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Madden NFL 13 Review

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The ideas behind Madden NFL 13 are great ones. It's the execution that lets this year's installment down.

I lamented about last year's Madden installment that it was merely "fine," that it did enough things to be a new game compared with its predecessor, but that was about it. I decried the lack of interesting new ideas behind it. I can safely say that none of these criticisms can be lobbed in the direction of Madden NFL 13. Whereas Madden NFL 12 felt lackadaisical and directionless, Madden NFL 13 paints a very clear vision of where the series is headed from here.

The new real time physics create some pretty spectacular looking hits...as well as hilarious ones.

Where Madden NFL 13 ultimately stumbles, sadly, is in its execution. There are new ideas here, great ones even. But those ideas don't translate especially well into this year's game, coming off as either half-baked, or simply not reasonable by modern console standards. This is a game that tries to do a lot of things with a lot of different modes, gameplay concepts, and engines, many of which haven't really seen any significant overhauls in years. As a result, Madden NFL 13 often feels more like a beta version of a much better game to come, than a fully fleshed-out title in its own right.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Madden's new physics system. EA has taken the Infinity Engine and stapled it onto Madden's collision detection, resulting in what should be a more natural-looking tackling system. Unfortunately, there's nothing natural-feeling about it. The one thing it does do well is that player models feature even less suction than before. Nobody looks magnetized to each other when they hit. Occasionally the ball still looks like it lands in a receiver's hand by way of divine intervention, but by and large everything looks like it's happening in real time.

Unfortunately, what happens in real time doesn't look especially good at all. Collisions often result in grotesque bending of limbs and spines that, perhaps in another football game, might be accompanied by an x-ray closeup of bones snapping. Except that's clearly not EA's intent here. Rather, it's the engine trying to make the player models move naturally based on where the hit is coming from. So you get guys basically being folded in half at the lower back, and then just gingerly popping back up, only to trip over another grounded teammate. That's another strange thing about the engine: it apparently doesn't understand the difference between mild stumbling and a straight-up pratfall. Every time a player trips or even just walks too close to another player on the ground, they stumble to the ground like they've been pushed over. I had three guys all do this at the same time during one especially peculiar kickoff. It's just bizarre.

Thankfully, this doesn't have any real impact on the field, save for a few minor hits occasionally resulting in overly strong reactions from ball carriers. However, whenever the game cuts to a replay, you get to see basically every single problem with the physics engine highlighted with long, luxurious looks at every robotic reaction animation. As guys fall to the ground in slow motion, they look like they're popping and locking the whole way down. It seems as though the physics engine can only react in very specific timing increments, resulting in these labored looking movements. Unrelated but similarly strange is the game's propensity toward massive, out-of-nowhere frame rate hitches. I don't mean slowdown, but literal freezing of the screen for a few seconds at a time. It's almost like in an online game, when lag requires the game to pause to resync, except this happened to me several times in offline games. I also got at least one crash on a loading screen, and this was with a retail copy.

The new XP system for player/coach upgrades is a neat idea, but isn't implemented well.

Still, while the visual and physics engines are left wanting, the core gameplay is still pretty good. Blocking and interacting with blockers feels particularly good this year, as does the running game. Purportedly there are some new variations in the passing game when it comes to throwing directions and such, but even playing last year's game and this year's back to back, I could barely feel the difference. It's also worth noting that interceptions are especially prevalent this year, though that's not through a computer cheat. It's just easier to time interceptions as a defensive back now, so users who like playing the receivers will have an easier time picking off wayward passes. I wouldn't call it cheap, necessarily, but it certainly pays to be a bit more careful with your passes this year.

The other major overhaul to Madden NFL 13 comes in its mode selection. Franchise, online franchise, and superstar modes have all been sandwiched into one ungainly career mode called connected careers. Here, you can choose to be a coach or a player, offline or on in a franchise of your design. Want to coach an offline squad the old fashioned way? That's still an option. But if you want to, say, create an all-Quarterbacks league online with your friends, that option's there too.

