Where Madden 13 Fails Hard

Madden 13 is applauded by players and critics as a high mark in the series. The Infinity Engine adds realism, connected careers merge your franchise with your friend’s.

What’s not to like?

Plenty. Players are only “impressed” because EA lowers expectations annually with their cash-cow monopoly. Improvements that should’ve come years ago are such a relief that we give the title higher marks.

EA has us fooled.

Consider the Infinity Engine, introducing convincing collision physics to Madden. Rather than predetermined animations for tackles from prior games, every tackle in Madden 13 is unique and intricate. If this sounds impressive, it is. It’s also extraordinarily buggy. Defenders can tackle your runningback by nudging an elbow or shoulder through a blocker who’s still upright. Multi-million dollar athletes trip over their allies’ legs…frequently.  Between plays, suspension of disbelief is shattered as players roll around on each other, legs shaking, or fall face first at the slightest disruption.

The Infinity Engine adds depth to Madden, but its problems are so glaring, fans would clamour that it hadn’t been playtested…if it were in any game but Madden. We’re so thrilled by improvement, we shrug off blatant ineptitude.

Unfortunately, the Inifinity Engine is a positive for Madden 13 in my review.


Jim Nantz and Phil Simms debut as Madden commentators, and I give them no fault. They’re given a script (or a series of plays to react to) and a microphone and they go to work. Imperfect takes are a nice touch which make the commentary feel natural…the first time you hear it . The stutters get old when you can chant along with them syllable for syllable.

Worse, there is less recorded commentary than prior titles; you’ll memorize it quickly. Variables to insert specific names are largely ignored; you’ll hear “this team” instead of “The Packers” except in the opening; same for players. Worse, commentary about noteworthy circumstances are rare. You’ll never hear that an offense charged up the field in three plays, that the defense has been unstoppable or that a field goal could tie late in the fourth, all of which were present in past years. The ONLY time the score is mentioned is…when a team scores.

Canned comments are a staple of the genre, but comments triggered by a combination of variables add a whole lot more depth.

The programming for commentary is shoddy; Nantz and Simms are optimistic about 3rd-and-short but extremely critical of 2nd-and-short. This seems odd until you realize their comments might have been reversed outside the studio; either comment could apply to any down, but programmers positioned the lines poorly.

Other errors are more glaring, such as thinking a team down by 3 is losing by “more than a touchdown.”


This is the big one, one Madden’s lacked for years, and has made no effort to improve. Saving your “Offline Connected Career” (franchise) requires no less than THREE confirmations to overwrite separate files, all of which default to “No.” No options to set up autosave at any point.

Worse, even if you’ve just saved, exiting the mode will warn you there’s no autosave feature — every time — and you must say, every time, yes, I understand there’s no autosave feature (at which point you aren’t prompted to save, you must still do so manually).

In my franchise, I frequently call accidental time-outs because the Kinect interprets me singing along with the radio as calling for a time-out. I have disabled Kinect functionality in MyMadden, but this doesn’t affect my offline “connected” career. And because the mode is called “CONNECTED” careers and intended for online play, there’s no option to disable the Kinect for the league, because it would affect other players if you were online. Even though you’re not. So I’m forced to disable the Kinect every. single. game.


Auto subs are broken. There isn’t much else to say, except that an entire feature for a game that was 1. published 2. patched multiple times simply doesn’t work. You can autosub 95 out, 100 in or 50 out 90 in, and your players will still sub at the same fatigue levels, which are just cruel enough to allow for devastating injuries. Rely on a receiver one play too many and he’ll be out sicks weeks. Unless you manually substitute every. single. play.

Uneditable Coaches/Players

When you start an offline “connected” career, you create a coach if you want to manage a team. You pick a backstory, set your run/pass and aggressive/conservative sliders and even download an avatar of yourself if you’ve used EA’s gameface.

But if you take over a run-heavy team with a superstar runningback nearing retirement and plan to draft vertical attack, you might notice that all your goals are running-based — even after your team has become a passing legend. Since your goals determine your XP, which buys you stat increases, you might wonder how to change your coach’s strategy to get different goals.

