Nearly a decade ago, Madden was a magical franchise. I would play it for hours on end, obsessing over franchises that lasted long after the players from the actual NFL had retired. I’d curse Michael Vick’s elusiveness, while trying to get a shot at him with the hit stick. I’d run pro form, twin outs with Elway’s Broncos, a play that no defense could stop. I didn’t care that it was cheap: I was having fun. But at some point, the magic died. The changes Tiburon made seemed insubstantial: the vision cone, analog running controls, play calling through your headset. The upgrades to the visuals were nice, but they couldn’t disguise the simple fact that this was the same game every year. And this, while NHL, FIFA, NBA2K and MLB The Show were showing the world just how sports games could evolve into ever increasing greatness, was a terrible sin. Each year series fans were promised something new, and each year they were left wondering why they were back again. But fear not, for of Madden 13, I can say this definitively: the magic is back.
Two changes are the greatest sources of my renewed Madden joy. The first is the implementation of a physical engine. Long has Madden relied on animations to provide the content for blocking schemes and player movement. This is also why every player seemed to have the same three yard juke move no matter their statistics. Now, the game uses player weight and speed to factor in momentum, eliminating canned motions and allowing the physics engine to dynamically display player movements on the field. Players behave realistically, instead of being sucked into blocks and odd rushing animations. Battles on the edge between corners and receivers are now greatly improved, as the receivers use their hands to fight off press coverage, and the corners physically challenge them and move them off of their routes. The actions looks and feels like real football.
The entirety of the onfield action has been extensively revamped, helped by an extra long development cycle. Both receivers and defenders account for vision when determining plays on the ball. Receivers can make some outstanding plays if the quarterback throws the ball while the defender’s head is turned. But, not only that, defenders assigned to other receivers will no longer automatically attack the ball the moment it takes the air. This eliminates the many absurd interceptions and pass breakups made by corners making impossible turns and breaks on a pass that they couldn’t have possibly seen to begin with (a staple of recent Maddens). This goes both ways, however. Receiver that have been shoved off their routes or haven’t run far enough may not even be looking for your pass. At those points, the receivers will simply let the ball fly right by, without making a play. All of these changes result in a passing game that feels much more true to life. Corners and wideouts are affected by momentum, running realistic routes and playing coverage in realistic ways.
The second change is the addition of a mode which fundamentally changes the way Madden is played. Connected Careers allows the player to insert himself into the league as a coach or player at any position. You can choose to be a player or coach currently in the league, a superstar from years passed, or a draft pick at any level. This mode may be offline for single player, or you could choose to play the mode online with up to 32 other players. Once you’ve selected your player, you play the game, from whatever position they might be. You earn XP in practice and in games that can be spent to upgrade your player in whatever way you see fit. Coaches earn XP as well, allowing them to upgrade their effects on player groups. Do you want to be a defensive genius? Put your points there, and watch as your players improve.
Connected careers is compelling in many ways, not the least of which is the way it seems to make week-to-week performance seem more important. Players and media personalities will talk about your player on twitter, praising you when you perform well (and thanking you for the fantasy football wins) and smashing you when you fall on your face. Your player will also earn legacy points, allowing you to compare your achievements to those of other greats in the league. This matters a great deal in the online mode- this is how you tell Bob to sit down and be quiet, because you are dominating him in legacy. The mode is a fantastic combination of franchise and create-a-player modes, topped off by this detail: get bored at any time, and you can retire your player or coach, and switch to someone else. You don’t need to dump your entire league, but if you’ve noticed that your now 99-rated QB is being held back by Trent Richardson’s failures at running back (I speak from experience), take over Mr. Richardson and show how the position is supposed to be played. The one criticism I could made is that practice mode doesn’t particularly feel like practice. It feels like a game played in an empty stadium. I wish I could participate in drills- a feature that older Madden games did have is now ripe for return.
In addition to these extensive changes, EA has promised in-season Madden Moments, so instead of reliving moments from last season with the incorrect roster, you can reflect the right season with the right players. The game also includes connect controls, not for player the game (which, I imagine would feel odd), but for audibles and pre-snap controls. This makes a lot of sense, using the connect controls to reflect audibly something that would have been done with the voice.
I could gush about other changes, as well (like sensible animations for quarterbacks throwing on the move and finally the institution of a shovel pass), but suffice it to say that this year the developers at Tiburon have finally started to put in the work to push Madden up toward the upper echelon of sports games. They do still have a ways to go- the announcing, while improved, has now reached “passable.” The improvements to the presentation (different sets for prime time and Monday night games, starting telecasts from actually showing the announcers and so forth) are welcome, but still fall short of games like MLB 12 The Show and NBA 2K12. Still, with the extensive changes to the baseline gameplay, and the addition of what I’m sure will be Madden’s most popular game mode, Madden is a tremendous leap forward to a franchise which had stagnated.
Fans, prepare yourself: Madden is back.
- Connected Careers mode is the way to play Madden that I’ve waited years for
- New physics engine makes the football feel amazing
- Presentation greatly improved
- Practice mode seems underdone- where are my drills?
- Announcers are still making weird mistakes. Not as many in the past, but still occasionally miss-stating the on-field action, getting down wrong, etc.
Note: This review was done using the Xbox 360 version of the game. It is also available on the Playstation 3 and PC.