By: Mike Valenti
Ah, Madden. The franchise title for the ages. The cornerstone of all sports gaming. A sales and marketing monster. THE definitive sports title.
This game in simple terms should never have been released as is. Now before you click the “red x” or begin cursing like the father in “A Christmas Story” let me explain.
The game’s main calling card this year was the introduction of the Infinity Engine: a new physics protocol that was to make hits more realistic, player reactions easier to judge and predict, and the interaction between digital athletes more like how you’d expect them to be. That, my friends, was truly exciting… in theory. The actual execution of said engine and feature can be compared to an unmitigated disaster.
The title comes off like a rushed product that was sent out the door without fully understanding or tweaking the new, potentially groundbreaking engine. The result is a buggy, wonky and sloppy on-fieldproduct. The amount of Terry Tate Office Linebacker hits is laughable and the engine itself produces some of the worst hit animations and follies since NFL Blitz. This title needed at least another 3-months in the dev cycle to polish and tune. What could’ve been a wonderful addition has turned out to be nothing more than another box cover embellishment.
Why am I making such a big deal of one feature? Because it impacts the entire game, and how it looks and feels when playing it. While tremendous strides have been made in the animation and AI department, you can’t lose the image of Fred Jackson flipping around like Cirque de Soleil when touched by a linebacker. Video game titles in 2012 are about believability. This isn’t 1997 and this isn’t Final Fantasy. This is EA Sports’ signature title in the US market, and frankly it’s unacceptable.
Is the game playable? Will it be enjoyable for the casual fan? Yes and Yes. Just not for me. At 31 and a very busy guy with a career and family, I don’t have the time nor patience to be fed a flawed product where being forced to overlook issues becomes mandatory for my enjoyment. I want a product that gives me realism and simulation experience. That’s me. If you just like to goof around, hit stick guy (or are a burnout with immense free time) by all means contribute to the cause. Personally, the young engine’s flaws are enough to leave me with an empty taste.
The visuals are solid, but surprisingly not close to those found in NCAA 13. Not in color, lighting or crispness. The best moments of the game come in pregame and cut scenes, where composition is truly at stake.
Commentary, as in most sports titles, is a huge issue. Nance and Simms are as vanilla as the day is long, often drifting into weird diatribes during action and not elevating the title in any way. Also, the scenes of each announcer on screen are frightening — like Mr. Marbles on Seinfeld. The stat overlays, beautiful cutscenes and a nice selection of celebrations to display all are well-produced, but you still expect a little better for the NFL title and license fees. It’s the tail end of the console generation, so there should have been a little more “zip”.
Connected Career Mode is meant to heartily replace Franchise Mode, but really just complicates it. Menu navigation, confusing lack of direction and diminishing return on investment leave me wanting more. Most “tasks” became overbearing and I’d end up just letting the CPU handle it. The XP points feel like an RPG — and it’s not something I personally like in my simulations. The inability to import NCAA 13 players, and an awkward draft-oriented story mode, are huge misses. Connected Careers, too, has promise as a mode, but it’s still in its infancy and needs time to back before it can really replace Franchise.
For those that like to get into the depth of football games, Madden 13 has some nice customization options for subs, playbooks, etc. In fact, it’s one of the things that actually does shine really well in the game, providing a sense of control over what’s about to happen on-field (whether you fully utilize the Kinect features or not).
The game is still Madden, and still gives a decent enough experience for most fans. If you are a hardcore NFL geek like myself and lifelong fan of the series then you need to decide for yourself: what level of tolerance do you have? It’s better than Madden 12, but are you willing to sit through its growing pains?
I can’t help but think that the game is a letdown, especially after our preview at E3, and can’t help but feel this was rushed out to showcase the new physics. The Infinity Engine could really be special, but who knows if we will see it perfected until next gen — wow, I cannot believe I’m already saying that word again. It comes down to a matter of patience as to whether you buy this title or not. For me the superior football release this year is NCAA, shiny new physics or not.