My thoughts on Madden 13 after playing the game almost non-stop for a week.

Every year the complaint is the same, “The new Madden is just a $60 roster update.” The same people who say that usually still buy the game or they buy NCAA Football, which is also just a $60 roster update, and not even a good one this year due to some licensing mess. If you’ve played Madden 13, then there’s no way you can say, “it’s the same as last year” with a straight face or without Tim Tebow striking you down. It’s not just the gameplay that has changed either, almost every single thing in Madden 13 is different from Madden 12.

Lets start with the gameplay. This is without a doubt the best Madden has ever played. The new infinity system has done away with canned animations. Now everything has “come to life” on the field. If you run into your lineman, you’ll stumble and possibly fall down if your psychical ratings are low. If a player is on the ground, you actually have to jump over him. If you try to just run through him, chances are you’ll stumble and fall to the ground if you’re not tackled first. This new system allows for more realistic tackling and collisions. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment when you break off a big run as you now know that you didn’t just beat some animations, you beat realistic figures and elements.

There are also some new passing animations and drop steps, but chances are you won’t really notice those. Developers made a big deal about “leading receivers” and “throwing the ball away from defenders” but those things have been in Madden for years and work the same way they always have. Sideline catches have actually been improved this year. The Madden team has always made a big deal about them, but until this year they never seemed to work all that well. Sideline awareness after the catch is still an issue though. If you throw a swing pass to the running back, instead of turning up-field, he’ll likely just run out of bounds for a loss. Defenders don’t automatically swat everything away like in the old games, even if their turned around, which is nice. In fact, it’s pretty cool to see a pass to a receiver with a defender not looking and after the receiver catches the ball, the defender gets his hands up a split seconds too late. Of course the defenders haven’t been completely dumbed down compared to the receivers. In the most frustrating thing of all, receivers still don’t fight for the ball like they should. If I have Larry Fitzgerald in one-on-one coverage and I throw the ball up, he should be able to out-jump his defender for the ball. Instead he stands and waits for it while the defender goes up and gets it. It really takes the deep ball out of the game unless the receiver has a clear couple of steps on his defender.

The presentation looks as good as ever thanks to the CBS broadcast style. I don’t know how the commentary is because I mute sports games in order to watch 30 Rock or something that I know won’t suck.

All in all, the gameplay and visuals are the best in years thanks to the infinity system. As I’ve pointed out, there are still plenty of flaws, but it’s by far the most realistic gameplay experience that Madden has ever delivered.

The gameplay not only got an overhaul, but so did the game modes. Franchise and Superstar mode are gone and have been lumped into one mode called Connected Careers. On paper, Connected Careers is a good idea. You take a player or a coach and build up a Hall of Fame legacy by winning games and completing goals and gaining XP that can be used to improve your team or coach. It’s like a Football RPG. When it’s all laid out and on the disc though, it’s extremely flawed.

The player version of Connected Careers isn’t that bad. It works like Superstar mode but is much deeper with everything you can do. The only problem with it is that you have to use the normal camera mode as the first person camera has been taken away. It takes away the realistic aspect of things, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not that bad. Also, your team will make a ton of stupid personnel decisions like signing five running backs and not addressing a need at wide receiver, but nobody ever accused NFL GMs of being the brightest minds in the world.

The coach version of Connected Careers is unplayable though thanks to schemes not working and not saving. Madden developers made a big deal about schemes this year and how it would change how teams draft and sign free agents. It also affects player ratings. For example, under the current Carolina Panthers scheme when you start a new CC, DeAngelo Williams is rated 77. After changing the player scheme from “power back” to “speed back,” Williams becomes an 85 overall. I like that players perform better when they’re in the right schemes, but as mentioned, player schemes don’t save. So you have to change the scheme before every game if you care enough to do so. When it comes to team schemes, those aren’t even available to change. So you’re stuck with your offense being a West Coast offense and your defense being a Spread defense. Now this is a big deal because when it comes to re-signing and signing players, you’re told whether or not they fit into your scheme. But if your scheme isn’t really your scheme, you can’t judge whether or not the guy you want will fit and you may not even sign because he doesn’t fit into your generic scheme.

Speaking of signings and even trading, it’s become harder than ever, which is great but also has it’s drawbacks. It’s nice that you can’t just pry Calvin Johnson out of Detroit for a couple of first round picks, but I really can’t get Tim Tebow from New York for Steve Smith and a first round pick? For the record, I only tried that trade for the sake of trying it, I’m not as dumb as some NFL GMs. The trading block is back, but it’s less polished than it used to be, which is a shame because the Madden trading block used to be a thing of beauty. There’s no outright trading block anymore, players are just listed under the weeks tasks. If you make an offer for a player, the team may accept it or trade him to another team. It’s cool that other teams will actually go after a player, but I’d like to know how I lost out on a guy. Example, a cornerback goes on the market and I offer a first round pick. The team decides to trade him elsewhere. That’s fine, but because there is no “league news” list outside of the “top stories” screen, I don’t know what the other team gave up to get the cornerback. If they offered a first round pick and something else, then fine. But if they offered a second round pick, I’d be pretty pissed. But once again, no one ever accused NFL GMs of being the smartest people in the room.

As mentioned, “league news” is gone and replaced by “top stories” and fake tweets. This is another good idea that isn’t executed all that great. I’m all for knowing what the top stories are, but I’d also like to know some background on them, specifically when big trades happen. The twitter feed is pretty cool but it gets extremely repetitive and is sometimes just flat out incorrect. After leading the league in team rushing, twitter exploded after the year that I needed to upgrade my running back position. Maybe these fake twitter feeds also run the team when you’re playing CC as a player.

Finally, Madden Ultimate Team is back and this time it actually upsets me. Usually I just stay away from Ultimate Team because it’s not something I’m interested in. But this year, thanks to the addition of legends, I have to play Ultimate Team to unlock Deion Sanders, who is my favorite player ever. I was looking forward to starting a CC with Sanders, but once I realized that I had to play countless of meaningless MUT games or spend real money for the chance to unlock him, I became pissed. If you’re a card collector, then maybe MUT is your thing and I’m happy that you find enjoyment in it, but I hate it. Again, in previous years it’d just be a screen I skip over, but since I actually need to play it this year in order to enjoy a different mode, it’s extremely annoying.

This year they’ve also taken out fantasy draft and NCAA important, but neither of those things concern me. Seeing as how I have a favorite team, I’m not big on the fantasy draft aspect and I never used the NCAA draft import except for my Road To Glory player, which I didn’t even bother playing this year in NCAA since I knew I couldn’t continue my career into Madden. Also, I’m a strict offline player. I don’t play online because too many assholes don’t believe in kicking or running. Based on what I’ve read, it seems that the Madden team has really alienated the offline gamer this year. Some of the problems I mentioned above with CC are already fixed online while us offline people have to wait for the patch to be released, and even then there’s no guarantee of these things being fixed.

This Madden might be completely different, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. The gameplay and presentation are the best its ever been, but there are still flaws. Connected Careers is incomplete in a big way though. Maybe when things get patched and these issues are taken care of, the game mode will be playable as a coach, but right now you’re better off using your favorite player instead of your favorite team.

If you just like playing football, you can’t go wrong with Madden 13. But if you want the full Madden 13 experience, well, that’s not available at this time, try again in a week or so.

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