Think of Madden NFL 13 as the football team that changed head coaches. The switch to a new system and philosophy doesn't always go so smoothly.
Electronic Arts' pro football simulation evolves its career-focused game modes to make boring tasks such as practice and preseason enjoyable. However, the overhaul of the game's on-field physics produce results as inconsistent as a rookie quarterback.
Previous installments of Madden have centered around two major game modes -- Franchise and Superstar -- that allow players to become everything from an owner and general manager to a potential football legend.
This season, EA Sports has combined the two into a new option called Connected Careers. After deciding between player and coach, users can create their own character, assume the career of a current coach or player, or try to recapture the success of a Hall of Famer such as players Jerry Rice and Barry Sanders as well as coaches including Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry.
Player careers are straightforward: build up the skills of your athlete as you take the path toward superstar. Coaches also double as general managers, installing game plans and managing playbooks along with negotiating contracts, signing free agents and drafting potential studs. It's similar to Franchise mode minus owner tasks such as setting ticket prices or upgrading the stadium.
All decisions are rooted in a point-based experience system, where players earn "XP" to use toward beefing up players or bolstering their coach's abilities to resign or draft position players. Points are earn by completing weekly and season goals or successfully executing gameplay scenarios in Practice. Also, players can create online careers, managing certain elements through a Web browser or smartphone.
The shift to Connected Careers is a surprise, considering EA Sports overhauled the game's Franchise mode last season. However, it's a fantastic move that places more weight on seemingly mundane tasks. Players can skip that preseason game and practice, or pick up some extra XP by taking on these events.
Coach careers are particularly enjoyable. Tasks are spread throughout the season, so a coach may prep for the next game while trying to negotiate extensions with star players. There's even a fictional Twitter feed where reporters drop praise and criticism on a player's draft picks or free agent moves.
Presentation gets a boost between the CBS Sports broadcast style and play-by-play featuring Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, a more subdued duo compared with last year's pairing of Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth. Although prone to errors (sorry, Phil, my tight end isn't coming back next week after breaking his collarbone), their commentary helps create a more authentic broadcast environment.
The biggest change on the field is with tackling, highlighted by new physics technology called the Infinity Engine, which is supposed to generate more realistic impacts between players when contact is made. For the most part, it works well. For example, a potential huge run up the gut by my running back was thwarted after tripping over one of my linemen. While frustrating, it was a small detail that helps make Madden NFL 13 appear more real.
It's not a perfect experience, though. Not every tackle follows the laws of physics, so players will see bodies contorting in ways that aren't humanly possible. It's especially noticeable when second or third tacklers enter the fray. During one play, my tight end gets drilled in the side by a linebacker. As he falls, another tackler pops in, wraps up the tight end below the knees, picks him up and slams him like they're in the main event of an episode of Monday Night Raw.
Then there are the comical post-play moments where a defensive back trips over a teammate and reacts as if he's been demolished by James Harrison. Again, small details, but when you're trying to create an experience approaching the real thing, those moments stick out more.
Xbox 360 owners get the bonus of voice control support through Kinect, making most pre-snap adjustments through vocal commands. On offense, players say a name then command, such as "Davis, motion right," or "defensive line, shift left." It works fine for simple changes, but for the experienced player who wants to make several shifts or call multiple hot routes, stick with the controller.
Like every year, Madden is a strong representation of the NFL. However, for every step forward EA Sports continues to make off the field, their on-field game needs a bit more polish.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Rating: E for Everyone
Release Date: Aug. 28
Score: 3 stars (out of 4)
By Brett Molina