As the NFL football regular season approaches it signals the arrival of something else, the latest installment in the Madden franchise. Madden NFL 13 has been highly anticipated, not only for the fact that the we are all starting to get the football itch, but also because according to EA the game represents a major push forward for the franchise. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been playing Madden since 1994 and haven’t missed a year since. To say I’m a huge fan of the franchise would be accurate, but anyone that knows me also knows that this makes me one of the game’s biggest critics as well. One thing there is no doubt is the fact that there are a lot of changes in this year’s installment, the question a lot of you have is whether or not the changes were for the better. Read on to find out.Normally, I would start with overall gameplay but this year I have heard from a lot of you and the single biggest change you wanted to know more about and understand is Connected Careers, so that’s where I’ll start.
Madden NFL 13 introduces a new mode called Connected Careers which attempts to create a more interactive and social Franchise experience if you will. Speaking of Franchise mode, it no longer exist as it did and has been replaced by Offline Connected Careers. Connected Careers of course comes in two flavors, Offline and Online. If you are looking for a Franchise mode experience, Offline is what you will want to go with. One of the nice things about Connected Careers mode in general is that it essentially combines Franchise and Superstar mode into one cohesive mode that allows the players to either play as a coach and run the entire team in much the same way they would have in Franchise mode or they can choose to just play as a single player and only worry about the life and play of that player in much the same way that Superstar mode did. For EA it was a smart move, it allowed them to only have one primary game mode that simply has multiple components, enabling them to really focus on making the single mode great.
For hardcore Franchise folks like myself, Offline Connected Careers mode will take some getting used to. The majority of the core functionality is there, it just has a really fresh coat of paint. When you first drop in you get your first look at the News Feed and the associated simulated Twitter stream which included tweets by several familiar football analyst. To some this might sound like too much, but it actually works quite well. The news gives you pertinent info on not only what’s going on around your league in terms of signings, player performances and the like, it also gives you insight into the performances of the college players that you might want to make sure you have on your draft board. Depending on which News Feed you are looking, the Twitter stream changes to match and I have to say that it definitely adds a nice touch of realism as NFL personalities give their thoughts on the events of the day.
Connected Careers introduces the concept of growth and advancement in terms of XP and it applies whether you are playing as a player or a coach. When I first heard about XP in Madden 13, I was skeptical, I thought this is football, not some RPG game where I’m trying to level up my character. Well call me converted, because the XP system actually works tremendously well in the flow of the mode. Every player and coach has goals that are broken down by Week, Season, and Milestone categories. If you are playing as a coach, then not only will you as the coach gain XP to improve your coaching skills, but so will ever player on your team. From the coaches perspective, your XP can be used to improve your ability to keep certain player positions from retiring, improving the likelihood that a Free Agent will accept your offers, there are even some rewards that will allow you to increase the rate of development for your players. This is what makes meeting your coaching goals matter, because you can use it to directly affect your success on the field. As I said, the players pick up XP as well, which can be used to not only improve their ratings, it can also be used to give them special moves or traits. The special moves of course really only apply to defensive lineman, for instance you could use XP to give Trent Cole who’s a speed rusher a legitimate Bull Rush move. This goes a long way in allowing you to really mold the kind of team that you want. On the traits front, some players already have them but some don’t so for instance, Tony Romo fans might use XP to give him the Clutch trait which.
The amount of XP required for different improvements is nicely balanced and actually adds a bit of strategy to the game in terms of how you use it. Depending on how you configure it initially, players can be progressed at different rates, I choose weekly to give myself the most control. The important thing to note about this is that you don’t have to progress players every week, you can just let their XP build and then use that to give them a major upgrade. This introduction of XP for player progression has finally delivered on something us hardcore Madden fans have been wanting for years, the ability to make a players on-field performance directly affect his actual attributes. If you decide to start Russell Wilson as the Seahawks QB and he goes off for 300+ yards and multiple TDs a week, he will be racking up tons of XP which you can use to further improve his core attributes. No longer do you have to say “man I’m making Chandler Jones from the Patriots play like a beast, he should be rated higher”, no that will be completely up to you.
Connected Careers (continued)
All in all, Connected Careers as a mode is an upgrade over Franchise mode but there are some issues. First off, I just don’t particularly career for any of the menu systems in Madden NFL 13, they all are more clunky than I would have liked, it gets hard to keep track of where certain stuff is sometimes. I definitely preferred the easy to follow list type configuration from year’s past. I didn’t particularly care for the fact that depending on how you initially set up your league, certain things will be locked but it doesn’t clearly tell you why that thing is locked which can get frustrating. For instance, in my first attempt to play Offline Connected Careers I went to start a trade and noticed it was locked, I actually thought that was on purpose until I figured out I had accidentally disabled all trades (so be careful on initial setup).
You can really tell that the development team was really trying to create this huge interactive experience, but it had a cost. There were some things that were trimmed back and other things that they cut out completely. For instance, the Trade Block is no longer a screen of its own, now any players that are on the block will show up in your actions screen and you can negotiate from there. On the plus side for Trades, you can now trade both current and the future year’s draft picks. They cut out Fantasy Drafts and the import of classes from NCAA 13 because they would have broken a lot of the storylines and logic built into the mode. They needed a predictable and somewhat static base environment to start with, though they have acknowledged that they are looking for ways to add them back.
