I tend to cringe when I see the slogan “Better with Kinect Sensor” on the box of any Xbox 360 game. Time and time again I just find that these games do not come as advertised and in many instances they could have done away with the Kinect functionality all together. With this in mind I winced a little when I saw that dreaded “Better with Kinect Sensor” label on the cover of Madden NFL 13 for the Xbox 360. Could this be one of the few games that is actually better with the Kinect? Well in some instances it can be better with the Kinect but at the end of the day Madden fans won’t be picking up Madden NFL 13 for its’ Kinect functionality. It is all about the core gameplay and bringing the most authentic true to life NFL experience to Madden fans and Xbox 360 owners alike. So, does Madden 13 manage to do this?
Although I considered Madden NFL 12 a fantastic game, many wondered if it brought enough “new” to the table as it only made a few small leaps to make it a better game. This year the franchise is back again and much like previous years Madden NFL 13 comes along touting many new features in addition to the new Kinect functionality. The three more significant new features this year include the new real-time physics in the form of the Infinity Engine, a revamped career mode in the form of “Connected Careers”, and an overhaul in the audio department. After some extended playtime there is no doubt that this years game looks, sounds and plays a little differently than Madden NFL 12, but much like previous years the gameplay itself remains very much the same. But I guess this is a good thing as the Madden NFL franchise is one of EA Sports top selling sports games.
While I have to admit the gameplay remains very much the same as last year, some of the tweaks this year make for an experience that is a little more forgiving and makes for a game that, in the end, is a little more enjoyable. For starters interceptions are down this year. Last year defenders made crazy interceptions and at a frequent rate. This year the defensive AI must now make eye contact with the football before adjusting to make a play on the ball. EA Sports is calling this new enhancement the “Read and React” defensive AI. So if a linebacker has his back to the ball he will not automatically react to the ball that has been thrown his direction. Last year the middle linebackers were seemingly able to snag everything remotely near them, even when not looking, fortunately this has changed. Granted, as a quarterback you still have to make good choices or you will get intercepted as I discovered the hard way several times. Yet not once did I wonder “what the heck” or question how the defender was able to react and snag the ball when he was clearly out of position when I threw it.
It is said the NFL is now a passing league and one look at some of the NFL QB stats from last year would confirm this statement. This year a little more attention has been given to the passing game. So in addition to the improved read and react defensive AI, the new Total Control Passing mechanic arrives allowing you to lead receivers into open spaces allowing you to put the ball exactly where you want it to go. You can also zip the ball into a tiny window. As you play you will discover that your QB can now break out of the play action when he feels the blitz coming down on him. There are more passing animations in this years game and it adds to the passing game as a whole. I have to admit when it comes to passing, I need more work as I still have a tough time throwing the ball to specific areas in the vicinity of my receiver. I tend to merely hit the button and let the receivers do the rest. Regardless of my skill, the ability to lead your receivers allows the franchise to move in the right direction and hardcore Madden fans will likely be able to take advantage of the new passing mechanic resulting in better stats and more wins for their starting QB.
The running game on the other hand feels almost untouched from last year. If anything I found the running game a little tougher mainly due to the new animations. These new animations can result in your running back falling down rather easily at times especially right after the handoff is made. Breaking free from defenders feels a bit tougher. Although I still attempted the running game, in the end I found myself forced to pass a little more than I wanted to.
When it comes to EA’s new Infinity Engine I am left with some mixed impressions. On one hand it was neat to see players stumble, trip and lose their footing at times. I even noticed on some occasions a player would stumble looking like they were falling down only to collect themselves and bounce right back up. Velocity and momentum are certainly more of a factor this year. This being said, I found players fell a little more than they should and players bended back in ways a body cannot bend without breaking. Despite this it is clear the development team continues to move further away from those pre-determined animations to more “on the fly” animations and this helps the overall game experience.
Another big addition this year is the “Connected Careers”. Now before I get into the addition of Connected Careers, I have to admit that I had a fit when I fired up Madden NFL 13 and could not find the Franchise mode anywhere. Fortunately, the EA Sports PR team responded to my email on the weekend and pointed out that the Franchise mode no longer exists and had been replaced with Connected Careers. So for those who simply like to pick a team and play a regular season, you need to go into Connected Careers and select “Play as Coach”. This way you get the traditional Franchise experience but can still take advantage of all the Connected Careers’ features. This should be a tad confusing for those diehard Madden fans who play the game for the offline franchise mode as personally I associate playing a sports game as a “coach” as not actually playing the game at all. For instance, for many other games where you select to play as a coach your concern lies with managing the roster, calling the plays, and essentially watching the gameplay unfold. Regardless, I was able to play Madden offline the way I wanted to and in the end playing Connected Careers as a coach gave me the same experiences I had when I played the game in franchise mode in other Madden games.
So how is this new Connected Career mode anyhow? Well it is pretty darn good. It is certainly a slightly new way to play in some regards as you can now play offline or online with a total of 32 people, each playing a role in a franchise. There are weekly, season, and career goals to work towards. There is deeper progression and team-building elements present too. Each week you can read stories from around the league as well as those specific to your team. There is even a simulated Twitter feed that offers insight, perspective, rumors, and announcements from various ESPN media guys and other former NFL players. All in all it is indeed a pretty deep experience and I do like it, but given I am a rather simple guy a big part of me prefers simplicity and I did notice that some of the attention given to the presentation and on the field game during the franchise mode last year was missing.
