Another year another Madden. At this stage we all know the drill right? EA slickens up the presentation, adds a couple of new features and delivers essentially the same gameplay experience as the year before with a handful of tweaks, some new player animations and the claim of some groundbreaking something or other that doesn’t seem to make all that much difference in the grand scheme of things. Except that’s not quite how it’s worked out this time around, and we have to say that we’re particularly happy about that.
While last year’s Madden was far from a bad game, we found it to be lacking on the fun front, and the presentation overhaul left a lot to be desired, with a more stilted attempt at colour commentary than we had ever witnessed before. Thankfully that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the team at EA Tiburon, and with Madden 13 they’ve managed to up the ante, delivering what is far and away the best gridiron game we’ve had the pleasure of playing in quite a while.
The most obvious change is an aesthetic one, with both the presentation and the visuals now streets ahead of the game’s previous iteration. With the Infinity Engine being brand new, there are obviously going to be a few glitches here and there, mostly noticeable by some agonising looking artificial limb bends during particularly hefty tackles, but that’s forgivable, and it doesn’t taint the overall experience. Adding to the feel of authenticity however, is the wonderful new presentation, featuring CBC mainstays Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in swanky digitized form, who manage to punctuate the game with genuinely insightful observations, few of which are repetitive enough to grate even after prolonged gameplay sessions.
Once you’re on the pitch, the rest of the changes become apparent. The new pass trajectory system that debuted in NCAA 13 is here, but it’s been given quite a bit of refinement. It’s still not quite perfect, but it’s streets ahead of anything that has come before it, and it makes a huge difference to offensive play. The flip side of that is the fact that once you’ve mastered it, it’s possible to tear the defence apart far too easily – something that’s particularly noticeable against AI opponents or newcomers to the series online. It’s also a touch frustrating at times when you come up against a much better player online, as the fact that your defensive team are hamstrung by the realism of not being able to telepathically know where both the ball and the offense player they’re supposed to be tackling are at all times. Obviously it’s a big plus in terms of authenticity, but it can make things feel a little lopsided on occasion.
The Infinity Engine itself is a truly impressive feat, particularly noticeable in the tackle, where players grapple realistically with each other before breaking free, or tumbling to the ground under the momentum of their opponent. It feels as weighty as it should, and the result is satisfying, particularly when you execute the perfect last ditch lunge to pull the ball-carrier to the floor mercilessly.
The responsiveness of the controls feels like it’s gotten a nice upgrade too, which is always a bonus, but this could simply be a pleasant after effect of the new engine; either way it’s welcome. Those of you who are concerned with the fact that Madden games tend to take up a lot more time than other sports sims will be pleased with the auto clock forwarding feature that more efficiently manages your time without compromising the gameplay, speeding up matches without sacrificing realism.
Another huge new feature is the game’s Connected Careers, which may just go on to be the single most important addition to sports game since Be A Pro made its debut. This feature allows players to combine all the major gameplay modes in Madden 13 into a single, massive mode, complete with the ability to compete online through public or private lobbies.
After last year’s disappointing outing for the franchise, it genuinely looks like EA Tiburon are back on track here, and with a new generation of systems on the horizon, things are definitely looking up for the future of the Madden brand.