Madden NFL 13 Review (Super Bowl Edition)
After all the patches and many games of playing I figured I would put my thoughts of Madden 13 down in a review format. I do not play online so this review will only focus on offline gameplay and the new franchise mode called Connected Careers (CCM). While Madden 12 was a far more polished title at release, Madden 13 tried to be more innovative at the cost of rushing some things. Madden 13 implemented a new commentary team, the new Infinity Engine and an expanded Connected Career mode (old franchise mode). Generally speaking this is a good but unpolished game. I can be an overly critical video game reviewer so don’t read further if you are expecting sunshine and lollipops.
This is a very long review so skip ahead to the sections you are interested in. Below I will outline the Presentation, Running Game, Passing Game, Defensive Line Play, Special Teams, an expanded Connected Careers section with subgroups and then my final Conclusion.
PRESENTATION and INFINITY ENGINE
At this point of the console generation the player models and graphics don’t change much. The game looks similar although I like the field textures better and the brighter colours of the teams this year. The biggest change is the new Infinity Engine (IE). This was marketed as a physics engine but that’s not really true. We still don’t see real physics in the way players move with regards to foot planting, change of direction and acceleration. What IE does provide are some nice looking and realistic tackles with a lot of variety instead of a handful of canned animations. The tackles don’t always look great as some weird things can happen, especially after the play as guys get up from a scrum, but overall this was a move in the right direction.
The presentation aspect of the game is a mixed bag. The first thing you notice are the new commentators in Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. For a first effort they are really, really good and this is the best announcing work in any Madden game ever. They don’t always get things right, especially in the passing game as a wide receiver will drop a pass and Simms blames the QB, but there is good variety and an abundance of lines so it doesn’t get overly repetitive. The fact they taped their audio together is obvious and makes you feel as though they are really working your game together. Great job here EA. They did a terrible job in the instant replay department though. All of the great variety that Madden 12 had with instant replay angles and camera shots were dumped for a system that splices strings of replays together. A close up of the QB, then the pass, then the WR zoomed in, etc. EVERY TIME. Gone are the press box or wire angle replays and a continuous replay like you see on TV. I could understand this once in a while but it’s the only thing they do now! No variety and it’s not what you see on TV. Terrible design decision. The half-time show got worse as not a single highlight is shown during half time. Inexplicable.
I will say I did like the Superbowl presentation with different intros and music along with presentations of the MVP award by legends such as John Elway. Seeing Roger Goodell at the podium handing you the Lombardi trophy amidst the confetti is also good.
The running game is done fairly well and is enjoyable. Speed backs are used better outside while pounding running backs can break tackles and run inside. It is nice to see that both sets of backs can be useful. Pitch or toss plays are not blocked well and you lose too many yards on them. While the human learns to avoid them the cpu does not which can make the already weak cpu rushing attack even worse. Running up the middle is different with the IE engine. You will find yourself tripped up by a DL whose arm on the ground snares you and it is definitely organic. You also have to be patient and look for cutback lanes. The game still needs to add foot planting and true player momentum. I’d like a return of the truck move as well. Ever since they added dual-stick controls the truck move has been neutered. I want to dip my shoulder sometimes and I don’t see that in this game.
The cpu running game is poorly done. In exhibition (Play Now) games most cpu playbooks are set to run 80% of the time on first and second down. That’s way too high. It continues to be bad in the first year of CCM but surprisingly gets better later on. I have no idea why. After year one the problem seemingly goes away which is a relief. It’s a problem related to the game planning feature which is why some users switch the cpu playbooks to generic or Legendary ones to fix the issue.
Secondly the cpu RBs don’t use their special moves well. You will rarely see a juke or spin. They just run into you and maybe they break the tackle. Their vision isn’t bad but too often they try to cover up the ball when they should be sprinting in open space. I wish EA would bring back the Running Back Ability slider so we could give the cpu runners a bit more juice and pop. The blocking sliders for both the running and passing games are incredibly weak and need to be fine-tuned better next year. Overall this area could use some improvement, largely for the cpu play calling and in the player movement.
