Itís that time of year again when the latest offerings from EA Sports land on shop shelves, starting with their interpretation of Americaís game, Madden NFL 13 - the latest installment in arguably one of EAís longest and largest franchises to date.
As with all EA Sports titles, weíve come to expect the absolute highest levels of presentation, and luckily Madden NFL 13 does not disappoint. The menus have been updated and evolved into a very slick single panel screen - much like you see on tablet devices, and this leads to a really great user experience. Finding what you want is normally no more than a few clicks away. Game presentation is also fantastic and with the introduction of the new Infinity Engine, the physics and animations have never looked so real. One major gripe from the last Madden game was the commentary, which has also seen big improvements. There could still be more variety in what gets said during a game, but on the whole it is very much improved.
The first major gameplay enhancement included in Madden NFL 13 is the inclusion of the Connected Careers mode. Using EAís incredible Game Face technology, you can turn yourself from an office worker into an NFL player or coach with the click of a button. And it really does work well - you actually end up with something that looks a lot like you, and not some dodgy bloke that you wouldnít be comfortable locked in a room with.
Once youíve imported your features and set your equipment, you can choose to be either a player or a coach for your favourite team. If you take the coach route, youíre basically in charge of everything from trades to calling the plays on game day. Choose to be a player and once youíve decided on a position, you use your practices and games to earn XP and hopefully end up in the Hall of Fame at the end of your career.
Playing games in Connected Careers mode allows you to control your player only and the progression really does feel related to your progress on the pitch. Even better is that you can create a private or public online league where you compete against your buddies, hoping to meet them along your way to Super Bowl glory. The nice thing here is that because youíre all playing in the same league, trades and retirements obviously affect everyone involved and so itíll be very much like your own little NFL world.
Gameplay itself follows the tried and tested method and doesnít really change much from previous games. Plays are still selected from the playbook grid, and the controls remain largely unchanged. However, thanks to the updated visuals and physics engine, the action looks fantastic and super realistic. Seeing your cornerback intercept a pass with one hand and return it all the way for a touchdown looks as beautiful as it sounds.
Madden Ultimate Team makes its return in 13 and itís back with more cards and collections than ever before. Whilst the Ultimate Team mode is, for some, the most enjoyable aspect of the Madden series, it would certainly appear that EA have once again alienated pretty much everyone who doesnít want to invest some of their real money into purchasing virtual packs of cards. Itís not unrealistic to say that itís pretty near impossible to complete any collections or even build up a superstar team without an initial investment early on.
Having said that, they did reward previous UT players with a very generous amount of starter card packs, so if youíve played before then you at least wonít start completely in the dark. For a lot of people, Ultimate Team is the reason that they play Madden, and if you do have the time and money to invest in building your team, it can be one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences to be had within the game.
The final game mode sees Madden Moments return for another season. If youíre a true fan of the NFL then a lot of enjoyment can be had from this set of challenges. In a nutshell, you get given a number of tasks taken from the real goings on during the NFL season, and you are given an opportunity to change the course of history.
Along with every game mode in Madden NFL 13, Madden Moments is just another example of how well EA Sports support their titles post-launch - something that is often taken for granted and rarely given credit for. New tasks are added as the real season progresses, rosters are always updated and new players, collections and challenges are added weekly to Ultimate Team. Youíve got to hand it to them, there arenít many development teams who support a game with such regularity post-launch, especially considering sports titles tend to have a shelf life of around twelve months at a time.
Online players have got plenty of options to get their head-to-head fix. Other than the online portion of Connected Careers and Ultimate Team, the standard online game mode is available, with tier based rankings increasing over time. Online communities can also be set up and can be made public or private. So if youíve got a group of you who like to play each other regularly, create a community and invite everyone - job done. Stats are recorded and so bragging rights are saved for eternity. Facebook and Twitter integration makes its debut this season, allowing you to share your game results with the world at the end of each battle. Somewhat of a novelty, it will be interesting to see how they expand on this interaction in the future.
Itís easy to say that Madden NFL 13 is just a minor upgrade on the previous version, but Iíll pretty happily say that there is more than enough here to warrant an upgrade purchase. The entire game feels overhauled from previous yearsí offerings and if youíre a fan of the sport, you really canít go wrong with this game.
Big thanks from the TDF team to HK for contributing this review (big Madden fan)
Madden is back...again