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Madden NFL 13 PS3 Review

Part of the excitement of Fall is that football returns to dominates our lives. Like clockwork, millions of people sign up for fantasy teams, team updates, and the latest of edition of EA Sports’s longest ongoing sports franchise – Madden. I’ve been a fan of football games since the original Madden offered mini-sprites the chance to blur their way into end-zones on the SNES. Now that August’s almost over, Madden 13’s customarily arrived alongside the NFL and fantasy football season, and the game’s undergone massive changes in an attempt to overhaul gameplay and presentation. Does it work? Extremely well. In fact, this year’s edition might be the best football game we’ve seen this console generation.

The presentation for Madden 13 has dramatically improved from last year. The camera angles, lighting effects, and broadcast atmosphere mimic what you might see on a Sunday afternoon. Stylistically, small changes like setting the broadcast booth at Heinz Field in its authentic location – compared to Ralph Wilson stadium – and pregame analyses focusing on marquee players further the presentation, even if you don’t initially notice the details.

Admittedly, the 3D likenesses of Nantz and Sims are a little creepy (their eyes… *shudder*) and in need of strengthening, and, despite over 6,000 lines of broadcast dialogue, conversations repeat more often than you’d like. I heard the same discussion about Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace take place three time in the span of one half. That’s unfortunate because the banter between Jim Nantz and Phil Simms actually sounds – unlike many of the slow, processed deliveries of former series regulars Micheals and Madden – somewhat realistic. Despite all this, while stadium fans still need to look less like cardboard and characters on the sideline need to look like they’re alive rather than members of a morgue therapy group, the presentation’s still exemplary.

Fortunately, the improvements to the gameplay make up for the commentary issues. EA has added degrading field effects to gameplay along with a new physics engine – The Infinity Engine – that make this year’s game feel much faster and smoother than any Madden I’ve played in recent memory. The engine doesn’t simply ragdoll players as they make tackles; rather, it actually creates contact and organically reacts based on the place, speed, and weight of the players involved in the tackle.

More often than not, the result is plays that feel weighty and continue beyond the referee’s whistle. Linemen like Ndamukong Suh and Terrell Suggs have far more violent collisions than ones between players fighting for a pass, and receivers now have over four hundred different ways of catching the ball. It may not seem initially noticeable, but having the ball caught in its trajectory rather than magically shifting into a receiver’s hands makes passing that much better.

The Infinity Engine also completely revamps the passing game. New throwing and catching animations add diversity to offensive drives, and finally having those variations feels like additions we always should have had. Past games used just three different pass speeds (bullet, lob, and “touch”), and regardless of how far you threw the ball, the type of pass determined its trajectory. To be honest, that variation always felt a bit archaic and consistently frustrated any aerial excitement.

Instead, Madden 13 offers twenty five different pass trajectories that make finesse passes a thing of beauty. End zone fades? They’re awesome, and you should try them against a run-preventative defensive live. Deep middles? Step aside Ed Reed, I’m coming down your wheelhouse (okay, so what if he’d actually destroy me outside the game). Shovel passes? Yes, I played as Tebow and won the Super Bowl primarily running the option.

Alongside the new trajectories, this year’s Madden features both realistic Quarterback play and a vastly improved defensive AI that eliminates omniscient defenders from stopping every ball you throw. When you roll out of the pocket, the defense doesn’t automatically position itself in front of any available receiver; instead, your QB’s r0llout has been balanced so that it’s far more difficult to throw accurately while being chased by the defensive line. Basically, you’ll see more open receivers, but you’ll struggle to complete the pass because the engine realistically makes the play more difficult because you’re running for your life. There’s also no more reactive AI magically reaching up to deflect a pass he’s never seen.

Additionally, the game’s added actual cadences from numerous quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees among others) so that you’ll not only reflect their playing styles but hear their voices in the huddle. Still, the system isn’t perfect. Ben Roethlisberger is known for his ability to operate outside the pocket, yet his skill there was hardly different than Manning, a pure pocket-passer who rarely ventures outside of it. The difference is there, but the balance was slightly off (then again, I’m a Steelers fan so maybe I’m just used to perfection). I went there.

The game modes for this year show a vast improvement over last year’s model and are another indication that Madden 13 feels deeper than the series has been in quite some time. Quick Game allows for instant access, but the game’s focus is obviously on the revamped career mode. Now known as Connected Careers, the mode takes aspects of traditional Online Franchise, Offline Franchise, and Superstar modes (which had always felt particularly lacking) and combines them into a compelling presentation. You can pick either a coach or player and be one of up to 32 people who compete against each other for cumulative statistics over an extended period of time.

Initially, the mode seemed a little forced. Like a normal dynasty mode, you’re forced to meet goals in-game (or administratively as a coach) and basically keep playing because, well, you can. But then I started to notice the virtual tweets about my team coming from the game’s rendition of analysts like Skip Bayless and Trey Wingo, and I was hooked. The objective of the mode is to be named to the game’s Pro Football Hall of Fame, and while some might lose interest in such a complex mode, Madden lovers will find more than enough reason here to play for a very long time.

I’ll go ahead and say it – this year’s Madden is the best football game I’ve played in a very long time. Is the game perfect? No. But the changes to this year’s edition are more than enough for me to recommend it for even the most casual fans of football. The changes aren’t merely cosmetic, but intended to make this year’s version more like the real game that so many of us love. And you know what? Madden’s never been closer.

9 out of 10