With every EA Sports Madden NFL release I struggle to bring myself to write a review.  Why you ask?  Because it causes multiple voices in my head to scream various things at me all at the same time.  Hate it!  Love it!  Abolish it!  Worship it!  Crap on it!  Take it out to dinner!  Tell it to make you a sandwich then kick it to the curb! and so on.

It seems as if every year, we do this dance, the Madden shuffle if you will. Features we love are gone, new features we like (and some we don’t) are introduced, and countless bugs and baffling ommissions enrage gamers and cause them to take to the forums demanding a pound of flesh for their troubles.  It’s almost more than one reviewer can handle if they hope to provide an all encompassing release day offering, and that’s why my review is coming at you weeks after the launch.

Sure, I got my copy of Madden NFL 13 two weeks early just like the reviewers at most other outlets, but I really wanted to give the EA team ample time to release patches and answer some of my questions before sharing this mammoth review with you.

With that in mind, I reached out to Connected Careers creator, Josh Looman, and asked him a slew of questions. Most of his responses made complete sense, while one in particular came across as formulated hogwash to cover up the likelihood that EA Sports ideally wants us playing this game online, and could care less about our offline enjoyment even if there is a large population of gamers who are ultimately only interested in playing alone. I will get into some of the specific responses I obtained from Josh when it makes sense to share them with you throughout this Madden 13 MEGA review of mine.

WARNING: There’s a reason why I called this a MEGA Review, and it’s not because this year’s cover features Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. No, it’s because this review is big. I’m talking Vince Wilfork big! So if you really (and I mean really) want to know every in and out of Madden 13 before you fork out the cash to buy it, then this is the no holds barred review you’ve been waiting for. But before you dig in I recommend make a quick run to the fridge and get yourself some food and drink reserves.

These guys are ready to enjoy my review, are you?

Got a healthy stash of beer and Turducken by your side? Alright then, let’s get this show on the road.

 

Graphics & Presentation

About as Good as Gets this Generation, Just Don’t Look to the Sidelines

If you want to be any closer to the on the field action you’re going to have to wear a helmet.

This year’s Madden release boasts HD Lighting and motion blur and when it comes to instant replay they both perform admirably together. At times you’ll feel like you’re watching some footage from NFL films, unfortunately since Madden 13 didn’t ship with EA Trax, you won’t have the iconic sounds to go with it.

While you won’t get any complaints from me over the graphics overall in Madden 13, they’re about as good as we can hope to see this generation, there are a few details and presentation quirks that mildly annoy me. These may be nitpicks but I am going to share them with you anyway. One, where did the cheerleaders go? Are they on strike along with the officials? Two, why can’t we see outside of the stadium anymore? Three, I love the glamour shots of our coach barking up a storm on the sidelines with real players behind him, but why is it that the players on the sidelines in-game look about as generic as generic can be?

Is it too much to ask to want the sidelines to look attentive and not like they forgot to take their “give a shit” pills?

It amazes me that we have new updated Nike uniforms for every team but they can’t give our sidelined teammates a little bit of TLC. Or that they have time to create a booth shot of our new announcing crew that lasts all of five seconds before the game kicks off but neglect to include the stadium exterior activity shots. Maybe if the cheerleaders wore sponsor tags on their uniforms they wouldn’t have ended up on the cutting room floor. There’s an idea. EA Sports can look into slapping a big fat Hooters logo on the cheerleaders. Surely then they would find the time to include them in the game. Old Spice swagger anyone?

Again, these may not be huge issues to most but for EA Sports to come out and say that they gave attention to “detail, pixel by pixel” is a bit misleading. I just want the game experience to feel as authentic as it could and considering some of the advancements they made in previous years were omitted, I find the “put it in” then quietly “take it out and hope no one notices” approach puzzling.

Here’s a stadium exterior shot request I’d like to see. Note: Bill Cowher is actually smiling in this picture.

Controls

Analog Kicking is Back, Play Action is Less Likely to get you Killed

There’s something about using the analog stick to kick that just feels right.

If you were a big fan of the Analog Stick kicking game then get up and do your dance of joy because it’s back in Madden 13, and with it returns a skill based level of control that the button timing alternative couldn’t match.

This year, according to EA Sports, you will also be able to access more throwing trajectories as a quarterback. While they are calling it “Total Control Passing” it is anything but. Sure, previous iterations of the game may have offered far less trajectories (i.e. lob, medium, touch, and bullet), to call this year’s implementation ”Total Control” is not accurate at all.

Your QB will decide if he is going to throw it in a specific area when you hit the cooresponding reciever icon and the chances of him getting it there are based on his ability and accuracy stats.  In other words, it has nothing to do with you using an analog stick to tap up and lead your receiver down the field or tap right to toss it towards the sidelines. The control is in the hands of the QB, not you.

