Some things in life are guaranteed – like that package you’ve been waiting in for all day arriving just when you nip out for two minutes or your car breaking down just when you need to drive to that all important job interview. But enough about Murphy’s law, another thing that is absolutely guaranteed every year is the release of a sports game by EA Sports. And every year lots and lots of people buy them without so much as a thought to what’s actually been changed in the game, and so often you’re just paying for updated rosters and minimal gameplay changes.

Well this year EA hoped to change all that with the release of one of their most well loved and popular game franchises – Madden NFL 13. This year’s release comes complete with a new physics based game engine called “The Infinity Engine” along with improved sound and visuals – including a new commentary duo in the form of CBS’ Jim Nantz and Phil Simms but more on the commentary later. EA also got rid of their most popular game mode – Franchise Mode, and the online league mode and moved it all under one umbrella named – Connected Careers.

Connected Careers lets you play offline either as a coach where you can either create yourself as a coach or a player using EA’s gameface mode allowing you to take a picture of yourself and then put your likeness into the game, and take control of your favourite team or you can take control of any of the current NFL players and coaches as well as some legendary players and coaches and try and replicate their career or make them better. Ever wanted to have Dan Marino finally win a Superbowl or try and get this years number 1 draft pick Andrew Luck into the Hall of Fame? Or even have the great Vince Lombardi or John Madden coach your favourite team and lead them to Superbowl glory? Well, now thanks to Connected Careers – you can!

Connected Careers lets you take control of any of the 32 teams of the National Football League either a player or coach which basically replaces the old Superstar and Franchise modes. As a player you can create yourself and play at any position you like and help your team make it to the Superbowl and get your hands on the famed Vince Lombardi trophy, or you can take control of any of the current players in the NFL and try and either replicate their careers or indeed, make them better – Ever thought that Trindon Holliday deserves more playing time? Or should be higher up the depth chart than he currently is? Well, now he can be and you can take control of him and make him better! If you fancy being the head coach of one of the 32 teams you can be, and you’ll have control over everything involved in running your team. From ordering your depth chart, giving your rookies a chance, hiring free agent players, placing players on injured reserve, scouting the upcoming draft class and drafting rookies. You’ll even be able to dictate the type of offence (run first, pass first etc) and defence (3-4, 4-3, 46 etc) you run to try and make your team better.

You better make sure you’re doing your job well though as the world (well the virtual world at least) is watching! Thanks to an in game Twitter feed and tweets from NFL journalists such as Skip Bayliss and Adam Schefter, you’ll be able to see how you and the other 31 teams in the league are getting on. And if you find yourself not doing a great job, you’ll quickly be out of a job as you’ll be fired from your team.

Aside from the twitter feed and a somewhat under developed practice mode which basically allows you to go through different scenarios with your team such as a 2 minute drill, eeking out a come from behing victory etc, there hasn’t really been anything new added to the game mode. But as a whole, Connected Careers mode works well and does a great job of delivering what it promises and keeping older modes such as Franchise and Superstar feeling fresh

Speaking of the in game twitter feed, when you look at it through the season you’ll find all sorts of information on the upcoming draft class – information like the rookies draft stock rising and falling due to injuries or good playing so it gives you a real sense of realism and is very satisfying if you manage to find a real diamond in the rough when it comes to the draft!

But what about the gameplay (arguably the most important aspect of any game). There was much made about the all new game engine in the run up to the games release, it promised many things – an entirely new momentum system, new ball trajectories, a new “Ball Hawk” system and just a better gameplay experience. But do all of these work?

The momentum and running system works very well actually, now instead of bouncing off of your own blockers as you run the ball trying to get that crucial first down, you’ll now need to follow your blockers, jump over defenders who have fallen over and spin your way past people in order to get it, and if you do get hit, so long as your runners knee doesn’t touch the ground or he’s not touched, he can just carry on running! He can even stumble slightly, recover his balance and carry on all of which add a real sense of realism to the game as it just feels like the play is never over until the ref blows the whistle.

Even when you’re throwing the football, your quarterback will drop back, stand tall in the pocket whilst your offensive line tries to block all of the defenders to give you time find your open receiver and make that game winning touchdown throw and you’ll be able to see as your receiver goes up and makes a play on the ball, jumping higher than all of the defenders to pull the ball out of the air!

Speaking of letting your receiver jump to make a play on the ball, EA have made that much easier in this years game with the addition of the “Ball Hawk” feature – Ball Hawk basically allows you to hold down the “Y” button which will get your receiver in more or less the right place and jump up for the ball. It’s important to remember though that although it does make it easier for you, it doesn’t do all the work so user skill is still important, and it also works for the defence so you still need to be careful!

However, the new game engine and gameplay mechanics doesn’t necessarily mean that this game is the best game ever. Playing the CPU just becomes too easy and slightly boring after a while as you’ll find yourself being able to use the same tactics to beat any of the teams and there isn’t really a whole lot of difference between playing the Cleveland Browns or the New England Patriots as the CPU generally calls the same type of plays on any given down – 1st down will be a run play, 2nd down will be a run play and 3rd down will likely be a pass play. But for people who don’t play offline this won’t be a problem.

Also (and I assume this is down to the new infinity game engine) after the play is blown dead, you’ll see the players just walking around the field falling over each other and being thrown out the way by other players and although this is quite funny to look at, it does somewhat ruin the experience!

The commentary has also had an overhaul in this years game and EA have brought in 2 veteran broadcasters in the form of CBS announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. However the commentary – although it’s still good – does have a horrible habit of repeating itself too often and sometimes just not making sense to what’s just happened on the field!

Madden NFL 13 is a step in the right direction for this long running sports franchise, the new game engine overall is a nice addition, although once you get past the fact that everything looks nice and plays slightly better, it’s still the same old engine with the same old problems. The in game twitter feed is also nice, but there is still a lot wrong with the game and unfortunately it is not the game the fans have been clamouring for. It almost feels like EA haven’t fixed anything that’s been wrong with the game for so long now, rather they just patched it. Still, there’s always next year…


Review Score : [starreview tpl=16]
Title : Madden NFL 13
Format : Xbox 360
Developer : EA Sports
Publisher : EA
Release Date : September 31st 2012

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]


*EA provided with a review copy.