This area is a mixed bag. EA added total control passing which allows you to lead receivers to either shoulder or adjust their route to “throw them open”. I really like this mechanic and it was a nice addition to the game. I don’t really see the cpu using it so it is a user advantage but a nice way to find the holes in the zone and coverage.
The cpu passing game is horrible. The cpu QBs are dumb as rocks and they aren’t that bright on All-Madden either. They don’t throw the quick or timing routes very well and hold the ball far too long resulting in too many sacks being taken. When they have big weapons like Calvin Johnson they don’t attempt to get them the ball any more than the other players on the field. EA really needs to improve the cpu QB decision making (please add as a slider for the lower levels as well) and how they use their talent. Without teams using their best receivers effectively, teams lack the personality and true to life execution we want to see. EA also removed all of the double team plays in the defensive playbooks so you can’t choose to double Calvin Johnson or Rob Gronkowski unless you use hot routes which allow you to spotlight the receiver. The old double team mechanic was poorly implemented anyways as both players would line up over the WR like a punt gunner. We need to see more shading and bracketing options in the game.
While the NFL has evolved into a passing league you will rarely if ever see the cpu throw for 300+ yards and multiple TDs against you. Most computer teams are balanced attacks or rushing attacks. It takes a lot of slider tuning to get the cpu passing game to a competent level. What complicates this area is that EA doesn’t have a true pass coverage slider where we can help the cpu out by making our pass defence worse. They have a pass reaction slider that actually is backwards and mostly useless anyways. It is very clear to me the current development team does not like sliders as they don’t test or fine-tune them properly at all. A huge improvement is necessary in both cpu QB intelligence and the sliders as currently implemented.
Other issues in the passing game include the cpu corners playing too soft on anything under All-Madden. Even on All-Madden the CBs give the WRs too much cushion at times. On third and five why are you lined up 8 yards off my WR and leaving that curl route wide open? Where is the situational AI? Those soft coverages are far too susceptible to curl routes and too good at defending the deeper routes. It forces you to take the easy short stuff too often. It’s not as bad on All-Madden but I’d like to see smarter and more aggressive cornerback play which in turn should limit the easy short game but also open up bigger plays down the field.
DEFENSIVE LINE PLAY
If there is one area where EA could really make the game more fun it is in the DL play. While a game like NBA 2K13 offers you a dizzying amount of moves mapped to triggers and analog sticks so you can pull off any move you want, EA offers next to nothing for the defensive line. All you have is an r-stick where you push down for a bull rush (which EA defines as falling on your face and out of the play) or left and right which are finesse moves that don’t do much. Where is the spin or rip move? How about a power club move? Will the cpu OL actually learn that if I speed rush to the outside every time they will cheat more to stop it and force me to use a counter move? That’s not in the current game either. Currently the best way to beat a blocker is to not use any moves. Just run into the OT with your DE and then speed burst around him to the outside. It’s way too simple and way too effective. I have to refrain from using this and stick to the boring and useless r-stick moves to keep it real. I’d like to see a true outside speed rush where the OT might get a piece of me but doesn’t stop my forward progress as I get to the QB. The NFL 2K series had better moves and more realistic DL play 10 years ago. The current defensive line play is beyond stale and in need of an upgrade.
One last problem that has reared its ugly head is the LE sack glitch. For some reason right tackles seem to protect far worse than left tackles –beyond their pass block ratings. Cameron Wake (97 overall) had 8 sacks for me one year at RE. My LE Jared Odrick is around an 80 with limited pass rush ability yet he has no problem getting double digit sacks. In the second year of my franchise I signed Laurence Jackson to start at LE and he got 20 sacks while Wake is still struggling to average half a sack per game. It’s not realistic, not something EA patched and not something we can fix through sliders.
