It has been said that sports are the opiate of the masses, and perhaps no analogy could be more apt. Like most narcotics, sports can either provide an incredible high, or have the diametrically opposite effect. While it may not be the sport of choice for everyone, American football is the sports junkie’s drug of choice in the United States and Madden is as vital a piece of its culture as cheese heads or terrible towels. While every year of competition guarantees a new and exciting season of NFL football, the same cannot be said for its digital version. Earlier iterations of Madden were an annual affair. But the franchise’s recent drought of creativity, innovation, and fun gameplay has alienated many of its followers. This year brings the world the Calvin Johnson clad Madden 13. It may not come out of the huddle and score right away, it is at least driving towards the right end zone, which is a lot more than can be said for other recent versions of Madden.
Perhaps the most emphasized feature this year in Madden 13 is the all new Infinity Engine, and while it is a bit of a mixed bag, its benefits vastly outweigh the downsides. The engine minimizes canned animations, replacing them with physics-based collisions. For one, players almost never ‘stick’ together as if held by magnets, which makes rushing the line of scrimmage and following/shedding lead blockers all the more satisfying. Mid-air collisions, gang tackles, tackles with new defenders latching on after one another are all the best they’ve ever been. I particularly like the diversity that it adds to how the run game looks when bouncing off of defenders breaking tackles.
Unfortunately there are some glitches that really ruin player immersion. First, minor contact between players can result in incredibly over-exaggerated reactions. Sometimes when a player is walking and kicks the leg of a player who is lying on the ground , he will fall like he was just speared by Clay Matthews. In another example, a player might be chucked five yards while getting up from a pile because someone under him started to get up. Occasionally a collision will result in grotesque distortion of players. A normal hit can bend spines, snap elbows the wrong way and make the body do things it is not supposed to. The only solace here is that this does not affect gameplay which is still smooth and fun. So, the system is not perfect, but it could be, given enough time and attention.
A number of welcome tweaks have been added to the in-game action. The receiver/d-back interactions have been greatly improved. On the offensive side, the button for passing over your receivers’ heads for passing will be grayed out when they are not looking or not expecting a pass. If they are, their icon will fill in with color and all systems are go. On the other side of the ball, d-back now cover receivers much more realistically. It’s not completely fixed, but defenders magically anticipating cuts and swatting balls they never saw coming is no longer a major issue. To counteract this, defenders do seem a bit more adept at intercepting the ball when they are able to get in position. The downside is that the same animation is still used for many drops. These result in the defender freezing like a deer caught in the headlights.
The last major in-game change is the commentary. This year, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms take the mic in what is, in my opinion, the most fluid and natural commentary the franchise has ever seen. They sat down, watched plays as if they were at a real game, and recorded what they saw without a script. Lines still repeat, and some of the phrases are a little strange. But little things like pauses and natural stumbles make the 9000+ lines of commentary something you might actually keep the volume turned up for.
The Infinite Engine shows great promise, commentary is greatly improved, Ultimate Team is better than ever.
Connected Careers dropped too many features, and the Infinite Engine occasionally glitches out.