You can’t.

Create a new coach if you want different goals. Or decide your gameface doesn’t quite look right. Or didn’t understand the perks of your backstory. Fortunately you can keep your franchise going — you can keep your team, you just take over as a new coach — but as a coach (or player) you’ll be starting from scratch.

Opaque Play is Uninteresting

Almost no part of Madden 13 is transparent to new players, and even veterans will be scratching their heads about some things. There are expensive upgrades like, “Improve XP received by your Quarterback for weekly goals.” Improve by how much? No idea. So it is literally impossible to weigh the pros/cons of such an upgrade.

Through the XP system, it’s possible to upgrade player stats, but there’s no information about the stats except their name. The difference between “Run Blocking” and “Pass Blocking” is obvious, but what does “Impact Blocking” do? What’s the difference between “Awareness” and “Play Recognition” for a defender? Is one more effective than the other?

Higher scores are more expensive to improve than lower scores, but it’s never stated what the score represents in performance terms. Is an increase from 98 to 99 as effective as an increase from 79 to 80? Is it less effective because of diminishing returns? Or more effective because it’s linear and 99s are rare?

Worst are the “Traits.” For example, there’s a package called “Consistency Trait;” description, “Purchase this package to become a more consistent player.” For 10k XP (roughly 3 games worth of meeting every possible goal), hopefully it’s good. It scales from 0 to 4 and the game tells you where a current player falls; e.g., “Zero before [purchasing],” “One after.” How consistent is a player with a 1 in this trait? Or a 3?

I was shocked that improving the “Play Ball in the Air” trait for defenders moved them from “Aggressive” to “Conservative.” Presumably, they’re better players if I spent XP on the trait, but doesn’t a better defender play a ball in the air more often? You wouldn’t normally describe that as “conservative.” Maybe I made the player worse.

Most players can purchase a “Development Trait” for a whopping 50,000 XP; more than most players will earn in two seasons. It also has multiple levels: Normal, Quick, Superstar. So you can buy this monstrous trait multiple times. But does a “Quick” player gain +10% XP? +20%? +1%? For two seasons worth of XP, it would be nice to know.

Opaque Play is Frustrating

Improving players isn’t the only opaque mechanic, it’s just the most troubling. When you view players-of-the-week, for example, you must scroll week by week through the season. You can’t get a summary list, or filter by your team.

There are two places to see where your team ranks in your division, but neither one is a “parent” page, and both are several screens from your default view of league news. With plenty of screen space wasted in every menu, one wonders why simple team-specific stats are buried in sub menus.

There are myriad difficulty sliders, but what they do exactly (and how they relate to other sliders) is specified nowhere. If you increase “User Pass Blocking,” presumably pass blocking is easier for player-controlled teams. But does increasing the “Interceptions” slider for players mean…more…interceptions? Thrown? Caught? Your guess is as good as mine…about this menu, and every other.

Extra Mile? What Extra Mile?

Some elements are patently ignored by EA; stadium crowds still look like cardboard cutouts. There are no cheerleaders to be found. And you won’t even get to see game hilights at halftime; just generic footage of the players, identical every game.

With the graphics of this age, and the gorgeous backgrounds visible in everything from fighting games to platformers, it’s bizarre that EA can’t be bothered to provide a little immersion.

My friend Jon defended them, saying, “Well, which would you rather look good? The players or the crowds?” Obviously the players, but that sort of false choice proves EAs mediocrity. There are plenty of games which have proven they can answer, “Both.”

But EA says why bother? They’ll get our money anyway.

Yeah, I still enjoy it…

I’m no better than the average customer; I bought the game, I play the game, I even enjoy the game. But these problems make the experience good at best; never great, never stellar. In well-designed games, the menus and interface get out of the way until you need them. In Madden (and other EA US games) they’re an omnipresent barrier between you and fun.

And since EA has the monopoly on NFL licensing, if you want to play your favorite team and your favorite player, you have no other options. Competition forces innovations, and EA doesn’t have any.

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