For any red-blooded man who enjoys the game of football and video games, the day Madden NFL hits the shelves is a holiday. Guys call in to work, cancel meetings, ignore girlfriends/wives and hit Wal-Mart at midnight like sneakerheads hit the mall on Jordan-drop eves. For many, it does not matter what changes or advancements EA Sports has made (or not made) to the game. Most Madden players are copping regardless – especially since there is no other NFL licensed video game on the market to compete with the juggernaut. However, this year's iteration features some key changes that should please even the harshest critic. We not only had a chance to experience the game before it hits shelves, but we also spoke to one of the lead designers Patrick Bellanca about what makes Madden NFL 13 so special.
Since Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 came out, EA Sports has attempted to step up the look and feel of the franchise through better player animation. However, no amount of tweaks can match true physics. As the first sports game using the Infinity Engine (a programming addition that considers real-world physical components such as mass and height, which maximizes actual football play), Madden NFL 13 is a true game changer.
"When we first started messing with physics we wanted it to change the way Madden played for everybody and it exceeded our expectations," says Bellanca.
EA Sports accomplished this by using the engine to take into account a players mass, speed, height and body type. The Infinity Engine brings those “wow moments” to Madden that fans usually only see in real games, making robotic and fake looking movements a thing of the past. Awkward collisions, where players looked like they were sliding on ice skates, are replaced by realistic bone crushing hits. Player movement is lifelike and plays don't end nearly as predictably as they have in the past. For example, in ’12 (and even moreso in ’11), WRs were often automatically tackled by defenders, regardless of player technique. No more. Now if you want to get a guy down you will have to actually execute a tackle. (Editor’s Note: The Infinity Engine is not available on the Nintendo Wii version of Madden ’13)
Anyone who has played Madden recently will notice how different the game feels this go round. As simplistic as it sounds, the movements, collisions and subtle nuances are just more realistic. Throw in a better lighting system, added camera angles and all new Nike uniforms and you have a very different looking game, aesthetically.
Aside from the physics engine changing how the game looks, another big change to this year's iteration is the way you throw the ball. Total control passing isn't exactly new to EA Sports games, but it is new to Madden. If you had the opportunity to play NCAA Football 13 then you have experienced Total Control Passing before, a feature that makes it possible to control things such as touch and trajectory.
With the real game of football moving more towards an all-aerial game, passing has become increasingly important and being restricted to just bullet and lob passes will no longer get the job done. There are now 25 new pass trajectory zones, meaning that you have the option to throw a pass exactly where you want it, depending on the QB’s accuracy rating. However, receivers will not automatically catch the ball if their icon is not lit (you will have to manually switch to control that receiver if you want to hit them before the proper spot in their route). So, if you’re playing with the Packers it will be much harder to hit Jordy Nelson on a deep route just because he’s wide open.
There are tons of new animations and subtleties that make the game look like a real NFL game, including 20 new QB dropbacks, easier on-the-move passes, over 430 new catches and eight new sack avoidances. Several QBs even have their real voices and cadences in the game including Brady, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Vick, Eli, Peyton (does Peyton really have a cadence other than changing the play at the line and audibling like crazy?) and many more.
Just as the receiver must be aware of the ball before catching it, so must the DBs and LBs in the new Read and React Defensive AI system. The days where a linebacker, corner or safety could simply put their hands up with their back turned and catch an interception or swat a ball away are over. This will keep middle linebackers from those perfectly timed pass swats that always happen when your team is trying to complete a comeback. This means doom for you lucky players that have no idea what you are doing on D, no more relying on AI to do your dirty work.
Madden commentary has been cool at times, but its always been somewhat predictable dating back to the early 90s. Some of the quotes have even made it into rap songs – "Boom he's on his back." Over the years, the commentary has become progressively worse (thankfully, no more Chris Collinsworth 80s comparisons). At times the play-by-play and color commentary have made about as much sense as Future's lyrics.
"The commentary wasn't good last year and we knew that internally so we made a lot of changes to the people working on the team and the technical foundation is very different," says Bellanca.
Phil Simms and Jim Nantz replace Colinsworth and Gus Johnson this year. The audio team also had another year to perfect audio booth technology similar to the EA Sports cash cow (and damn good sports game) FIFA franchise. Using the new technology, the developers were able to fix inaccurate commentary, timing and post game reflection. The result is over 9,000 lines of new commentary, meaning you won't hear the same things over and over again. The commentary is so lifelike that Nantz actually flubs over words a couple of times, just like he does in real life.
The attention to detail goes beyond what's said – Madden 13 also places the physical 3D broadcast booth in the proper place, depending on the NFL stadium. There are also special pregame vignettes and alternative animation for Monday and Thursday Night games. We hate to see Gus Johnson go, but we welcome the much-needed fixes.
A lot of gamers don't rock with Kinect because it feels weird to have a camera looking at you while you play a game or watch Netflix. Let's be real, the fact that the technology was originally developed by engineers in the Israeli military gives Kinect a very “big brother is watching” vibe.
However, that doesn't mean it is not dope and innovative technology when used correctly.
"We looked at the way a lot of other games did Kinect and our goal was not to replace button pushes with speech commands," says Bellanca. "We looked for ways that the Kinect could be complimentary to what you already do with the controller."
EA did just that by implementing a massive vocabulary of words that can be used at the line, before the snap, while simultaneously making adjustments with the controller. For example, when a player is adjusting his or her offensive line with button pushes, they can also verbally say to Calvin Johnson “go.” This will alert the Pro Bowl receiver to change his route to a streak route.
Players can also call timeouts or a no huddle offense post-play to efficiently use the clock in tight situations. Some people won't use it, but Kinect will allow hardcore Madden heads to do much more on offense and defense in the limited amount of time allotted before the next snap.
EA Sports is always trying to get pedestrian gamers or non-sports players to get into Madden. This year that attempt is the RPG inspired (think Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda) Connected Careers feature. CC essentially mashes up the online/offline franchise and superstar modes into something that EA Sports is calling unique, but many loyalists will call a waste of time.
In the CC mode, you select whether you are a player or a coach and you set your back-story and what kind of career you want to embark upon. When you are playing with other players (up to 32), you will get to see what each player is doing in their career as well as a virtual twitter feed where real NFL personalities will comment on your progress or lack thereof.
How your character’s career progresses really depends on what team you roll with. Each squad has different needs. For example, if you decide to play as a QB, it makes a lot more sense to join a team like the Cardinals who have no steady QB but have two good receivers, versus the Giants who have a franchise QB. If you don't like the way your character's career or an existing player you control's career is going, you can always retire but the overall aim of Connected Careers is to make it to the Hall of Fame.
This mode is really for cats that don't like straight up football, but would rather create a player or coach and see what individual stats/awards he or she can stack up. Come to think of it, the recently cut T.O. would probably love Connected Careers (no shots)! Overall, Madden 13 is a serious improvement over last year’s edition. While ’12 focused more on aesthetics (visible field grass and dirty uniforms), the new additions to ’13 center on actual game play. Though Madden is still the preeminent video game experience, even it requires an upgrade every so often and this certainly qualifies as such a thing.