It's a broadening of the experience that makes a lot of sense, but lacks a bit in the execution this year. Mostly, issues with the user interface tend to be the culprit. Franchise functionality especially becomes more cumbersome this year, due to free agent and scouting menus that aren't always as clear as they should be. For instance, the free agent menu allows for bids on players in the off-season, but there's no clearcut way to see what other teams have bid, nor how your bid ranks on the player's interest level. There is a small menu on a player screen that shows you a player's interest level, but it never seems to be right. I bid on four free agents, one of which had high interest, and three of which had very low interest. All of them accepted my contract offers, most of which were below their original asking price.

The new XP system also seems kind of pointless. You can earn XP by reaching specific milestones each game, or by practicing with your team. However, the XP bonuses you gain are so minuscule that they border on worthless. Upgrading your players takes so long that most players will be gone from your squad, either in free agency or retirement, long before you have any meaningful impact on them.

It's a shame, because I like where these modes are headed. Creating an interconnected experience with the offline and online modes is a tremendous accomplishment in its own right, especially considering how woefully disconnected all this stuff has been in the past. The UI and mode designs just need to catch up with the technology next time around.

The last element to see a significant overhaul is the on-field presentation. Inching ever closer to that "real TV broadcast" feel, CBS Sports personalities Jim Nantz and Phil Simms replace last year's mostly miserable commentary tracks with more leisurely, more insightful commentary of their own distinct flavor. Mostly this stuff is fine, accurate even, considering Simms is just as dull in the game as he is in real life. Some lines repeat too often, and Nantz makes some inaccurate calls from time to time, but by and large, this is an improvement.

Remember when Madden was actually in Madden? Those were the days.

ESPN has also gotten in on the act via the connected careers mode. ESPN anchor Trey Wingo narrates an introduction video that (poorly) explains the new features in this year's game, and does much of the talking during the new live draft. This is the one aspect of the franchise that really improved this year, with a much more TV broadcast inspired presentation that is pretty easy to work with on the UI front. Wingo is perhaps a bit overly wordy when describing prospects, often leading to a lot of bleed-over dialogue as you skip through picks, but generally his presence is welcome. Hell, even the fake Twitter accounts for the likes of Mark Schlereth and Skip Bayless is kinda neat, though EA probably ought to license a few mainstay accounts like Rob Delaney and horse_ebooks next year, just for authenticity's sake.

Tragically, EA has taken this push toward TV-style broadcasting to also include some of the most egregious in-game advertising seen in ages. EA Sports titles in particular have always been EA's go-to division for funneling ad content, since we see ads in sports all the time, so it's fine! Right? No, not right. While the need for alternate revenue sources is understandable, having Jim Nantz insert three Papa John's pizza mentions in a single game is just outright shitty. Have as many stadium billboard ads as you want, but dear god, if I have to see the email address for the Official NFL Pizza Sponsor plastered on my screen one more time, I'm throwing this disc out the window.

All of this considered, there is enough here for die-hard football fans to enjoy. In spite of its misfires and glitches, Madden NFL 13 is a step forward for this franchise. It's a small, clumsy step, but considering how little forward progress this series has made in recent years, any kind of step is a cause for minor celebration. If you can forgive the technical problems and often cumbersome menus, there's a football game worth liking here.

Alex Navarro on Google+
60 Comments
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Posted by Zirilius

You mean it's more Madden?

Edited by andrewf87462

I think the best thing about Madden NFL 13 is GiantBomb's QuickLook, had me in stitches.

Posted by Krakn3Dfx

I dunno much about the Madden games, it's not really my thing, but the people I know who have played the demo seem to really like it.

Posted by Terrellism

I believe this is the first time I think GB has been too critical. That's proven by the quick look where theres constant jokes about the game. If they did that going into every game they'd have 3 star ratings all the time. I think this years Madden fell victim to "it's cool to give Madden shit".