Up to this point I have yet to dissect Madden’s Kinect functionality. Overall, it is certainly neat and I did find it helpful in certain situations. For instance, when I wanted my team to rush to the line and spike the ball it was quite good. Using the Kinect features enables you to do things like make adjustments before the snap or call out an audible. You can also yell “challenge” to challenge certain plays or yell “timeout”. You still play the game with the controller but the Kinect functionality just brings in a few added elements to make things run a little smoother as opposed to scrambling with button presses on the controller to head into the menus as you try to change your play with the play clock running out. Bottomline, the commands using your voice makes playing the game a little faster as opposed to commands using the controller. I have to give the development team some kudos as in many ways the game does indeed play a little better with the Kinect. When playing online I found myself not using the Kinect functionality as I was concerned that the other player would hear my calls. It should be noted however that online players will not hear one another during pre-play adjustments as both microphones are muted after play call selection and until the ball is snapped. Despite this I never wanted to take the chance and leak my master plan to my opponent.
The online gameplay seems to have been given a slight boost this year as well given it is now linked to Connected Careers and all the features that come along with this new feature. Your core online gameplay is back but there is a noticeable absence, and one that certainly upset the owners of our Madden 12 league, and that is the lack of Online Fantasy Drafts. The development team had to chop the fantasy drafts out of the game to allow for the implementation of Connected Careers. This came as a big disappointment but understandable given the circumstances. Regardless, EA Sports can tinker with the online aspects of the game all they want, but the fact remains Madden gamers just want a smooth online experience allowing them to put their skills to the test against another human opponent. With Madden NFL 13 that is exactly what you get. Sure I sustained some lag here and there, which was only noticeable when kicking the ball, but overall my online games went as smooth as silk and they were highly enjoyable.
The visuals in Madden NFL 13 for the Xbox 360 are once again a strong point for the franchise. EA Sports continues to pay great homage to the NFL game and this year we see some visual leaps over last year. For starters, the lighting has been improved. The game appears brighter with colours popping off the screen. EA Sports has also built a system that adds HDR to the in-game cameras. What this means is that no matter what time of day or where you are on the field the colors are just as vibrant. The players also seem to have more contrast and some of the new dynamic cameras make for some pretty fantastic looking replays. Those new Nike jerseys that debuted this year look solid, and I have to say that the jersey that got the biggest overhaul this year, the Seattle Seahawks jersey, looks great. All these little additions bring the game closer to that of an NFL broadcast.
As I mentioned above, Madden 13 also features a glut of new animations due to the new Infinity Engine. Collisions do appear a little more life-like and rarely did I see two tackles that looked exactly the same. EA Sports tells us there are over 1000 new animations, which is impressive to say the least. While I did not count how many I did indeed see there were a lot of new animations that I observed while I played and some were more noticeable then others. Presentation wise, some changes have been made but I have to admit I am a little disappointed not much has been done in terms of including a half time show and the pre-game presentations are nothing to write home about.
Overall, Madden 13 runs very smooth and suffers no slow down. On the downside, long load times are once again an issue for me. Firing up the game, then logging onto the EA Servers, loading your previously saved Connected Career, and then launching into a game can seemingly take an eternity. Sure, I am exaggerating, but you get the point. Needless to say, you will be waiting in some load screens a little longer than perhaps you would like but this is nothing new for Madden fans.
As far as the sound is concerned, Madden NFL 13 is a bit of mixed bag. On one hand, say goodbye to Mr. Collinsworth. This year we have a new announcing team as Jim Nantz and Phil Simms providing the commentary. They have provided over 9,000 lines of dialog and it is certainly a nice change of pace. Simms’ announcing can grate me at times as he seems to have taken over some of Collinsworth’s role of delivering those “Mr. Obvious” condescending lines, but overall I am satisfied with the new team. I did however miss having a sideline reporter. I should also mention I enjoyed some of the new sound effects such as authentic quarterback cadences from Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.
On a more negative note, Madden 13 strangely does not include a soundtrack with big name recording artists. Perhaps this is due to cutbacks but I miss having some funky tunes playing in the background while I wait in the lobbies for my game to launch. Instead you get a lot of those NFL Films symphonic tunes. You also get some faint music that plays on the PA’s in each of the stadiums as well. It is very authentic but still a big part of me misses the big name artists and tunes.
There is no question that on its own, Madden NFL 13 is a terrific game but so was Madden NFL 12 and NFL 11. The additions of Connected Careers, the new Infinity Engine, and the new broadcasting tandem of Nantz and Simms will be embraced by many, but at the end of the day it is still a Madden game. If you have been away from the franchise for a few years Madden NFL 13 is a safe bet. As for those hardcore Madden faithful they will pick up the game regardless. Yet if you are a casual Madden fan who already owns Madden NFL 12, you may just want to wait until next year but that is your decision to make. Don’t get me wrong, Madden 13 is a great game as evidenced by the review score but the franchise has yet to make that leap where gamers can call this the definitive Madden experience.