Game Review: “Madden NFL 13″

You know, I think “Madden 13″ might be the most depressing game ever made.

Seriously, when I first booted it up, I was greeted by the new (and very well done) menu score, loaded up a quick play Redskins vs. Cowboys game, and marveled at the new presentation that so perfectly recreated a CBS broadcast, it managed to subside my summer longing for the football season in earnest. From there, I’m welcomed to a beautifully rendered Cowboys Stadium by the new, and enjoyable, announce team of Jim Nance and Phil Simms who actually bring some enthusiasm to the booth again, as they give a fantastic and accurate introduction to the matchup. As you might expect, the set up and presentation to “Madden 13″ are phenomenal — I would even use the term unrivaled, in terms of sports games.

Then things actually get even more encouraging when I took the field. The new “Infinity Engine” that runs the game manages to avoid being a buzzword, and actually changes the gameplay in an initially significant way. Essentially the new engine attempts to prevent the canned animations and the predetermined outcomes they led to, by allowing for dynamic player reactions to on the field situations. It’s appropriate then that the cover boy this year is Detroit Lions great Calvin Johnson, as a play is never really over or decided until it is actually over and decided, much like the plays of Johnson himself. This new engine is bolstered by further innovations such as the ability to cancel a play action animation on the fly and regain control, or how defensive backs can hunt and track a ball with unprecedented levels of control. The goal of this year was obviously to make the on-field action feel more organic, and you may be surprised at how well this is achieved at first.

Off the field, the biggest selling point may be the new connected careers mode, which lets up to 32 players share the series franchise mode, with the option to play as either an individual player or the coach. Outside of things like distributing experience points to your players, being able to insert legends onto your teams, and following Twitter updates from various sports personalities about your season, this is pretty much the same franchise mode you know and love, but with increased community capabilities. While the online community wasn’t exactly flush at the time of this review, from what I was able to experience of it, the mode seems to be technically proficient, and certainly able to fulfill its promise of a full season against a league of real players.

All of that sounds good, and it truthfully is. They’re all fresh and new “Madden” features, and they fill you with this indescribable hope that this year is finally the year that the series turns the corner and presents something more compelling than a roster update.

So you keep playing, and everything seems fine. Then you reach a moment where that new “Infinity Engine” causes your quarterback to fall right on his face. Seriously, that’s a feature and it happens from time to time. Or your linebacker will get his legs caught up in a tackled running back and continuously flop like an overly excited fish. These animation flaws are rampant and somewhat expectantly come with any new engine. The difference here is that the serious ones will severely impact your game.

That’s when it happens. You start to notice all of those intricately woven new features  really just form a veil that slowly unravels before your eyes. That new announce team runs out of dialog by about your second game, and you have to start reminding yourself about the new control features just to justify using them. What’s worse is you begin to realize that there is in fact no new dynamic play style, and instead the game actually forces you to play like the Packers or Patriots on any setting above Pro. That is to say, unless you make short, accurate passes mixed in with one or two run plays and the rare long downfield bomb, you can expect to get massacred by the opposition. On one hand it’s accurate in a way, and on the other it’s a real bummer that you aren’t able to truly run a showstopper passing offense, or a dominant run game no matter what team you’re playing against. You turn back to the new connected careers mode then to keep things fresh, only to realize that after a while, it is indeed  the same “Madden” franchise mode yet again. Just this time, you get to share your repetitive activities with other people who share the same problem, like it’s a support group.

In fact, in the end it is the same old “Madden.” The changes made don’t really improve much of the overall game, and it’s a shame because they almost made me believe they would. What’s worse is that none of this makes me outright hate the game. That would be too easy. Hell, it’d almost be fun if I could just say that “Madden 13’” sucks and dance on its grave. But the truth is that even with all of the flaws, football makes for a fun video game, and the “Madden” franchise has a formula to make it work. What’s depressing about the whole experience is that it’s a formula that has the series stuck in a rut, and makes me feel the same as a result. It’s the kind of game that should come with a pint of ice cream and photos of you and your old girlfriend in happier times.

Look, if you go into this game with the right expectations, then you get a fun game, and there’s nothing here that’s going to keep you from having a good time. But the truth is that while “Madden” used to have no competition, it does now in the form of the “NBA 2K” series, which managed to completely revamp itself a couple of years ago and become the best sports series on the market.

So this is what it is. The “Madden” series is now standing at 4th and goal, and EA Tiburon needs to decide if they’re going to settle for more token points on the board with “Madden 14″ or actually risk it all and go for the promised land. I guess my question is, if a series that has only one rival in a completely different sport, millions of fans, and the financial backing of one of the biggest publishing companies on the market can’t afford to take a gamble, then who can?

  

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