'Madden' Moves the Line in '13'

by Ken Hannahs

30 August 2012

Madden 13 does a lot to expand on the features of the Madden experience, but still seems to miss some of the basic tenets of the original vision for the game.
cover art

Madden NFL 13

(Electronic Arts)
US: 28 Aug 2012

According to a quote from Ray Lewis featured at the beginning of Madden NFL13, football is all about leaving your mark.  A look at the game on the whole suggests some truth to that idea. 

This year the game has gone through a tightening of the belt in terms of some of its features and a widening in others.  This iteration seems to focus on franchise mode and its interconnected play.  It is a really neat feature that seems to have lost a lot about what i found neat about this mode in the past.  Before, you were able to control a lot of the finances of the team, which went far beyond simply managing player contracts and the like.  In games past, you could build new stadiums, set concession prices, upgrade your existing stadium, and even hire coaching staff.  Now it seems like they have relegated all of that to the background.  Franchise mode as it stands is simply playing the role of head coach.  Madden seems to have demoted your status from that of Jerry Jones to something like that of the lowly Mike Smith.  I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it still seems odd that there would be a digression in this area.  I’ve heard mixed reactions to this, ranging from criticism of the mode’s poor implementation (I would disagree), down to it being simply too finicky or too uninteresting.  Either way, these features don’t make an appearance in the new title, and I would imagine some will be very excited about this while others will be a bit put out.

Either way, the most exciting part of 13 is that multiplayer seasons with have finally been implemented, allowing players taking the helm of their favorite team in the role of either a player or as the head coach in order to advance the season forward.  It is a fascinating feature that shows a lot of promise, although I haven’t been able to play around with it as much as I have wanted to.

EA also includes their new digital facial construction technology, allowing you to appear in the game as that player or coach.  The technology is interesting, if only for the hilariously terrifying hell-spawn born from the imprecise science that makes up my X Megapixel iPhone camera and its slapdash facial reconstruction software that draws contours via green dots in order to delineate your chin from the tip of your nose.  From watching this process, I realized something about myself and also encountered a sort of anti-Ken.  My creature was an eldritch homunculus—a terrifying unblinking simulacrum of my own features—patting Matt Ryan’s spandex-clad ass.  I never felt bad for football players before (they just have never seemed to need nor want my sympathy), but in that moment, I could feel Matt Ryan’s suppressed shiver as his coach of recondite origins gave him a paternal pat.  Why had they fired Matt Smith?  Why had the ownership felt as though this man, streaked with jaundice, was a fitting successor to a coach who had supplied Atlanta with back-to-back-to-back winning seasons?  Sure, they had yet to win a post-season game, but that seemed hardly worthy of this psychic terrorism that the owners had bestowed upon him and his teammates. 

I don’t wish to belabor the point, though.  It is neat to see your likeness gripping a clipboard of plays and getting showered in a fine mist that resembles water splash physics from 2002 (gatorade viscosity is not so easy to emulate), and perhaps for others, it will work better (indeed, the animations and likeness show promise if nothing else), but what I got was a subtle abomination—like Edgar from Men in Black.

The other new big inclusion in Madden is the Infinity Engine, which completely changes the way in which impacts between players works.  In past iterations, additional canned animations of tackles would play out depending on the various factors of the play, removing instances of clipping, for instance, and causing runs up the middle to become truly chaotic.  Like the implementation of real life faces in the game, it works surprisingly well but still features a fair amount of goofiness as well.  For as great as it is juking out a player and causing him to run into his teammate, the weird instances where everyone on the field turns into bumbling idiots, tripping over everyone at a play’s end is strange. 

In the actual play department, Madden continues the trend of being completely passable (pun intended).  They seem to have made passing much easier than it was in the past seemingly in an attempt to mirror the dominance of the passing game in the current NFL.  This means that it is much more common to see safeties falling back into coverage, letting wide receivers smoke them deep, and also linebackers that are seemingly oblivious to passing routes.  Perhaps this was the team that I was playing with, but I found the best way to combat the lack of realistic AI pass protection was to simply provide a constant fusillade of beefy outside linebackers running full-tilt at a cowering QB.  This led to pretty comical sack totals over the course of a year.

Since the beginning of the Madden franchise, one of the key directives was to create a realistic football simulator.  Every year has an attempt to improve mechanics to enhance its “football-ness” in order to hopefully get you, as EA Sports promises, “in the game.”  For that reason, the question must be asked: has Madden continued to make advancements to make the football experience feel more natural and real than it has in the past?  The answer is that yes, it has.  The actual football in Madden, with the inclusion of the new Infinity Engine, provides a much truer sense of the game than past iterations have been capable of presenting. 

I still feel as though Madden is stuck in its insistence in making the experience hide behind the fourth wall.  If Madden truly wishes to become a more realistic football simulation, there must be a greater insistence in breaking down that wall between player and football avatar.  Every year, we are subjected to a sparse and often cringe-worthy amount of banter between two color commentators.  This year, Phil Simms and Jim Nantz have taken their first plunge into the uncanny valley, providing their likenesses and voices to the storied franchise.  The problem of repeated commentary becomes even more flagrant as we see more and more animations representing the moves that the players on the field are capable of performing, while there is only that one line to discuss them—as Nantz stumbles over himself and decides: “You know what?  It was a bad route, that’s what it was.”  The game’s color commentary fails in the same way that tackling animations in Madden games of yore failed—there’s just not nearly enough variety.  You will hear lines repeated as often as three times in a single game, and honestly, this hurts the game’s integrity. 

To fix this, EA Sports has two options: the first is to add a significant amount of one-liners to the game’s commentary, but the other is simply to extirpate the banal blathering, increasing the importance of true stadium sounds, and improving the immersion of the football experience as though the player was truly there.  In the end, I am dubious as to the merits of the first option, but I also know that it is a feature that the folks at EA are not likely to do away with any time soon.  Ultimately however, this is a relatively small gripe with an otherwise fantastic football experience. While the out-of-game systems continue to flounder in mediocrity, the inclusion of connected franchises is a great system that adds a lot to the experience.  Madden 13 is the most realistic football experience that I have had playing a video game, and while there is room to grow, the pros most definitely outweigh the cons.

Madden NFL 13


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