Another year, another Madden. It’s been somewhat changed, in case you haven’t been paying attention here’s the summary:

Madden is back, and it’s time to lead your team by barking out signals on both  sides of the ball in Madden’s most immersive experience yet. Use Kinect to issue  voice-controlled pre-snap adjustments, substitutions, and audibles. After the  snap, experience ultra-realistic impact and player momentum with the all-new Infinity Engine. Jim Nance and Phil Simms call the action in a presentation that  feels just like what you see on Sunday. Hear the quarterback’s cadence, on-field  player chatter, and real gridiron sound effects with real game audio from the  vaults of NFL Films. Experience the 24-7 spotlight as your every move is  dissected from every angle in a Connected Careers Mode, play with expanded  social integration, and much more.

Overview

I’m assuming this review is going to start quite a ruckus, so I’ll get to the point. I never cared for Madden. I do look for positive things in it since it is the only NFL game that we can play because of the NFL’s greed so I’m not blaming the game due to the Madden style. I care about the game of football and how it’s presented, not who developed it or what picture is on the cover. I’ll also be honest, I’ve been playing this one during the past week. Before last week at the time of this review, it was borderline garbage. There were some quite large patch updates that I installed and it actually made the game better. I suppose the good thing with reviewing these games released months ago is that some do get better in time, which I’ll probably revisit some old reviews and readjust as needed.

The Menu

The menu is strange in this one, although it’s not necessarily bad. It has a home page so to speak, and mostly everything is selectable from the home menu. How I mention a home page is because it’s kind of like the new Windows 8 UI, where live tiles are constantly changing, most of the icons on it are continuously changing so it is kind of cool. It does break down each category a little bit though. The main menu options are Home, Play Now, Career, Ultimate and Gridiron Club. As usual, I’ll break everything down.

Home

As I mentioned, you can choose mostly everything from in here. It’s broken up into more categories consisting of Play Now to get right into the action, Ultimate Team which I’ll get into, Play Career, Play Online, Communities, My Madden, Activate Online Pass, basically a “What’s New” section that keeps changing every minute or so and the Madden Gridiron Club.

What’s New

I figured it would be easier just to get the point of what’s new. This in-game video that I recorded explains it much better than I can. You can view it below:

Play Now

This is your normal exhibition mode that gets you right into the game. All of the teams are here as usual. You can customize where you play, what jerseys and equipment they wear among many other options. You have the option to compete offline or online. You can also Practice which lets you just run scenarios. A quick note about the gameplay, I typically just use the default difficulty of Pro every time I played so I left it the same. Either the AI or because of the new engine, you won’t be blowing out your opponents like 100-0 anymore. It’s realistic now, even with 5 minute quarters the score ends up being much closer, like 21-14, 14-10 and so on. You finally have to really play and have some skills to score. Big plays are about as rare as they are in the real NFL games, which I love it. Madden is no longer easy.

In case you are wondering what the gameplay is like this year, I did create a video of a short game of a 2 minute quarter although I let the replays run which seem to be too many, but you can see detail. This is with the patched version, if you have played it back in August or not recently, it was very quirky and buggy. You’ll notice the collision and animations are much better. There’s still some quirks but its much better now. You can view it below:

Career

Your options in here are to Start My Career, Resume Offline Career, Resume Online Career, Find A League To Join and View League Invites. Starting your career allows you to choose from being a player (which is the past Superstar mode) or being a coach (which is the new Franchise mode). The Superstar mode is a little better this time around. You can either choose to create a new player, use someone in the roster or use an NFL Legend, although some are locked but it tells you how to unlock them. The thing I didn’t like about the legends is even though their old gear and attire is there, they play with all of the current players. It’s ok, maybe I’m wrong, but football is a team sport. The only reason these players excelled were because of their teammates. Joe Montana would have probably never been anything without Jerry Rice. Anyhow, I think if they would have made the legends mode kind of like how the 2K NBA series where it takes you back to that era it would have been a cool add-on. The way this is, you take a different approach and take a legend and build him up even more, so I guess its ok, but I would have rather of re-lived their era. Anyhow, there is the new “Game Face” feature in this when creating a new player or coach. This I first noticed in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, and it’s kind of cool. You take a couple of pictures of yourself, upload them to EA’s website and it puts your face in the game. It’s pretty accurate actually. EA did release a developer diary about it as well that you can view below:

There is the experience system brought back again except it’s a little better this time around in my opinion. It’s broken into many different skills and as you practice, play and continue your career, you can gain lots of experience points. You use these points to add to your skills. Some skills are costly though. It ranges from everything, such as catching in traffic, hurdling, ball control and more. You can only purchase one type skill per week though so you can’t max out in one specific skill in one week making you spend points on something else. All in all, its pretty decent.