To be honest there are just too many things to that I could talk about in Connected Careers mode, so in the interest of not having this review go too long about just one thing, hit up the comments if you have questions about anything else or want more clarification on something. Before I get off Connected Careers though, I want to talk about my biggest gripe and something that I know a lot of Franchise mode fans are not going to like and that is the lack of context sensitive menus in Madden 13. Somebody tell me why in the world they thought it was a good idea to take away the ability to pop up the player card on the trade screen? When you are trying to compare attributes quickly to determine if you really want a guy or not, you have to actually remove him and search for him and then look at his ratings or click into another trade block and look that way. There are a lot of times that you will those context menus, for instance on the Roster screen I use to sort through the league for the fastest DE, then I would use the context menu to immediately jump to the trade screen, you just can’t do it anymore. Now you only have the option to release player and view player card from that menu. I know they probably wanted to reduce the total number of screens in the game but its a change that I don’t like, I think it makes evaluating talent across the league quickly a lot harder.
The highlight on the gameplay improvement front has to be the new Infinity Engine, a real-time physics engine that is supposed to account for player attributes like mass, speed, and body type and use that data to make sure that no two collisions are alike. So here’s the deal on the Infinity Engine, you have to get over how funny some of the hit animations look at first, eventually it grows on you until you actually appreciate what EA was trying to do with it. The bottom line is that it works, there aren’t funky animations that you can’t break out of, with the new engine you never know quite know how an impact will turn out which definitely keeps things interesting. The after play collisions as players get up is pretty funny, but for the benefit that the Infinity Engine provides its worth it.
The other big thing this year is Total Control Passing (TCP). Now this is one that I really wanted to try out for myself and after watching it in action I can say definitively that it works. In an act of extreme irony, this is good and bad. For Madden players like myself that have been playing for a long time, you have to retrain yourself on what’s possible in the passing game. In previous games, we had gotten so use to knowing that a ball would only go one place or the other that we started to take it for granted, at least I did. The punishment for my arrogance? A LOT of interceptions early on, though there were some absolutely gorgeous over the shoulder and sideline throws mixed in their as well. This is the first time in the history of Madden that the ball will really go where you throw it. Don’t take that fact lightly, in previous games if you got a guy open deep there was the tendency to press up on the analog stick because you were trying to get the ball out in front of the defender on over the receivers head if you could. This year with TCP be very careful, I’ve overthrown way too many incompletions that should have been touchdowns because when I pressed up to lead the receiver I really threw it deep and in a lot of cases way past him. TCP is something that will have to get used to and you will throw some picks on the way but if you can master it your passing game will be more deadly than ever before.
Another highlight on the gameplay front is the new Ball Hawk mechanic. Basically when a pass is in the air, you can press and hold triangle/Y which will cause your player to take the most efficient and aggressive route to the ball and then go for it. The mechanic works the way it should but be careful you try it against Calvin Johnson and miss and he’s gone for six. What I have noticed though is that there is a higher probability of making the interception in situations where it would be high in real life such as on a poorly thrown underneath route or when its thrown into space and you can run toward it. In previous games, I would say that you would make the interception 2 out of 5 times, now I would say you make the play 3.5 out of 5 times, which doesn’t seem big but trust me it is.
There are tons of other gameplay improvements like no more physic DBs (or receivers), a guy can’t make a play on the ball if he can’t see and therefore doesn’t know it’s there which is the way it should be. Overall, the defensive AI has been improved a lot, DBs match up better against receivers, its slightly harder to tell if they are in a man vs zone, and DBs utilize different coverage techniques including off-man and trailing. The Eagles even have their “Wide 9’s” defensive set though I haven’t found much success using it in-game which makes it about as effective as it does for them in real life (relax I’m an Eagles fan but its true).
Even though the game isn’t out yet, there are literally thousands of people that already have it and I’ve gotten to play online quite a bit. I’m not sure if it was because there aren’t tons of folks online yet or what, but as of this point I would say that this is the best online experience I’ve ever had in a Madden game. I played about 5 or 6 games online over my wireless connection and had barely any lag, even on kickoff where it can be terrible. Everything was fluid and responsive and if I didn’t know I was playing online I could have been forgiven for thinking I was playing local.
Madden Ultimate Team
There’s nothing really groundbreaking in Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) this year but that’s not to say its a bad thing. The mode gets a brand new interface which I don’t care for, but it does introduce a much needed reserve section. This means that you don’t have to sell off or discard good cards anymore simply for space reasons, now you can simply send them to the reserve section and bring them back whenever you need them. Auctions also get a makeover, they’ve gotten rid of tiers, initial pricing requirements and buyout maximums, now you can put your cards up at whatever price you want and let the market decide what they are really willing to pay.
In short, Madden NFL 13 represents the largest single influx of innovation I’ve seen in the franchise…EVER. Does everything work, of course not but should the developers be commended for going out and making some massive changes to core game modes that they knew they would take flak on, absolutely. Connected Careers is a concept that I think has tons of depth to it already and I think that EA Sports has a tremendous opportunity to continue to expand the mode into something more impressive.
My major criticism of Madden NFL 13 is that I think that they might have gone a little overboard trying to streamline things and in the process slightly alienated some of their more hardcore user base. The development team definitely needs to find a balance between making the game “approachable” and making sure they don’t exclude features that hardcore fans value. If you are a hardcore fan, there will be some things that you won’t like and that you will feel like are missing, give the game a chance though and I think you will find more to love than to hate.
For years fans and critics alike have been pushing the Madden team to take more chances and with Madden NFL 13 there is no doubt that they did that. Madden NFL 13 is quite simply the best Madden yet and quite possibly the best football simulation I’ve ever played (NFL 2K games included). EA Sports could have chosen to play it safe but they didn’t, instead they delivered significant and meaningful improvements to core gameplay, presentation, and overall experience and for that I give Madden NFL 13 9 out of 10.
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