Just sayin'.

Edited by hussatron

Posted by Draxyle

Great writeup Alex. That advertisement stuff would definitely get under my skin extremely quickly too. Reminds me of the NPC's in Dragon Age that sold DLC (from another fine EA product). There are lines that you just do not cross when it comes to player immersion, especially for a 60$ product.

@andrewf87462 said:

I think the best thing about Madden NFL 13 is GiantBomb's QuickLook, had me in stitches.

Indeed. I'm still glad that this exists for its "infinity engine" alone.

Posted by altairre

@hussatron said:

Nice to see that someone already did what had to be done.

Posted by rkk667

I have only played the demo but I disagree Terrellism. The reason from me is that the overall game experience is lacking and wrong. While they try to make it more like it is on TV they make it less fun as a game. My main complaint is that you cannot skip any replays with any button. This led to me initially jamming everything to get _back to the game_ and having it pop up the play windows in the middle of that, selecting something random. The only alterative is to switch to gameflow and then you are just jamming on X to no effect instead. A '20 minute game' with no timeouts took over an hour to play and that is gross and boring.

Posted by chilibean_3

I've been seeing a bunch of places giving this year's Madden great reviews and I keep wondering what game they must be playing.

Posted by Tim_the_Corsair

@Terrellism said:

I believe this is the first time I think GB has been too critical. That's proven by the quick look where theres constant jokes about the game. If they did that going into every game they'd have 3 star ratings all the time. I think this years Madden fell victim to "it's cool to give Madden shit".

Just sayin'.

Maybe it's a case where you're a bit blinkered because you like the series? Alex wasn't even involved in the QL and every criticism he makes in his review is well explained and seems justified, even if you disagree.

Just saying

Posted by JJRage

@Terrellism: Couldn't agree more. I'm a perennial Madden owner, and after spending the past 3 days with the Season Ticket early release, I can safely say it's the best Madden we've had this generation. I love the new physics engine, even though it leads to wonky (but hilarious) moments from time to time. The Online Connected Careers mode is pretty spectacular, and it's something Madden fans have been requesting for years.

Posted by HydraHam

3/5 seems harsh considering it's the best madden this generation and IMO the best since 01-02.

Then again it's just one mans opinion. As a huge football fan and a long time madden fan this game is easily a 4.5/5 football game for me.

Posted by Coolarman

I only played the demo but it seemed like more of the same without any sort of new or interesting things

Posted by a5ehren

@Coolarman: It's a football game. It's not like the rules have changed significantly...the career stuff is a big change, even if it wasn't executed properly.

Posted by DystopiaX

@Tim_the_Corsair said:

@Terrellism said:

I believe this is the first time I think GB has been too critical. That's proven by the quick look where theres constant jokes about the game. If they did that going into every game they'd have 3 star ratings all the time. I think this years Madden fell victim to "it's cool to give Madden shit".

Just sayin'.

Maybe it's a case where you're a bit blinkered because you like the series? Alex wasn't even involved in the QL and every criticism he makes in his review is well explained and seems justified, even if you disagree.

Just saying

Exactly. Alex did the review cause he knows Madden, but he can't do the QL cause he's not in SF, and since no one in the office is a Madden or football expert they took the most entertaining angle on coverage they could. And really, the review is for people who may be interested in the game, not people who love football and know they're gonna get the game anyway.

Posted by enterprise1345

I have never owned a previous Madden. What I saw at E3 convince me to give this a serious look. It may be a lot of the same to Madden veterans but infinity engine was what lured me to take a closer look. After playing the demo I am happy to shell out the cash for this game. The physics are downright hilarious sometimes but outside of the replays I think it looks really good. Anyway I wont be able to play with that convoluted menu until tomorrow night lol.

Posted by Napalm

@hussatron said:

What the fuck?

