Sports video games have long suffered from the lack of an “end game”. You load up your career mode, play a few seasons, and you’ll ultimately decide to start a new one or move on to a new game after a few seasons. It’s been a fundamental issue that has long been a problem, that is, until the release of Madden NFL 13.
If you’re unsure of who Josh Looman is, we highly suggest that you familiarize yourself with both his work and his team at EA Tiburon. Looman’s idea, known as Connected Careers, is the biggest feature to hit the Madden NFL series in quite some time. Providing you with a seamless experience as a coach or a player, the mode looks to provide you a goal to strive towards to keep you engaged in your Madden experience. Does the mode succeed in doing so? Yes, but not without a few sacrifices along the way.
Regardless of whether you’re an offline champion or an online guru, Madden NFL 13’s Connected Careers mode was built for everyone. Upon starting the mode, you’re given the opportunity to choose to be a player or a coach. Each route allows you to create yourself, take over a current NFL player/coach, or use a legend that you’ve unlocked from Madden Ultimate Team.
One of the more intriguing parts of creating yourself in this mode is the use of Game Face. Using EA’s technology, you’re able to use two photos of yourself to build a 3D render to use in-game. Not only will you see your face on your player or coach, but you’ll also see it as your player card. It’s a subtle touch that goes a long way to help you remain immersed in the mode.
Once you’ve chosen your path, the next options you’re presented with are about your individual characteristics. You’re able to choose from a scenarios like high draft pick or motivator which ultimately help decide your starting attributes or strengths and weaknesses with your team. You’re given a solid amount of options to customize your character, but the skin tone options are horrible. Players are given “white” or “black” for the skin tones with no variations in between. It’s an area that the NCAA Football series has struggled with in recent years, and Madden appears to be suffering from the same trend now as well.
The first few minutes that you spend with the mode immediately showcase that there’s a strong RPG presence within the game. Doing well in practice and in games will earn your character XP that will allow them to increase their respective ratings or those of the players they coach. Earning and spending your XP wisely will ultimately assist you in reaching your goal of the Hall of Fame.
Each coach or individual position has a leaderboard of players both current and past that they’re competing against. Earning individual awards, along with winning championships and Super Bowls, will allow you to quickly climb the rankings. While some of the rankings are somewhat questionable, the top 5-10 players are usually right. Think you’re going to top the likes of Joe Montana, Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, or Jerry Rice? You’re going to need to spend a lot of time in this year, and that’s quite frankly how it should be.
While Connected Careers does a whole lot right, it does suffer from a lack of polish. The experience points that players are awarded don’t necessarily remain consistent based off of the effort required to win them. Winning the defensive player of the week will earn you less points than if you make an interception in the game. EA SPORTS got it right with the shear amount of things you can earn XP with, but the consistency with how the points are weighted seems to be off.
When you’re on the field, you’ll find it hard not to love playing as a quarterback or running back. Playing receiver or tight end will reward you quite handsomely for being crafty in finding a way to get open, and not calling for the ball when you’re blanketed by a defender.
A position that doesn’t seem to have received as much polish, however, is defensive back. While linebackers and defensive linemen can create their own activity, playing as a DB or safety isn’t quite the same. Even as a rookie, quarterbacks will rarely test you enough to keep you zoned in every play. Peyton Manning absolutely torched me the first week of the regular season, which should have technically put a target on my back. The next four weeks I found myself having seven passes in total being thrown to a receiver I was covering.
Even with the lack of activity coming my way, I eventually found ways to not cover the receiver fully on various possessions. I learned which routes receivers were ultimately running, and learned to shadow them in a manner that might allow the quarterback to test my ability. While a few more passes came my way throughout the season, I saw nothing close to the amount of passes my teammate Ike Taylor had. Ike Taylor finished the season with 11 interceptions which should typically be enough to warrant throwing towards another player for most teams.
Off the field, you’ll be occupied with renegotiating contracts, an amazing live draft, and the impressive news feed that’s dynamically generated each week. A Twitter feed is presented on the right-hand side that populates numerous media personalities reflecting on the action each week. The left-hand side holds a highlight section covering action currently taking place in the NFL, as well as how top prospects are fairing in their collegiate seasons.
It’s a mini-ESPN feature that helps you keep “connected” on everything going on in your season. Seeing that Terrell Owens was cut from the Seahawks in my first season prompted me to go sign him due to an injury with one of my own receivers in the pre-season. Players that you may have never scouted before will be brought to your attention as they have meteoric rises as well.
An intriguing portion that the mode also introduces is players coming out of retirement. In my first off-season, I noticed that Kurt Warner had come out of his retirement and was a free agent. Madden NFL 13 will allow players to receive within any season, and possibly choose to come out of retirement at a later state. I’ll personally be crossing my fingers for LaDainian Tomlinson to emerge at some point so that I can finally help him win a Super Bowl.
While there are gripes to be had with Connected Careers, the mode is giant leap in the right direction for Madden NFL 13. Adding more polish, dynamic goals, and more actions for the player such as requesting a trade can ultimately make this the mode that sports fans drool over. It’s likely that Connected Careers will be the single biggest sports gaming mode we’ve ever seen by the time we hit the next generation of consoles.
There’s a lot to see on the field for Madden NFL 13 this year. Pass trajectories, the Infinity Engine, & Ball Hawk help make this one of the more enjoyable experiences Madden has seen in years. You will, however, notice that the Infinity Engine is a first-year implementation.