Now some people may prefer the less complicated approach. If you have a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning then chances are their football IQ will allow them to fit the ball into the space you intended to throw it to but if you have a Tim Tebow for example, you will have no way to “control” or make up for his lack of accuracy.

Tom: Good game Tim. Here’s a tip, Total Control Passing won’t help you because you throw like my wife.

Receivers this year in Madden will show their icon to you when they are looking at you, and while this is nice, it doesn’t really matter as much as you might think as you are more than likely going to need to throw it before they turn around and look for the ball. It’s really more of a memory challenge for you to see if you can remember which receiver is which. Use it for anything more then that and there’s a good chance the cornerback will jump on the ball.

If you always hated getting sacked on a play action and thought to yourself “if only I could break this and change my mind after the snap.” then this year’s Madden 13 is going to make you smile from ear to ear, assuming you can sense the blitz before the snap. Yes, you can now tap the Right Trigger to break the play action up but unless you tap it a split second after the snap you will still get sacked anyway. And this brings me to my next point, better pre-snap information.

If you sense a blitz coming on you can now break a play action to quickly get rid of the ball.

This next bit isn’t a current feature as much as it is a suggestion to improve upon the game. We currently have a lot of options and information to process as the field general on offense, but the one thing we still lack is the ability to read matchups before the snap. I don’t know about you but I’d like to know which one of my star receivers is matched up against Darelle Revis before I throw in that direction and I’d also like to know if one of them is being covered by a Linebacker. This type of thing could also be used to clue you in when a backup player hits the field and the starter steps out to catch a breather. Information like that would be a game changer.

Currently, unless you are playing your games on a movie theater screen it is darn near impossible to know this by looking at the opposing team’s jersey numbers and because of that I’d like to see some sort of button press that brings up matchup info before snap. You can see an example of what I am proposing below but keep in mind this is a Photoshop by me and does not represent what you will actually see in the game.

Regardless of the matchup, the Jets are not an easy team to throw the ball against.

Gameflow was a feature introduced in previously and while the time saving aspect of it is great if you’ve only got 30 minutes or so to squeeze a game in, the supporting elements that made it customizable based on your upcoming weekly matchup have been stripped away. The end result is a watered down version of “Ask Madden” that feels overly generic and isn’t fun to use at all.

Last but not least, the “Kinect makes it better” integration. Now, I don’t own a Kinect but my friend in California that I play online with does and the last time we played he left his Kinect on during our match up. Now, it may be true that Kinect makes the experience better during single player mode but enabling it for online matchups can make for some seriously frustrating (and funny depending on how you look at it) moments.

There were countless times when he cursed at me for running a play that sacked him or broke up one of his passes and when he did the Kinect would try to interpret what he said and assume it had something to do with the next play he wanted to run. Often he would scream back at it “No! What the hell play did you just pick for me! I don’t want this! Chad, hold on a minute.” I suggest you keep this story in mind and use your Kinect like Levitra. When the moment is right, it will be ready.

Careful what you say, the Kinect is listening to your every word.

 

Sound

Announcers are New But EA Trax Got the Boot

If the repetitive Menu Music becomes too much to bear, go ahead and turn it off. I certainly did.

Since this year’s Madden didn’t ship with EA Trax, you’ll have one of two options if your home situation is anything like mine. Setting aside for a moment the fact that listening to the same music over and over again is annoying, EA Trax was something to look forward to each year. I always found it fun to find out what artists and songs made the cut. Beyond that the NFL films music made everything epic.

I found myself playing around with rosters and scouting for the draft one day when my wife walked into my office and said “hearing that same song over and over again is really starting to get on my nerves!” That’s when I navigated to My Madden > Change Settings > Volume Control and slid the Menu Music down to zero.

In previous years the conversation between my significant other went more like this, “Hey I heard that song you’re listening to in Madden on the radio today. I like it.” or “What’s the name of that song in your game, I want to download it to my iPod.” Sadly, it seems that cost cutting measures this year have put an end to EA Trax. Will it be back? No clue, but until then I’ll be playing with my Menu Music off.

Welcome to this 2018 matchup. Phil, tell me how you think Andrew Luck is shaping up so far in his rookie season.

Outside of the in-game music, Madden 13 has a new set of announcers. In a possible response to fans demanding a “mute Chris Collinsworth” button forMadden 13, the duo of Chris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson are no more. Instead, we’ve now got Jim Nantz and Phil Simms who actually do this together in the real world for CBS Sports. Not only do we hear the voices of Jim and Phil in Madden 13, we actually get a brief glimpse of them before each game perched high above the field as they introduce the match up to us.