Edited by dskillzhtown

From what I have played of Madden 13, it is a leap forward that fixes many of the legacy issues I have had with the franchise for years. The Connect Careers alone is a great leap forward. Not everyone is going to agree, that's cool.

The "Quick Look" is going to make the comments to this review pretty entertaining. Either way, if you are coming to Giant Bomb for definitive sports reviews, you may be confused.

Madden is such a weird beast. People hate it for crazy reasons, some have a undying love for it. It ain't that serious.

Posted by MrKlorox

I wonder what fellow Gamespot alum Aaron Thomas thinks of this version of Madden, having worked on the precursor to dynamic tackles known as Backbreaker.

Posted by Napalm

@Tim_the_Corsair said:

@Terrellism said:

I believe this is the first time I think GB has been too critical. That's proven by the quick look where theres constant jokes about the game. If they did that going into every game they'd have 3 star ratings all the time. I think this years Madden fell victim to "it's cool to give Madden shit".

Just sayin'.

Maybe it's a case where you're a bit blinkered because you like the series? Alex wasn't even involved in the QL and every criticism he makes in his review is well explained and seems justified, even if you disagree.

Just saying

Dude, Alex's review doesn't need defending. It's his opinion. And you haven't even played the damn thing, so how are you going to try and talk down somebody's opinion who has actually played the damn thing? Sounds like you have no business talking.

Just sayin'.

Edited by SpartyOn

@DystopiaX said:

@Tim_the_Corsair said:

@Terrellism said:

I believe this is the first time I think GB has been too critical. That's proven by the quick look where theres constant jokes about the game. If they did that going into every game they'd have 3 star ratings all the time. I think this years Madden fell victim to "it's cool to give Madden shit".

Just sayin'.

Maybe it's a case where you're a bit blinkered because you like the series? Alex wasn't even involved in the QL and every criticism he makes in his review is well explained and seems justified, even if you disagree.

Just saying

Exactly. Alex did the review cause he knows Madden, but he can't do the QL cause he's not in SF, and since no one in the office is a Madden or football expert they took the most entertaining angle on coverage they could. And really, the review is for people who may be interested in the game, not people who love football and know they're gonna get the game anyway.

Alex is a great guy, like him a lot, but I've never been a fan of his reviews. Madden has been mediocre every year for the last decade, and this year the game is "good". Every time Alex is recorded talking about Madden it's clear that he's been sick of the series for years, and it shows in his reviews. His opinions are his, and they're different than almost every other critic with a review of Madden 13 out there, and that's fine, but it means I won't take any value from it. This site is not for sports fans, and Alex's reviews are for fans of this site...also not for sports fans. If you like football, get Madden...it's much better than years past and that's refreshing. If you aren't a Madden fan, this game isn't a big enough improvement to change your mind. Simple.

Posted by MrKlorox
@Napalm: Halfwit, it deserves to be brought up that Alex didn't have anything to do with the QL, and that the team who did the QL had nothing to do with the review. Terrellism's text didn't seem like he was aware of that fact, hence Tim's reasonable response. Perhaps you are the one who should shut the fuck up. Just sayin'.
Posted by Tim_the_Corsair
@Napalm

@Tim_the_Corsair said:

@Terrellism said:

I believe this is the first time I think GB has been too critical. That's proven by the quick look where theres constant jokes about the game. If they did that going into every game they'd have 3 star ratings all the time. I think this years Madden fell victim to "it's cool to give Madden shit".

Just sayin'.

Maybe it's a case where you're a bit blinkered because you like the series? Alex wasn't even involved in the QL and every criticism he makes in his review is well explained and seems justified, even if you disagree.

Just saying

Dude, Alex's review doesn't need defending. It's his opinion. And you haven't even played the damn thing, so how are you going to try and talk down somebody's opinion who has actually played the damn thing? Sounds like you have no business talking.

Just sayin'.

