Review: Madden NFL 13
Before the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 hit store shelves, even a couple of months before their official unveiling, EA Sports aired a trailer during the 2005 NFL Draft displaying what a next generation Madden title would look like. Every Madden iteration since then has consistently inched closer to that target render. With the most recent years serving (mostly) as high notes for the franchise and the current generation of consoles coming to a close, it appears that developer Tiburon saved the best for last and has decided to close out this current generation of consoles with a bang.
Not only did they manage to catch up to that target render from almost 7 and a half years ago, but in many cases, they’ve actually surpassed it. Read on to find out how they did it.
Besides the usual roster updates that are to be expected with annual sports titles, Madden NFL 13 also takes the time to introduce many firsts to the series. Thankfully we’re not only talking about another gimmicky “total control” add-on. No, this time around, every piece that makes Madden what it is, receives an overhaul this year. From presentation, to new commentary, to even a completely new engine, there’s a lot to love with 13. But with so many new additions, I’m focusing this review on these 3 core elements that I believe are the biggest differentiators that will help to take this year’s edition to the top of the sports simulation totem pole.
Candy for the Eyes and the Ears
Year after year in Madden, we’ve been teased with the authentic NFL look and feel but the series has always managed to fall somewhat short in areas where other sports franchises were always pushing forward. Visuals are where the most obvious changes are spotted in Madden NFL 13, and even the most seasoned veterans will be very impressed with what they find.
Lighting is among the biggest differentiators this time around, and 13 introduces dynamic lighting so good that as the game is being played, the position of the sun is being tracked after every single play. Now, at face value that may seem as like it’s not a big deal, but when it’s combined with all the new cameras — especially the all new motion blur effect in between every play — the series comes closer to photo realism than it has ever been
Before the coin toss, marquee players who are taking part in the matchup get some up close camera time. The vignette is certainly a nice touch and something fans would expect to see watching a Sunday afternoon broadcast on CBS. And I’m pretty sure I know why it’s in there.
For the first time in Madden, we have the CBS commentary duo of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz. Not only are their voices in the game — with 9,000 new lines of commentary to boot — but during pre-game warmups you’re introduced to full 3D renders of the pair as they break down the upcoming matchup. It’s the first time that I’ve seen commentators in a football game since the 2K series hooked up with the ESPN crew back in the day, and it’s certainly a welcome return. According to EA, much of their audio was recorded in tandem and the outcome is nothing short of great as the conversations and dialogue between the two commentators feels organic and natural, adding points to the games realism and certainly the overall presentation. The final product serves as the best commentary the series has seen.
To Infinity and Beyond
Only a couple of years ago, an unlicensed football title by the name of Backbreaker, attempted to take a small slice of marketshare from the juggernaught that is Madden. I think it’s quite obvious that it didn’t work out as planned, but for what it’s worth Backbreaker introduced an interesting gameplay engine, that had even the most devout Madden loyalists raise at least an eyebrow or two. I personally hoped EA Sports would purchase the tech, but with Madden NFL 13, Tiburon finally responded with a new engine of their own. Enter: The Infinity Engine.
With the introduction of this new engine, Madden instantly climbs a few more notches of up the realism meter. It affects every type of play; whether it’s a run, pass, or screen. And because of the new enhancements, you’ll have to re-adjust how you take certain cuts, how you attack runnings lanes, and even decide what passes are worth taking a shot at.
One major problem that has always affected Madden was its inability to determine different types of passes. Previously, players only had three different styles of passes when throwing the ball, which were the lob pass, bullet pass, and standard pass. And here is where the problem lies. A lob pass out to the flats is not equal to a lob one would throw for a 40 yard bomb down the sideline. Yet every version of Madden before this year would treat both the same. With the help of the Infinity Engine, players now have more than 20 new pass trajectories, all of which are computed on the fly. In other words, throws will still be determined through button pressure sensitivity, but the outcomes will vary dramatically from what we’ve become accustomed to for years prior. Making for much more believable passing game in general.
Realistic collisions and the overall feeling of mass and momentum gain the biggest rewards from the new engine. Now, when running the ball, players must chose wisely when deciding which lane to cut through and not only because of the defensive players on the opposing team, but because you’re own lineman can impede your ability to move forward, not only stalling your momentum but even, at times, forcing you to bounce backwards.
On the other side of it though, because of the revamped collisions, and natural motion that comes with it, plays are not dead until the whistle blows. I’ve had instances where a running back was literally tumbling over a downed linebackers body, but because his knees never touched the ground the play was still alive and I would be able to re-gain balance and rush for more yardage. It’s something that’s hard to describe in writing, but when you see it in motion you understand it better. Fighting for every yard never meant as much as it does this year and it’s all thanks to the new engine.
Tackle animations also get a huge boost as well. Sure, EA Sports made video game gang tackling “a feature” a couple of Maddens ago, but now, it’s much more in line with what you would expect to see on any given sunday in the NFL. I’m pretty sure that at some points I’ve seen all 11 men pile on top of one ball carrier. And while it was happening, you would seee bodies being pushed the floor and guys tripping over eachother, but it’s done so naturally that it makes the finished product shine that much more.
Bringing it All Together
The inclusion of a completely revamped presentation, I think, will be enough to bring back some players from other prominent sport sim franchises. And as amazing as the presentation and commentary is, it’s only half the story. Once they see it in motion, it truly changes everything.
I have no doubt that the addition of the Infinity Engine will be a hotbed of discussion at release time. I can see how some people, especially Madden fanatics that have become used to playing a certain way, will find it annoying to have to re-think and re-learn the way run their offense in 13. But what they need to understand is that this engine is the beginning of something awesome.
The Infinity Engine isn’t perfect by any definition of the word and it certainly has its quirks; lord knows I’ve seen some ridiculous animations during my review time. However, when you consider that we’re at the tail end of the current console generation with new hardware (confirmed or not) on the horizon, I think that that with the Infinity Engine — just like they did with that “Next Gen” trailer in 2005 — Tiburon is warming us up for what we can expect from Madden for years to come.
It’s been an up and down road for Madden the past couple of years (mostly up), but 13 is the return of the king of sports simulations. Long live the king.