Basically you can retire your player anytime you want. You do have some goals to achieve but it doesn’t matter if you achieve them or not. This is where I found that it started to get boring. After about the 3rd year in, you realize how repetitive it gets. You can change players to go to a new position but that’s about it. There really isn’t anything else to the mode. What I found strange, as I don’t recall in past years, is you kind of have the ability to coach no matter what position you play. If you are a half back, and want a different play, you can make the audible call. You also call the timeouts and can pick plays as well. I did only play a QB and running back and I noticed no matter what, this seems to be a straight up passing game which doesn’t make sense. The new engine allows you run better than any previous Madden, yet the majority of plays are passing plays so I had to keep using audibles. Also, the one thing that they still haven’t added was the ability to import your NCAA players, I’m not sure if they are planning on it, but it still wasn’t available when choosing superstar mode.

The franchise mode is pretty cool. It’s similar to the past years but it has you a little more involved. You can do everything you can in the past, but only with the patched version which includes editing your players, which wasn’t previously available. You also gain experience points in this mode as well, which allows you to keep certain positions from retiring or leaving early. I don’t really get all into the team ownership as when I play franchise, I want to play as my team and take them all the way in a season. At the beginning of your season, you have the welcome page which has news highlights and the twitter feed. I did also notice at the end of a season, they have the normal scouting and trades and what not, but this time they kind of revamped the NFL Draft. You have 1:30 to choose a player. You only see stats on players you scouted. There’s a twitter feed as well (it’s not real but it makes you feel like it is) that I’m guessing they are EA Sports people, that  comment on your decisions.

Ultimate

This mode is new to me, I’ve seen it in Madden 12 but I never had an urge to play it. It’s basically like a fantasy football league that is playable. I don’t know if its good or bad to be honest, I don’t play fantasy football. It uses football cards and you choose a captain out of so many superstars. Once you choose your captain, you get your first card pack. In this pack is your first roster. It also includes a head coach as well as a stadium that you play at. I don’t think it has anything to do with the real fantasy football stats, but I think it sort of follows along as you can unlock packs per fantasy week. You can also play challenges which earn you coins to purchase more packs. It seemed like there was a lot to do but at the point I played it, I was kind of bored with the game already.

Gridiron Club

This area unfortunately needs the season pass. As with most games I rent, I don’t receive the season pass with it, and this game is not worth purchasing it, so unfortunately I couldn’t view anything in here. There are a few categories though that I can provide a summary of. Play Madden Moments Live supposedly allows you replay this current season’s past games with their most intense moments. Whether it works or not is probably a different story. You can also update the NFL rosters, which I thought was kind of shady that you must have a season pass just to update the roster, seriously – did it get to the point where we need to be nickeled and dimed to death?

Madden On-Demand apparently allows you to view videos from other Madden gamers for tips and tricks to playing Madden but I’m not sure of the point. View Loyalty Awards and Edit Loyalty Settings tracks all of your progress throughout all Madden games, but again, I don’t know what the point of it is.

Better with Kinect

EA stamped the Better with Kinect logo on this one. Kinect does not enhance this one at all. You can say certain words, if it happens to pick them up as the crowd background noise causes lots of issues, and it will sometimes do an action. Whoever decided to implement Kinect was not thinking at all. If you want your defenders to blitz, for example, you just shout out “Blitz” and sometimes they do what they are supposed to. The problem is if you are playing with someone locally, you can’t use Kinect so what is the point. I also heard from others that playing online wasn’t thought of at all with Kinect, since if it’s not muted, and you yell out something, your opponent will hear you. Sure, it’s nice to say a player’s name and say “Motion Left” to throw off the defense, but do you really think you are confusing the AI? This one is probably the worst iteration of Kinect yet and to me, embarrasses Kinect with the label on the cover. The only plus side I have seen to the Kinect is able to voice the hot routes as it’s never been easy anyway. Here’s a developer diary video on the Kinect functionality, trying to sell you on it:

Realistically, the only people who will accept that this is really better with Kinect are people who haven’t played any voice interactive games yet. I used voice interaction when Tom Clancy’s End War came out back in 2008, true I used a headset instead of shouting across the room to Kinect, but the concept was still there, so I’m not easily impressed with voice functionality in these newer games and since I’m a late night gamer, I’m not going to be yelling at 2am to signal a guy in motion while my kids are sleeping. I did find it easier to do certain actions with the buttons, such as calling a timeout. Timeout is used by pressing the back button, via Kinect you have to yell Timeout and it doesn’t always work, wasting valuable seconds when it’s crunch time. The only reason we keep getting this voice add-ons is because its easier to code for Kinect than implementing voice commands in the entire game.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics are much improved with this one. Players get dirty depending on how much they play or are on the ground. They can get paint on their uniforms and skin depending on where they are playing. Helmets get scuffed up. Fields get torn up from cleats and the divots finally don’t disappear like they have before. They did create a new animation/collision engine, although it has a few bugs but it can be overlooked. It is more realistic and enhances the gameplay a lot. Players finally don’t all have the same animation when getting up after a play. You can trip over your own players now which happens in the real game, and I’ve seen limbs wrapped up that I haven’t seen before. There are some ugly hits that make you scrunch up and give you the “Ohhhh” feeling like “Did that just happen?”, also which I also have never seen in a Madden game before.