Maybe you need to work on your reading comprehension?

I do not criticise his opinion - he is welcome to it. Instead, I made the point that maybe his own positive feelings toward the franchise were making him judge Alex's review in an unfair way considering he had nothing to do with the QL being used as justification for the criticism of said review.

If he thinks this Madden is the best ever, more power to him.

Just Super Saiyin'
Posted by Eye_Have_You

Eh. Just another football game. Maybe if it had frog-chucking mini games or "Don't Fumble the Mini-Nuke," I might find it playable.

Pass. :b

Posted by sins_of_mosin

I really hope they removed all the cheating ai bullshit.

Posted by beard_of_zeus

@hussatron: Man, that's still hilarious. You are doing good work, sir.

Posted by ssj4raditz

I like Madden just fine, but my real question is: when the heck is Mutant League Football going to make a comeback?

Posted by Arrested_Developer

I've gotten into football more and more over the last couple years, if I wanted to get a Madden which should I get?  Is the newest edition the best option or is it smarter to buy last years version now that the price should have bottomed out.

Posted by vinsanityv22

I vote that Jeff and Vinny quicklook all sports titles in the future. Giantbomb's resident "Footballsmen" needs to become a thing, much like the GB Flight Crew. The world needs more Mannequin jokes ;)

Posted by Undeadpool

@Tim_the_Corsair said:

@Napalm

@Tim_the_Corsair said:

Dude, Alex's review doesn't need defending. It's his opinion. And you haven't even played the damn thing, so how are you going to try and talk down somebody's opinion who has actually played the damn thing? Sounds like you have no business talking.

@Terrellism said:

I believe this is the first time I think GB has been too critical. That's proven by the quick look where theres constant jokes about the game. If they did that going into every game they'd have 3 star ratings all the time. I think this years Madden fell victim to "it's cool to give Madden shit".

Just sayin'.

Maybe it's a case where you're a bit blinkered because you like the series? Alex wasn't even involved in the QL and every criticism he makes in his review is well explained and seems justified, even if you disagree.

Just saying

Just sayin'.

Maybe you need to work on your reading comprehension? I do not criticise his opinion - he is welcome to it. Instead, I made the point that maybe his own positive feelings toward the franchise were making him judge Alex's review in an unfair way considering he had nothing to do with the QL being used as justification for the criticism of said review. If he thinks this Madden is the best ever, more power to him. Just Super Saiyin'
We got your back, bro!!
Posted by Napalm

@Tim_the_Corsair said:

Just Super Saiyin'

Goddamn it. Fine, you win. But, I'll be back.

I always come back...

Posted by Brackynews

@Napalm said:

@hussatron said:

What the fuck?

TO INFINITY, AND BE--hurrrrpp...

That's some Charlie Brown and Lucy shenanigans right there.

Edited by Napalm

@Brackynews said:

@Napalm said:

@hussatron said:

What the fuck?

TO INFINITY, AND BE--hurrrrpp...

That's some Charlie Brown and Lucy shenanigans right there.

But nobody pushed him. What the hell got him? A ghost? And then he gets up and starts clapping! Ridiculous.

Posted by mefipulate

FOOTBALL

Posted by iAmJohn

@Napalm said:

@Brackynews said:

@Napalm said:

@hussatron said:

What the fuck?

TO INFINITY, AND BE--hurrrrpp...

That's some Charlie Brown and Lucy shenanigans right there.

But nobody pushed him. What the hell got him? A ghost? And then he gets up and starts clapping! Ridiculous.

I would absolutely play a game in which you play as a ghost fucking with football players. In fact, someone ought to make that.

Posted by Hailinel

So it's basically more Madden, except busted in ways that differ from last year's game. Sounds about right.