The special teams are great if you like never missing a field goal. On any difficulty level the r-stick does not affect the accuracy of a kick (or extremely little) at the default sliders. All you have to do is set the accuracy arrow before your kick and then swing the r-stick for distance. It’s ridiculously easy and unrealistic. I know kickers in the NFL hit close to 80% of their kicks but this takes all the mystery out of it. It would be nice to use sliders to fine-tune this area but EA only has global ones! You can’t fine-tune the user kicking game separately from the cpu kicking game. If you want to try and make it more difficult for yourself you will just screw the cpu into missing all of theirs. There is nothing you can do about it unless you blind fold yourself before setting the accuracy arrow.
The return game was pretty good for the user. I was able to break a few returns in the game and having a return rating to allow for special returners that aren’t good at anything else is nice. Unfortunately the cpu can’t return a kick past the 25 yard line. They need to be more effective in their return game and a return blocking slider would be nice if EA doesn’t improve them for us. I have never seen a blocked kick either.
CONNECTED CAREERS MODE
This “new” mode replaced franchise mode as it combined Superstar mode (I don’t bother with this) and old franchise mode. EA removed the option to import draft classes, control more than one team and edit players among other things. Some things were patched back in while others will have to wait until next year and this angered many hardcore fans. But overall the new mode is vastly superior to the franchise mode in Madden 12 and I have enjoyed it far more.
News Stories and Twitter
One of the big new features are the stories and twitter feeds within CCM. EA added a bunch of personalities like Chris Mortenson and Skip Bayless along with EA personalities like roster guru Donny Moore. Every week you will see a twitter feed in the main section which you can scroll down and view many things. While some things are repetitive I do like it. I don’t like Skip Bayless in real life but his stupid and sometimes insulting tweets make me laugh in Madden. When one of my players got hurt he tweeted that there must be something more important to talk about than X player getting hurt.
There are also news stories with the headlines and a picture of a player. While they don’t have any real stories behind the scenes you can see big news with regards to injuries, player signings, game updates and coach firings. Sadly there is no transaction log to see every move every team makes during the season but maybe next year.
Unlike the Madden games of the past this game has worked hard to provide something for you to do every week. Every week you have the option to practice in a variety of scenarios. For the first couple of years I did this in order to buy RPG like upgrades for my coach Rudy Dolphin. You would be wise to choose Team Builder Coach when creating yourself as you get more scouting points for the draft every week. Scouting points are like gold so I highly encourage you to go this route. The practices are very boring so I would always choose the short ones. You just play against a fictional team and it’s a chore. I would love the option of playing Madden Moments instead or old mini games from the NCAA series like the Oklahoma drill, Bowling or Tug of War. This would make it a lot more enjoyable. Playing in practices and games gets your players and coach XP. They need XP to get better. You can go through the process of manually progressing all your players in areas you desire or let the cpu do it. I’m not a big fan of this new RPG XP system so I just let the cpu do what they have traditionally done.
In-Season Contract Negotiations
Forget practice, the fun stuff is in the GM type of activities. During the year a player on the final year of their contract will approach you about an extension. When negotiating contracts you can only choose the amount of base salary and bonus money, which is guaranteed, and will incur cap penalties if you release him early. All contracts are scaled to be increasing and this is acceptable although it would be nice to pick from a few contract structures (front loaded, even, back loaded like they all currently are). If you lowball a player he will cut off negotiations with you and that includes the offseason. You will not have a chance to re-sign him before free agency unless you want to drop the franchise tag on him. Often a player may reject an initial offer but keep negotiating the next week. Over the course of the year a variety of players will come looking for extensions so spend wisely.
If a player gets hurt you can throw him on IR. In my 4th year I did have a player suffer a career ending injury. When you want to sign a street free agent as a replacement the players there are often too highly rated for my liking. At virtually every position there is a 75+ rated player that is often as good as or possibly better than one of your backups. I think most of the free agents should be scrubs rated under 70 and I think EA needs to tune this area better. There is no negotiating with street free agents during the year. They are all signed to one year, no bonus contracts at the specified price. Not a big deal but it would be nice to be able to negotiate.