The linemen finally block now, players don’t walk through each other anymore, and the ball finally has real physics instead of acting like a hockey puck when it bounced around previously. They also stack up now, for example, if there is a pile up and 3 or 4 players are on top of the bottom guy, the bottom guy will not move until the other players get off of him in order from top to bottom, instead of everyone getting up all at once. It’s much detailed to the point as well, for example, I was playing a game in the rain and one of my receivers got open and he slipped making it an incomplete pass. This stuff really happens and it was very cool to actually experience it in a game. The one issue in every single Madden and NCAA game is the sidelines. For whatever reason, these are never fixed and I mean fixed being if you start to run out-of-bounds towards your team, the only people who move are the chain guys, your team just stands there and you do run through them like they aren’t even there. The one thing I also noticed about the collision detection is the Referee’s also don’t exist with it. Sometimes in the real game, they do get in the way so it’d be cool if they fixed that as well.

It makes no sense to me why everything else is great, but the sidelines are looked over, it does kind of ruin the realism once that happens, to me at least. I also don’t understand how they added in some much-needed detail, as the first game is Kickoff week and the logo is there. During October, it’s breast cancer awareness month and the NFL sports pink gloves, shoes, towels, etc. This is actually in the game and I was quite surprised and impressed. The fans even wear pink. The thanksgiving games have the announcers saying Happy Thanksgiving and that logo is on the field, yet it’s missing simple things like cheerleaders, mascots (although I did see Chicago’s “Staley Da Bear” during the halftime highlights but not on the field), Monday Night Football (really?) and the 12th man. I remember one NCAA game, don’t recall which year, but you could get the crowd going with momentum and it would shake everything and the visiting team could barely see the routes because they were all over the place. The 12th man is real and it needs to definitely be put back into these football games.

Like I mentioned, I am all about presentation because we are not playing a first person perspective football game, we are playing a game that is being presented as a sporting event just like normal TV otherwise they wouldn’t say, “Presented by EA Sports”. The madden series has never been up to par with presentation in my opinion, but this one is probably the closest I have seen so far. It wouldn’t take much to fix it to be honest. I  have never seen an EA Sports presentation of a football game on TV, and true we are playing the game, it would be so much better if they used a real broadcasting company, which would be a no brainer since  they already have the ESPN license. Go over that borderline between playing a game and watching TV, make it as real as possible.

This version completely went out the window with ESPN. The previous versions at least used something from ESPN, even if it was just the ticker. The ticker in 13 has been replaced with an NFL.com ticker which is fine as it does keep you updated on current NFL events, but I did like how ESPN also tracked other sports for you as well. The new announcers from CBS are sub-par. They make mistakes, I’m assuming since its scripted and they stumble on their own words, they sometimes repeat the same thing right after another, make the wrong statements such as saying when it’s 4th and short, and you make it, they will say it’s a turnover. Overall, they just don’t really enhance it. With the latest patches though, they are getting less repetitive, but they still don’t make you excited about the game as other commentary has before.

I don’t understand why it’s so hard to try to do what Visual Concepts did back when they were allowed to create a football game with their ESPN series. Throw in SportsCenter since they can use it, and use ESPN announcers who know what they’re doing, that should fix the majority of the presentation issues. Tidy up the collision issues and you have a game that’s on the verge of being phenomenal.

Conclusion

As I stated earlier, before the latest patches, I was not impressed with this game. Those patches completely made me do a 180 on this review. I really feel EA is finally trying to satisfy us. It has seemed to all of us for the past years, that EA was basically just cashing in the NFL series, barely making changes, because they were the only ones that could afford the NFL’s ridiculous exclusive license deal, and the NFL is probably the biggest and most greedy business I have ever seen, yet the NFL is ignorant at the same time because they could have made so much more money letting video game companies battle it out, but anyway, let’s face the facts. There will probably never be another developer that creates another NFL simulation game (we will still probably have the arcade type ones), unless it’s for the next-gen but only if they have to build from the ground up as other developers have been out of the football genre for so long, it would take them years to catch up to what EA has done now. From what the Madden series has been and what’s its come to now, I feel like they are trying to finally do something, albeit late in the game so to speak. I loved Visual Concepts (2K Sports) football because they were all about presentation, but you have to come to terms that there will probably never be another one. Once you accept that, you will see EA is really trying.

For the next-gen though, we need a NFL Hybrid game that allows you to play realistically with Kinect and a controller. We do not need a new football game every single year. All we care about is the roster’s anyway and unless the rules somewhat change, new stadiums are added/removed or uniforms change, we want that too which could be released as simple DLC or even a patch if they are nice. As for everything else, update it like the NFL updates it. The game never changes, only where and who plays it. I’d rather see a good 2-3 years go into development for an amazing football game like no other than deal with problems that wouldn’t have been there in the first place if they had more time, but it’s up to you ultimately. Whether you buy them each year or let them sit on the shelves makes a big statement, so decide what you want.


This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Madden NFL 13
Scoring policy: What do these game review scores actually mean?