Open up Madden NFL 13 and the opening credits will give way to Ray Lewis in all of his motivational glory. He’s sitting in a gloomy, dark locker room looking like he’s ready to decapitate the next unsuspecting wide receiver.
How bad do you want to be remembered?
If his purpose was to excite, it definitely worked, and perhaps more importantly, the inclusion of this scene – something you’d see out of an NFL locker room on any Sunday for about the next four or five months – fits perfectly with this year’s game. Madden NFL 13 no longer has an identity crisis, and while there are still points that feel stale and old, the game knows what it’s there for. In this regard, it delivers.
Gone is the weird music that doesn’t fit the nature of the game, replaced by stuff you’d find on an NFL Films mixtape. Gone is the unnecessary window navigating, replaced by one main hub with all of your options in front of you. Gone is the feeling of seeing the same tackles, the same throwing animations, the same gameplay.
Madden NFL 13 is releasing to the public tonight at midnight, but I was lucky enough to receive a copy last week, and I spent parts of the weekend lighting the computer up with Aaron Rodgers and getting run over myself by Chris Johnson. Was it more fun than years past? Definitely. Did the changes work? Almost all of them. People love to hate on sports games for not changing year to year. But this is sports, this is the NFL. It’s BEEN the same for decades. This Madden may feel similar on the surface to past versions, and to some gamers, that’s a drawback. But when you dig a little deeper, the details stand out.
The presentation is better. Pre and postgame cut scenes differ depending on the importance of the matchup, while CBS’ duo of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz are awesome (plus, they’re in 3D booths which were carefully researched to ensure their proper placement in relation to the field in every stadium in the league). The commentary was pretty bad in last year’s version, but now they’re ad-libbing, rambling, and are much better for the game. They feel more in-the-background rather than in-your-face, which I think is important.
All of the new Nike uniforms are in the game (and the customization options are amazing), the lighting is significantly better, especially in those late afternoon games when the sun begins to set, and even the grass on specific fields feels more real. Replays of sideline catches are now often accompanied by spraying white (if he’s out of bounds) or green (inbounds) grass.
But the largest change this year directly affects the gameplay. It is the Infinity Engine, which is meant to insert physics into the game like never before. Of course, we’ve heard this in the past, but it’s definitely improved a lot this year. On one of my very first plays, I noticed an offensive lineman stumble and nearly fall to the ground after a play was whistled dead. Why? He had stood up in the middle of a small pile and bumped into a defender. I thought that was pretty cool, and it happened all the time because the end-of-play pileups felt much more realistic. Players would be sliding off each other, diving and missing as the ball carrier went down, and even occasionally getting stuck at the very bottom.
Every tackle feels unique because of this (some are truly jaw-dropping), and the action around the ball felt much more organic rather than the canned animations many are used to. People know me as a big NBA 2K player, and the canned animations of the last few versions were really annoying. Madden NFL 13 has almost none of that.
One play in particular stood out to me: a 28-yard touchdown pass I threw with Rodgers to Greg Jennings. It was a deep corner fade with one-on-one coverage with a safety. As the ball drifted towards the back corner, both players put their hands up to catch it, and ended up interlocking each other. Jennings got his hand on the ball first and brought it down even as the defender tried to knock it away. There was no ball suctioning, no weird animations where the players arms go through each other, and Jennings even made sure to get both his feet in (realistically) without doing the typical Michael Jackson moonwalk we’ve seen for so many years in Madden.
As a whole, the passing game feels much more responsive. With Total Control Passing, you can pinpoint where you’re hitting every receiver, and while they’ve had something similar in past versions, it was improved tremendously this year. Along with 20 new QB dropback animations, and a number of other small improvements (receivers actually have to be tracking the ball this year, better pass trajectories, receiver-specific pump fakes, and new throwing animations), passing the ball is as fun as ever.
A perfect example of this would be a matchup I had playing as the Lions against the computer, playing as the Titans. I configured the settings to have this be a Super Bowl matchup, meaning all of the presentation was completely different and dope – it felt like I was actually playing in a bigger game that really meant something. Anyways, I lost in OT because I gave up 215 yards to Johnson and threw four picks with Matthew Stafford. You think that’s a red flag for the passing game? Not at all. I’ll tell you why.