#3 of 2012: Madden NFL 13

Posted January 9th, 2013 at 6:15 pm

The Madden NFL series is easily the most heavily scrutinized of all the sports video game franchises. As the biggest seller in North America – only FIFA tops it worldwide – much of the criticism it receives is justified but some of it is not. EA Sports has to accept that the product will be held to the highest standard and produce on a level to meet expectations. There are no excuses why they should not be able to do just that.

Yet this generation they’ve come up short more often than not. Every sports game this year had some serious weaknesses, and Madden NFL 13 was certainly no exception, but by no longer being afraid of failure the game took a significant step forward. 

The ranking of games in the best of 2012 list is based on number of factors including the personal amount of enjoyment had with a particular title, whether advertised features were fully delivered, post-release support, community interaction and communication, overall gameplay experience, feature set, and online play performance. Again this is largely a personal take and one with the advantage of tracking the games beyond just the release frame and does not act as some sort of recap of those with the highest scores on Metacritic. The analysis is weighted heavily towards those high in fun factor while considering them as a whole and compared relatively to the field.

Where Madden NFL 13 deserves the most credit is in the willingness to finally take some risks and innovate. Whether the eventual outcome is deemed successful or not it’s a big shift from what has been the norm. The securing of the exclusive NFL license, and subsequent lack of competition, is often cited as the reason for any disappointment with Madden. What has affected the series more than that however was the need to appease everyone. That resulted in efforts that were often built on the back of gimmicks and in terms of content was deep but overly bland in nature and while fulfilling requirements excelled in no specific areas.

The ambition that had been lacking from the series for so long finally materialized with the introduction of the “Infinity Engine” physics and rebuild of Franchise and Superstar modes into “Connected Careers”. These were not designed to cater to the casual crowd but provided genuine advancement and reason for hope going forward.

The physics was thankfully tempered – doing well to avoid being over the top – but still quite effective. Outside of some occasional odd looking moments, more often in post-play than during a play, one could trust the outcome. The physics made for some dynamic and truly exciting moments as it affected momentum and interactions all over the field. There is definitely room for improvement and just look at the jump in how the physics performed in FIFA 12 to 13. It will be better refined with time and potentially become more rewarding. Really it was remarkable that the introduction of physics in Madden NFL 13 went as well as it did.

Connected Careers was received really well by many but vocally criticized by those who didn’t want change to the Franchise mode of old. It’s understandable that change is often met by resistance and those who liked things they way they were had a legitimate gripe to express. This is what these companies face however when making big changes. Consumers demand it and then later may push back against it.

The main reason for criticism though was with the features that didn’t make the transition from Franchise to Connected Careers. Fantasy Drafts, player editing, importing NCAA draft classes, offline co-op, and Coach Mode were all initially left out. Many of them were added later through patches but missing them initially created a bad first impression. Connected Careers was not an easily explained mode either and overwhelming to grasp right away.

Despite that Connected Careers represented a revolution in career modes by combining Franchise and Superstar and creating the singular universe where all features are tied together. Essentially there was now also true Online Franchise which could even involve those who just wanted to control a single player instead of the whole team. The new XP-based progression system, “weeks” for free agency, top story layout, NFL Draft presentation, Twitter feed, and backstories for incoming college prospects were great ideas. Omitting a transaction log was not and practice wasn’t all that well conceived. Preseason games remained a huge mess.

Gameplay received some really valuable enhancements as legacy issues such as play action, pass trajectories, route balancing, and return blocking were addressed. The “Ball Hawk” feature on defense went somewhat unheralded but was a personal favorite of mine.

The Hit Stick however is no longer especially fun to use. Offensive line blocking is still riddled with issues and in need of a drastic overhaul and special teams is still a third of football that is really overlooked in Madden. Surprise onside kicks were removed which was quite disappointing, the challenge system in the game often did not trigger when it should have, Kinect functionality was largely useless and sometimes even a nuisance, and CPU coaching decisions were too predictable and generally overly conservative.

Online play remains a strength with consistent and smooth performance and a wide variety of ways to play between ranked, unranked, Communities, Online Team Play, and Online Connected Career games. Legends were integrated well except that too many were locked away from use. Commentary improved with the new duo of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms but understandably in the first year the audio library was limited. A new original soundtrack composed in-house was a welcome change from traditional soundtracks. Presentation in general still needs a great deal of help with inconsistent replay camera angles (is this supposed to be TV presentation or not?) and absolutely no in-game connection to what is happening within a Connected Career.

Post-release support has been good. Maybe not as great as EA promised – there really should have been one more patch to fulfill that completely – but easily it was the best of any traditional sports game in 2012. Roster updates were delivered during all but one week of the season. Four patches were released and not only did they attempt to address issues but they actually added features (many of which were assumed to be held and marketed as new for Madden NFL 14). Other modes such as Madden Moments Live and Madden Ultimate Team continued to receive new content consistently throughout the season. One area where improvement is needed though is with art updates. Called out on the error by many media outlets upon first being spotted the Bears were still stuck with orange road pants by default all year.

Madden NFL 13 was well-rounded, innovated, and provided good value but was met with a divisive reception. Overcoming the negativity that has been built over this generation won’t happen overnight. It’s encouraging though to have established some stability in the past two iterations with true ambition emerging in the latest one. EA Sports has to now be consistent with their vision and approach going forward and stay away from the risk-averse pit that they have finally dug themselves out of.

Year in Review
Only a few more to come!
•#3 of 2012: Madden NFL 13
•#4 of 2012: SSX
•#5 of 2012: UFC Undisputed 3
•#6 of 2012: Forza Horizon
•#7 of 2012: MLB 12: The Show
•#8 of 2012: NHL 13
•#9 of 2012: NCAA Football 13
•#10 of 2012: NFL Blitz
•Vote for the 2012 Community Choice Awards
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: MLB 2K12 Perfect Game Contest Controversy
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: The Death of the MLB 2K Series
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: Turning to Entertainers for Marketing Exposure
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: Lawsuits Faced by Electronic Arts
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: Disingenuous Marketing and Unfulfilled Features
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: The Disastrous Road Towards NBA Live 13