Posted by Phished0ne

I still think its funny that EA will license deals to plaster ads all over their games, but wont make deals with the teams to get the actual people who advertise on the fields in on the game. I still think its funny that the sideboards in NHL games are lined with fake-ass ads when they could score authenticity points by having the REAL ads. It cant be that impossible to get the companies in on this, perhaps EA is being lazy? Perhaps i am being over critical.

Posted by Oobir

@iAmJohn said:

I would absolutely play a game in which you play as a ghost fucking with football players. In fact, someone ought to make that.

You mean a sequel to the under-appreciated Haunting, but set in the Madden franchise? Sign me up!

Posted by TheTrooth
EA has taken the Infinity Engine and stapled it onto Madden's collision detection. Unfortunately, there's nothing natural-feeling about it.
Madden NFL 13 often feels more like a beta version of a much better game to come.

Thanks, Alex, for having the balls to be the ONLY (at the time of this post) "Mixed Review" showing up on Meta Critic.

Posted by honkyjesus

The Metacritic for this has been going down as time goes on, either the reviews were early gimmes sent out by EA or the longer you play the game the worse it gets?

Cheers.

Posted by CJduke

Fuck you EA, lose the NFL license and lets get some 2K football back. 2K5 is still the best NFL game ever made

Posted by DukesT3

The last Madden I think I actually really liked was the 2005 version. Took everything from 04 and made it better. Madden this gen has just been average to shit at best pretty much ever since that exclusive deal. I'll probably give this a rental and see how the connected careers is and go from there.

Posted by iMort

@CJduke said:

Fuck you EA, lose the NFL license and lets get some 2K football back. 2K5 is still the best NFL game ever made

Could not agree more.

Posted by dropabombonit

Good review. Living in the UK I care more about soccer than american football but would play the occasional Madden game. Seems like the Madden team had more trouble implementing the new physics engine than the Fifa team did. There was still funny glitches in Fifa 12 but none that detracted from the quality of the game. Madden seems to be the opposite. Best to look at Fifa 13 to see where the next Madden is going

Edited by aceofspudz

I wonder if Alex is gonna get in trub for calling another CBS employee boring.

Edit: also, horse_ebooks!

Posted by NeVeRMoRe666

I find it incredibly disappointing that the Fantasy Draft option/Franchise has been taken out. Is that really the case? That's the only mode by which I play Madden.... :(

Posted by seanord

Playing the demo, I did notice a defender's head snap back during a routing tackle--it looked unnatural and like it broke his neck. In the auto-replay I watched for it because I really couldn't believe what I was seeing. No injury on the play, of course, but just weird. I was most disappointed by the continued lack of feedback in game for mistakes--if I'm throwing picks with Eli Manning, I'd like to know why the game decided that my decision/set-of-actions were poor and resulted in the turnover. Without it, much less interesting.

Posted by shodan2020

@vinsanityv22 said:

I vote that Jeff and Vinny quicklook all sports titles in the future. Giantbomb's resident "Footballsmen" needs to become a thing, much like the GB Flight Crew. The world needs more Mannequin jokes ;)

I think Jeff and Vinny should do a Madden quicklook retrospective. :)

Posted by thetenthdoctor

From what I've seen in the demo, the occasionally janky physics do NOT affect the actual gameplay, but rather just make for funny bending in the replays and awkward scuffles when everyone gets up from a pile.
Madden can't win with some folks- make incremental changes and they get blasted for regurgitating the same game, make big changes and get blasted for a little bit of jank that doesn't effect gameplay.

Posted by Killslayer

@jjrage @hydraham I absolutely agree with you both that this is the best madden game in a long time. But the problem i have which i think may also be a problem Alex took issue with. Is the fact that it mever should have taken EA as long as it has to get madden where it is now. From year to year they would only make the smallest of changes when they had the potential to take football gaming to amazing places which they haven't . And there is also still the issue of them removing important "features" every year like the fact they took out surprise onside kicks and team entrances which were both so important last year coupled with getting rid of the option to have fantasy drafts in franchise mode something that gave the game a lot of replayability

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