At first, Jim Nance and Phil Sims do a bang up job and are interesting to listen to (not that I really had a problem with the previous duo) but they eventually become bland and repetitive. Once you are a a few seasons in to your Connected Career Coach Mode, you’ll get tired of hearing about 2013 specific storylines. I mean, how many times do I have to hear them talk about Andrew Luck’s rookie season when he is a five year vet?

Overall, the sound effects and in stadium atmosphere in Madden 13 is more than sufficient. You’ll sometimes hear background noise that feels out of place when you hear your QB bark orders at the line of scrimmage but common sense tells you that is because of the fans in the stadium when the track was recorded in the first place.

 

Infinity Engine

Infinite Possibilities, But Some Still Suck

I’ve tried toss plays like this countless times but the linemen end up blocking thin air.

First and foremost, the biggest and most touted improvement in Madden 13 – The Infinity Engine. There is no argument from me that the new physics engine in this years release is one of the best things to happen to this franchise since the addition of playmaker and the hit stick. It’s the equivalent of the forward pass in the NFL itself. And just like the forward pass, it took time for it to develop into the complex aerial assault we see today.

The Infinity Engine is not perfect by any means. You’ll notice countless instances of players tripping over each other and falling to the ground with the slightest contact as if they were hit by a tractor trailer going full speed. You will often run into your offensive line and try to wiggle your way around the mass of bodies only to fall to backwards as if the shear act of touching your lineman’s back sent seismic shivers down your spine. The offensive line still has difficulty performing certain tasks like pulling on run plays and you won’t be able to turn your body as a running back to “get skinny” and hit the hole either.

Those negatives aside, you will notice multiple “holy shit” moments within the game due to this engine. Examples include going up for a catch along the sidelines as a reciever and reaching out with one hand to grab the jersey of your would be defender to brace yourself and remain in bounds on the way down. Gone are the days of the invisible sideline wall. You’ll now be able to nudge a receiver out of bounds and rejoice when the illegal touching penalty is handed out due to him being the first to touch the ball after coming back into the field of play.

I’ve been playing Madden for years and I’ve never seen something like this before.

While instant replay moments like those above will happen from time to time, the majority of the improvement will be noticed on tackles, both missed and made. For the first time in forever you will see hits out of bounds, late hits, and the kind of fair catch interference that would make James Harrison proud.

After playing Madden 13 for a while the physics improvements really grow on you and you may need to go back and play an earlier release to fully appreciate the improvements. All in all, the Infinity Engine (version 1.0) gets a mild-mannered thumbs up from me. It’s fun and addictive, but it still has a long road ahead of itself to get to where it could and very well should be.

 

Play Now

All the Fun, None of the Fuss

Play Now is everything Madden should be in a self contained bubble free of Connected Careers Hoopla.

If you strictly don’t give a damn about any of the Madden frills like accurate and timely roster updates, player editing, Franchise Mode, Co-Op Play, Super Star Mode, Madden Moments, Madden Ultimate Team, etc, and the only reason you buy Madden each year is to occasionally hop online and play a thirty minute match with your childhood friend who now lives hours away on the other side of the country, then stop reading this review right now and go buy Madden NFL 13.

I’d imagine there are a vast number of people out there that don’t get into the “why can’t I edit this player?” or “where did the old franchise mode go?” heated discussions on the EA Sports forums. And for those people, the combination of pick up play and real time physics is enough to send them towards the checkout counter with their wallets open.

The “Play Now” mode delivers head-to-head matchups, both on and offline, and the new, yet sometimes hobbled, addition of the infinitely hyped Infinity Engine, gives us real time physics for the first time in a Madden game. Another plus for Play Now is that it’s the only mode that actually allows you to edit your players and your team roster, something you can’t do in the Connected Careers portion of Madden 13. Just mosey on over to the “My Madden” section and tweak your roster to til your heart’s content.

My final verdict on this mode alone is a big thumbs up. One example of this is the recent online Play Now session my friend in California and I had. It was an absolute blast even though it featured a field goal attempt by me that fell short and ended up being returned for a touchdown by him. The sheer excitement in his voice as he blew past my defenders screaming “GO! GO! GO! GO! YES! MY LIFE IS NOW COMPLETE!!” was proof enough for me that Madden 13 is extremely fulfilling as long as a pick up game as long as you truly don’t care about the other stuff.

This is what a missed kick and a wiffed tackle will do to you.

As I mentioned above, if all you are interested in when it comes to Madden is a few pick up games here and there then please consider this the end of the review and go buy it. However, if you are looking for more, be warned that things are going to take a drastic turn for the worse from here on out.

Continue reading but don’t say I didn’t warn you.