Depending on the coach you are using you may only have 1000 points a week to use on scouting draft prospects. That is paltry and you will find yourself drafting blind if you don’t upgrade this. My advice to everyone is to create a team builder coach which starts at 2000 points a week. Through practices and hitting team goals during the week, you earn coaching XP which you can use to buy upgrades. Upgrades for your coach include the ability to talk positions out of retirement, encourage free agent signings and also training positions. But most importantly for me was the ability to buy an expensive scouting package (close to 25,000 points I earned late in year one) which gives you an extra 1000 points for scouting. That will max you out at 3000 points a week for scouting which makes it a lot more fun. A scouting point option next year would be nice for those that would like more.
The draft prospect grades will change a bit throughout the year, particularly the players featured in the draft stories in the News section. I’ve seen a kid who got a chance to play early in the year and projected as a 7th rounder get taken in the Top 10 at the draft as he improved his stock during the year. Most shifts are not nearly as dramatic but they do move a little bit. You can save your scouting points and use them later or do a little bit each week. The game provides you with only a little information on a prospect. No 40 times, 225 bench or college stats. But it does give you height, weight, school and estimated draft position.
You have the option to scout for overall grade or individual attributes. Getting an overall letter grade costs 2000 points. Individual ratings costs are much lower between 25 and over 100. Letter grades generally imply A = 90s, B = 80s, C = 70s, D = 60s, F = below 60. While many gamers choose to scout a lot of individual ratings I have found the most productive method to scout mainly the overalls and a few traits by position (like speed for WR, accuracy for QB). If you want the true grades after you have scouted the letter grades, there is an additional and much higher price to pay. It’s not worth it imo. With 3000 points I have been able to scout 30-32 overall letter grades the last two offseasons. This gives me a world of information as drafting players blind is lousy. I’ve seen second round kids with a D or even an F grade. I’ve seen a fifth round kid with an overall B grade. B grades are gold. When you find one you move around in the draft to get him.
It is best to try to scout a handful of positions as you can’t scout everything and be prepared. Don’t just scout the top end talent as you need to scout from rounds 1 to 5 or even later if you have enough points. Players don’t always get drafted where the final projections indicate but they don’t change too much. The kid projected to go in round 1 won’t fall too far out of it and the kid in the fifth round won’t likely go in the first 3 rounds. You only have one pick in each round unless you wheel and deal so it’s important to scout players that are draft worthy in every round. There is nothing better than unearthing a late round steal and drafting him. There is nothing worse than drafting a kid you have no information on and find out he sucks. So scout all the rounds and look for gems. Identify the kids you want and move around in the draft to get them. I will discuss the draft in further detail later. I really do enjoy this aspect of the game and it was a great improvement.
The free agency area is one of the biggest improvements in Madden. After the season ends you do get one more chance to sign your own players. Any player that cut off negotiations with you or vice versa is not eligible to be signed. You can still franchise them if you like which is a nice touch. In Madden 12 they incorporated an e-bay style bidding system that often let you easily out bid other teams to get players but it was such a crazy and fast system that you often missed out on players you never knew existed. That is completely gone. Now you have a three week “recruiting” period where you have three chances to sign free agents. No more speed bidding and craziness. You can look at all the players by position and then offer them contracts of your choosing. The game will indicate how many teams are bidding and how much they want. I have seen some players ask for surprisingly little money and then have the final contract be double their initial asking price after the weeks go by. After every week a player might sign with someone or stick around and hope for more money. You can choose to increase your offer, do nothing or withdraw it. Some players ask for too much and then go unsigned. I’ve seen Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman available AFTER the signing period in one year. In Madden 12 very few good young players were available but Madden 13 has a good mix of them (possibly too much at certain positions).
