- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: EA Tiburon
- ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
- Genre: Sports
- Pros: Gorgeous Presentation, Social Media Interaction, Stunning On-Field Physics
- Cons: Glitchy Audio, Awful Crowd Graphics, Occasional "Magic" Plays
The first question that's often asked about a "Madden" is what's new? This year boasts a new broadcast team of CBS's Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on top of an all-new TV presentation feel complete with handheld camera work, player banter, and a score that feels pulled right from a lazy Sunday. There's also a notable emphasis on social media from the fake tweets from real sports reporters about your game career to the easy way you can post a brief recap of the game you just played on Facebook or Twitter. There's an overhaul to the way "Madden Ultimate Team" is played with new trading cards and a new management system complete with unlockable special cards that can impact the new "Connected Careers" mode. Finally, EA promises a wealth of content throughout the season including updated "Madden Moments Live," in which the game allows you to play the biggest moments from your favorite sport after they've happened on the real field.
There are clearly a large number of cosmetic changes in "Madden NFL 13" like the broadcast team and the overhauled menu screens but how's the action on the field? At first, it won't seem drastically different. The controversial "GamePlan" system has returned and the play-calling has not been significantly altered. It's only after calling a few plays that one notices that the on-field mechanics -- the physics of tackling, running, passing, scrambling, etc. -- have been notably improved. The way that Robert Griffin III can scramble to his right feels more realistic. The way that Tim Hightower can lower his head and get an extra yard or Roy Helu Jr. can spin out of a tackle (yes, my career team of choice this year was the Washington Redskins) -- these are the elements that simply feel more accurate than they ever have before. The tackling, in particular, feels consistent. We've all played football games where defenders bounce off Pro Bowl running backs or can't wrap their arms around a receiver. Such is not the case here. There have been notable improvements in the way the game plays on the field and that's the most important thing about a sports game. Presentation is nice but gameplay matters most of all and the gameplay here is stellar.
Most of the time. There are still a number of bizarre glitches in "Madden NFL 13," moments that just don't feel right. Three games in a row during my Redskins season, my opponent completed a last-second Hail Mary pass. That's the kind of video game nonsense that used to be more common in the '90s and early '00s. Don't worry, there's nothing consistent enough to completely destroy the gameplay experience but I did feel this year like the designers of "Madden NFL 13" were trying to make games more exciting by inserting ridiculous plays, miracle interceptions, or bizarre inconsistencies in gameplay designed to make the game more entertaining than realistic. It's the fine line they have to walk. We don't want to play a game of all penalties that results in a 7-3 final score but it's also frustrating to feel like your efforts are being manipulated in unrealistic ways. It doesn't happen enough to destroy the "Madden NFL 13" experience but it does happen more often than it should.
Fans of "Ultimate Team," the card-collecting mode of the game that allows you to cobble together a virtual fantasy team of players to compete online or against the CPU, will appreciate the refinements there. I've never been a big fan of that mode but I found it more engaging in this edition than ever before. And the "Connected Careers" mode is a notable new presentation. Essentially, EA has merged player-driven modes like "Road to Glory" and classics like "Dynasty" or "Season" into one big mode. You can choose the career of a player or coach, either designing your own (you can even put your face in the game) or choosing from a current NFL employee or legend of the pigskin. Choosing a coach gives you something close to a "Season" experience although you'll have to deal with scouting, negotiations, and other off-field activities as well.
There's a level of detail in the overall experience of "Madden NFL 13" that really elevates it. As my Redskins season was going along, TE Fred Davis kept bugging me to negotiate and I wanted to plan for my next game. That's the kind of front office detail that has rarely been replicated this successfully in a video game. I also found myself noticing the little things on the field of play like the importance of special teams (on both sides of the ball) or clock management that past football games have virtually ignored.
Graphics & Sound
On the field, "Madden NFL 13" looks amazing. The player design, the in-game animations, and the variety of how gameplay is presented is remarkable. It never feels like the graphics are just running on a loop. Each play has a different look and feel. Between the goal posts, it's the best looking football game of all time. So why does the crowd look so 1998? Seriously, they're often just blobs of the home team's color moving in unison. It's distractingly bad design. It may sound like a minor complaint but everything looks so remarkable in the foreground that it can be frustrating when the background is so much more inferior.
The audio has some similar sources of frustration. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that Phil Simms literally said exactly the same thing three times in a row during a game. On three consecutive plays, as I was pounding the ball with Helu, he noted how a good run can break the will of the defense. That kind of glitch is unacceptable in a 2012 sports game. The audio often repeats itself and often isn't consistent in the moment. There are impressive elements, such as in how the announcers tweak their presentation based on the overall season success of the team (as my Redskins continued to win, they would often point that out in pre-game and even in-game) but then why do they just as often glitch out and say things like how the team is "marching down the field" after one play?