short side at 6 minute quarters but they’ve proven to be balanced and enjoyable with only rare instances of lag or disconnects.
Reliability around the Connected Careers servers will remain a concern. While there were sporadic outages early on those have mostly been cleared up. It still may stick in the back of ones’ mind though when playing that a drop from the servers will result in a complete waste of time within any “online” Connected Careers.
There is good variety online between ranked, unranked, Communities, Online Team Play, and what amounts to Online Franchise and Online Superstar through Connected Careers.
This is an always subjective category but for the most part Madden 13 has shown itself to be a fun and strategic game. Gameplay balance is there and smart play is rewarded. The wide variety of modes provides options for those who prefer particular ways to play. The legend implementation is well executed though locking so many at the outset was a disappointing decision. The social media ties were also nice additions.
This is an area that has seemed to suffer even though considerable resources have been put towards it. The game opening with the new commentary duo of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms is authentic and interesting. Outside of that though presentation lacks a certain focus with the auto-replays being the most frustrating as they do not attempt to replicate a television broadcast the way many other elements of the presentation does.
There is really no halftime show, the fancy intros get old quick and don’t always feature relevant players, and Connected Careers suffer due to presentation ties like on-screen graphics or commentary references. Most of the authentic player celebrations are also mysteriously missing after being touted months ago.
Commentary is much improved with a serious and credible tone that comes by having Nantz and Simms call the action. The two are somewhat generic and repeat a lot of things but that comes as no surprise in the first year of a commentary build.
While they may not matter to everyone those that are passionate about certain features can have their enjoyment of the product significantly dampened, if not completely eliminated, due to their exclusion. With the revolutionary change to what had been Franchise and Superstar modes a few long-running features did not make the transition. Those affecting Connected Careers include the lack of fantasy drafts, player editing, the importing of NCAA draft classes, offline co-op, and a true “coach mode”. EA has made some assurances that those features will return next year.
•Various Disappointing Aspects
There are a number of issues that could be addressed in post-release support or may have to wait for Madden 14. The CPU coach decision making is overly conservative and predictable. The CPU tends to take too many sacks and stick with a running game that isn’t working – and late game clock management is often questionable at best. The CPU is generally competent but completely unthreatening with their offensive attack.
Challenges are not implemented properly – there should be reviews of every turnover and every touchdown and at least they should be showing up for close calls. The hit stick is no longer fun use. Kinect functionality is largely useless, not even implemented in “Player” Connected Careers, and occasionally even a nuisance to have activated. Surprise onside kicks were removed.
Madden NFL 13 doesn’t deliver everything necessary to be considered the elite sports franchise that EA Sports wants it to be and that consumers deserve. However it has fought back against complacency and made an honest effort to be put back into that conversation.
In that sense doing so marks as an achievement and important step in the process. Madden 12 reestablished some credibility and Madden 13 followed it up with a push towards innovation. Some consistency in output and in vision has been desperately needed.
EA delivered a product with Madden NFL 13 that finally took some risks – not attempting to attract casuals through gimmicks or borrowing features introduced in other games – showing that they were no longer going to avoid them simply to steer away from potential failure. The goal was to excel and take the series to the next level conceptually while addressing the on-field experience for the better.
Whether they prevailed this year with Madden NFL 13 is certainly up for debate. Regardless though it’s definitely better to be having that discussion than the ones that have followed previous releases in the series.
Previous Coverage: Online Play Impressions – Connected Careers Website Impressions – Sales Numbers Strong – Player Connected Career Impressions – Coach Connected Career Impressions – The NFL’s Clutch Players According to Madden – Benefits to Online Connected Careers – Loading Time Analysis – Team Ratings – Player Ratings – Full Gameplay Videos – Gameplay and Presentation Impressions