While I really enjoy the new free agency system the cpu logic needs to be improved. They will spend crazy amounts of money on 90+ rated players. I’ve seen Aaron Rodgers and Big Ben get re-signed at $20 million a year (good) but Anquan Boldin get $11 million a year (bad) in the open market. The cpu believes in spending on elite players while the middle class gets ignored. Far too many 78-82 rated players can be signed for under $1.5 million a year. While the cpu ignores them you can gobble up a lot of decent players for cheap. This leads to few depth or cap issues down the road. I’ve seen the cpu spend big money on a QB only to have him end up as a backup (Denver signed Cutler to sit behind Manning after Chicago signed Romo to start over Cutler the year before). Patrick Peterson at CB was signed by the Jets for big money and is the #3 guy. Knowing where to allocate their money is problematic for the cpu. Knowing how to fill out their roster and order their depth chart is also an issue. I’ll see offensive tackles on the wrong side for no reason and even some teams with only one QB on the roster!
Overall I enjoy this area although the cpu roster management and overall salary structure of average players needs to be improved. Mid-tier players need to command more money.
This is a big improvement over the previous games. Once I figured out how to scout properly I grew to love this area. I’ve spent an hour on the draft before. When it starts the first team is on the clock. You get two minutes to make a pick. Be careful though. If you don’t make your pick in time the cpu will make it for you. So if you are trying to execute a trade or look at your roster or draft board use the “pause draft” feature just to be safe. At any time you can try to trade up in the draft. You get a chance to make ONE offer to the team. If they don’t like it they will either trade it to someone else or make the pick. You can try and trade down as well. When you select that option you will see offers from various teams. There is no negotiation in this process. You either accept their deal to move down or pass. CPU teams do move up and down the draft with each other and some prospects slide or get picked early. When a trade does happen the live (fake) twitter feed will have tweets about it. It’s fun. The commentary is based on projected draft position. If you draft a kid early because your scouting info is saying he’s a steal be prepared to be blasted! I’ll have the last laugh though.
Trey Wingo narrates the draft and you can advance it one pick at a time, one round at a time or to your next pick. It’s really easy and I often advance one pick at a time for the first round to see where the kids I scouted early go. The kids that have draft stories throughout the year will have a longer story given by Trey that makes it feel real and interesting. I’ll try to keep track of where the kids I liked and missed out on went to. Most importantly I’m like Jimmy Johnson trying to move up and down to pick the guys I like at their value spots. When the draft is over you will see the final grades and abilities of all your draft picks and they are automatically signed for you per the new NFL rookie cap.
The biggest thing missing in CCM is the lack of a weekly wrap-up show. Chris Berman’s weekly show in 2K5 complete with simmed stats and fake highlights was epic in its time and remains unmatched today. Other features I would like to see are a true formation sub menu like NCAA (not just in game) and the ability to change our coaching playbooks which are set for life once we pick them. Yes you can change them at the game start screen but let me change this permanently. Options in general seem to be locked out as sliders and game speed can’t be adjusted in-game either (in CCM but not in Play Now).
The stats section is on the slim side. Team stats would be nicer on a yards per game basis and every offensive statistic should be available on defence and vice versa. I’d like to know my defensive third down conversion percentage as well as opposing QB rating and rushing yards per attempt. Wide receiver drops aren’t even tracked other than in your individual game. The league leaders in stats don’t show members on your own team either.
The addition of the news and twitter stories, the ongoing GM aspects during the season combined with the new scouting, draft and free agency activities are a huge improvement this year despite some of the missing features like importing NCAA draft classes. This is the first time I’ve really felt invested in my Madden franchise. In the past it always felt so clinical and boring during the year and you couldn’t wait to get to the off-season. But EA has managed to hold my interest during the season and the off-season. Instead of saying the NCAA dynasty mode is heads and shoulders above Madden’s franchise; the Madden team has managed to create its own unique and valuable experience. A weekly wrap up show would take it another step forward.
This is a game that you can love and hate at the same time. After the patches and accepting what the game is offering I have found myself enjoying Madden this year more than I have in ten years. At the end of the day I am able to overlook the issues the game does have and enjoy it for what it is. I’d like the cpu intelligence, especially the QB, the sliders and the player physics to be improved but the fun factor and CCM make the game enjoyable and arguably the best Madden ever.
Review was written by Rudy from the Beyond Media Online forums.