- Kinect Sensor Optional
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: EA Tiburon
- ESRB Rating: “E" for Everyone
- Genre: Football
- Pros: Nice presentation; enhanced passing system; Connected Careers; gameplay is fun as ever
- Cons: New physics are kinda janky; useless Kinect support; commentary
Most of this review will be spent talking about all of the new stuff, but we wanted to address some of the things that stayed the same first. The core gameplay is still the Madden we all know. Run blocking is questionable. Player A.I. in this year's version of Superstar mode (now part of Connected Careers) is still as braindead as ever with players seemingly never running through gaping holes no matter how much you curse at the TV. Money play still work. But it is all still fun to play, so we aren't complaining. Modes include quick play, a multitude of online modes including leagues for 32 human players, and the Madden Ultimate Team card game (lets hope it doesn't lead to problems like the FIFA 12 security issue). You also have a wealth of customization options to create your own players or crazy uniform combinations. And we also love the sliders that let you adjust the gameplay to however realistic and challenging or easy as you want.
The other unique twist here is that off the field the game is basically an RPG where you earn experience points by performing well and then you use those points to level up your various abilities to make your player or coach better. This RPG-style progression makes you much more invested in the advancement of your player because your stats don't change arbitrarily, they change because you earned the XP to boost them and then chose what you wanted to improve. It is pretty addictive, really, and considering that there is a near endless combination of players and teams you can play through as, it can keep you busy for quite a long time. Another nice feature is that you don't have to start a brand new career if you want to play as a different player or coach. You can take over a new character and keep right on playing within that same league and the players and/or coaches you left behind will keep right on playing under CPU control. When they say connected careers, they really meant it. Everything you do stays that way in your current league, which is awesome. You can also, of course, start over if you screw everything up too bad.
The other big update in Madden 13 comes in the form of a new physics system that accounts for player speed, mass, and body type to make every player collision as realistic as possible. It sounds good on paper, but in practice it still needs some kinks worked out. For every realistic looking tough tackle or a runner accidentally tripping over a lineman's foot just like in real life, you'll have another play that just doesn't look right. Tackles don't always look right and you'll have several plays per game where your ball carrier is barely touched but is somehow taken down in contact that you know darn well that no real player would ever actually be tackled by. We're talking wimpy arm tackles and glancing blows that shouldn't result in the player going down, but it happens all the time. You'll also have several plays per game where the physics sort of flip out and your ball carrier will get thrown into the air on light contact or abruptly bounced 5 yards away from the contact at a right angle for no reason. Also, once the play is blown dead you'll see players tripping over each other when trying to stand up, but just as often they clip directly through each other which looks really awful. Players also tend to clip directly through the stands at the back of the end zones and it is always funny to see a player celebrate by walking directly through a solid wall. The physics are fine 90% of the time, but these abnormalities happen often enough in each game that you definitely notice.
A final new feature, but a lot less noteworthy, is the addition of Kinect voice controls. It allows you to make pre-snap adjustments or call audibles by just speaking out loud what you want to do. The game recognizes more than 6,000 football-related terms, so it can be kind of fun to just use random football jargon and see the results. When playing solo it works fine, though most Madden vets can definitely make all of these pre-snap adjustments with the controller just as fast, or likely faster depending on whether Kinect's voice recognition is feeling extra finicky that day. Playing online isn't affected since the microphone is automatically muted before the snap so your opponent won't know what you're trying to do. Local multiplayer is more of a problem, though, since you probably don't want to be calling out what you're trying to do with your buddy sitting right next to you. It all just ultimately feels pretty pointless in the grand scheme of things.
The visuals look pretty nice with decent player models, good animation (when the physics aren't wonky), and nice looking stadiums. The lighting is especially nice this year as the position of the sun actually changes over the course of a game. The field will also degrade as the game goes on, which is cool. It also features that nice 3D grass that we love.
The sound is also pretty solid as well. The licensed soundtrack for menu music is, thankfully, replaced with an epic orchestral score that NFL Films would be proud of. We aren't as fond of the new commentary team of CBS' Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. They sound better than the commentary from the last couple of years, but still repeat things way too often and still get stuff flat out wrong.
Madden NFL 13 marks some of the biggest changes the series has seen in quite a while with greatly enhanced career modes, a new physics system, and meaningful gameplay updates that really do make a difference and is a step up from Madden NFL 12. The new RPG-style focus of the connected careers mode, along with the freedom it encourages you to use to change players or teams or do whatever you want to have fun, is a pretty nice step forward for the series. The new physics, on the other hand, are still kind of rough and results in some wonky looking plays. It is still a very fun game of football at its core, though, and the changes definitely freshen up an experience that has been getting kind of stale over the years. Madden is fun and new and interesting again. Buy it.