The new engine adds physics which have been something that fans have wanted for the last few years. There’s a noticeable change in how the game plays this year from both a positive and negative perspective.
Wrap-up tackles are essentially non-existent, as most hits are likened to two unstoppable forces colliding. It’s exciting to see, but not everyone in the NFL has built their game on devastating hits. Taking a bruiser such as Brandon Jacobs has a little less reward than in recent years due to this system. In years past, Jacobs could “truck” through smaller defenders even while being tackled to gain an extra yard or two. Running up the middle with Jacobs now seems to cause more trip tackles than what we would usually see from a running back of Jacobs size. Elusive running backs feel balanced this year, but most gamers will struggle to reach a 100-yard game with even the best of power backs.
The Infinity Engine does allow for things that we’ve never seen in Madden before. Players have the ability to get hit and roll over a player and still have the ability to keep moving. In years past, once a player was hit they were essentially down for the count. It’s a great thing to see and delivers a “wow” moment, but it seems balanced as it won’t happen too terribly often.
On the defensive side of the ball you’ve been given a new feature entitled Ball Hawk. As a pass nears your area, or as you’re in the pursuit of it, you’re able to hold down the “Y” or triangle button to begin queuing up an interception. However, the feature works surprisingly well, if not too well. User games can see a rather high amount of interceptions now, and the offensive player doesn’t appear to have the same ability to battle for the ball on long throws.
Quarterbacks are given an impressive amount of passing trajectories this year that allow you to complete just about every throw your heart desires. Remember that back-shoulder throw that every ESPN analyst went crazy over last year? You’ll be able to drive your opponents mad using these precision passes with an elite quarterback.
As a quarterback, it’s hard to imagine another football game that you feel you have this much control. Being able to run a play-action and quickly abort the play due to a blitz, use the precision passing to place the ball where you need it, and ultimately have your wide receiver get the first down has never felt more satisfying.
This year, the duo of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz provide commentary to Madden. The presentation has never felt more natural due to the slip-ups that Simms and Nantz have that they push through to help it feel dynamic. While you’re bound to hear repeats from time, and players will be referenced on old teams even if they’re traded during the year, it’s a welcomed upgrade.
The Madden series has long suffered from the lack of meaningful stat overlays in recent years, and Madden NFL 13 has marked the series finally understanding how to deliver them. Position players will have their yardage totals shown through the game, quarterbacks will have their respective performances compared, and players who finished a big play will be featured on the sideline.
Could there be more variation in what we’re given on the presentation side? Always. The artistic direction that EA Tiburon has taken along with timing of the stat-overlays are damn near perfect, however. The commentary will continue to build over the next few years, but we’re hoping to see more features from Connected Careers make their way into the presentation. We’d love to see Madden compare a 25 year-old receiver’s stats to Jerry Rice’s in his career at that same age.
Madden Ultimate Team
New to Madden Ultimate Team this year is the introduction of “Solo Challenges”. Each team in the NFL’s schedule is available to choose from, allowing you to play through the numerous games and unlock coins and special cards. Certain challenges might earn you a specific player or a pack specific to a certain kind of player. Playing through the fourth pre-season game of a team will typically earn you a “Rookie” pack from this year, allowing you to unleash their youth on your opponents.
Your reserved cards are no longer subject to a physical limit anymore. Store as many cards as you’d like there, and call them to your active roster whenever you need them. It’s a great move by EA Tiburon, allowing you to stockpile contract extensions, injury cards, and players that you want to use but save for a later date.
Playing through the modes different sections also allow you to unlock different legendary players and coaches. Vince Lombardi is made available through an early, and easy, challenge. Earning Jerry Rice and Barry Sanders will require a bit more of your time, but they’re well worth the work. Once you’ve unlocked them, you’re able to use them in Connected Careers as long as the card you’ve earned designates that distinction.
The world of online has mostly remained unchanged from previous years outside of Connected Careers. Gamers are able to participate in a 32 team Connected Careers mode with their friends, and it’s an experience that you have to take part in. The immersion and competitive nature that’s driven throughout the mode isn’t rivaled in many games. While the mode still needs quite a bit of polish, the core principles and mechanics behind it are nothing but enjoyable.
Online Communities return this year with their core functionality remaining the same. You’re still able to play head-to-head matches or enjoy the online team-play mode as well. Online team-play sorely needs to receive the attention that the NHL series has brought to their version. Deeper stat tracking, unlockable items, and a more organized league are all things that we can only hope EA Tiburon consider for the future.
It’s been an interesting few months as we’ve built up to the launch of Madden NFL 13. The lack of editing players and removal of fantasy draft in Connected Careers had the community ready to rage, but EA Tiburon has delivered a fantastic product. That’s not to say that there isn’t work to be had for EA SPORTS, however. Balancing, tweaking, and more polishing will be expected from the team over the next few years to ensure that their foundation continues to build into something great.
Football fans are looking at the future of sports gaming with Connected Careers. While Madden NFL 13 made sacrifices in various departments to ensure that it was able to be delivered, it has proven to be one of the best decisions the team has made in years. You’re likely to play more Madden than you’ve ever played before with Madden NFL 13.
Madden NFL 13 was developed by EA Tiburon and published by EA Sports. An Xbox 360 copy was provided for the purposes of review.