Madden NFL 13 – Preview

Madden NFL 12 committed perhaps the ultimate crime for an EA Sports title: it wasn’t on its game.

After more than half a decade of relentless prodding and probing, testing and training, the current generation of consoles, fortified with a diet of increasingly complex code, had become the muscular powerhouses and franchise players their potential always promised. By extension, Madden too should have been at the peak of its physical fitness. Instead, it was staggering sluggishly around like it had taken one hit (or one Turducken) too many.

On the whole, sports video game fans are a realistic lot, willing to trade incremental improvements and stunted evolution for the chance to experience each new season afresh and fully licenced. Even with their officially endorsed diminished expectations, however, Madden 12 still fell well short of the mark. Visually, it put on a lacklustre display, but much more depressingly, it seemed to be driven by the wrong-headed belief that incorporating an iPhone app was more important than fixing its AI.

Initial impressions of Madden NFL 13 suggest that EA have dropped the ball once again when it comes to issues of prioritisation. With more pressing matters urgently in need of attention, precious time and resources have been allocated to incorporating peripheral features such as a Facebook game, Kinect voice commands and a new commentary team in the form of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Questionable decisions to say the least, and we can only hope that the last of these makes good on EA’s promise to improve on the horrific audio cut and shut job performed last year on the excitable Gus Johnson and analytical Cris Collinsworth which did both men a huge disservice.

Behind the unnecessary alterations to the window dressing though, there are actually plenty of reasons for cautious optimism. Madden apologists who’d grown weary of defending their aging hero were desperate for something to help them get their collective swagger back, and 13 comes with a laundry list of potentially game-changing features that could have collars popping around the world. The Madden development team finally appear to have caught on to the fact that EA’s other successful sports series have made decisive strides recently towards greater depth and realism, and now change is also afoot in Madden at Devon Hester-like pace.

Core gameplay mechanics, and in particular passing and catching, have been the focus, with the Quarterback, unsurprisingly, taking centre stage. Previously, one of the most successful tactics to adopt when the ball was snapped was to scurry away from the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible to stay out of the clutches of the bloodthirsty defence and find time to pick a pass. In Madden 13, EA are aiming to discourage such undisciplined behaviour that, in reality, would lead to broken plays and broken bodies with almost equal frequency.

Rather than just taking flight in a blind panic, players will now be expected to display the kind of poise the Quarterback position demands. Executing the appropriate 3, 5 and 7 step dropbacks for each play, holding your nerve, standing your ground and utilising the deft new avoidance moves to evade any defenders who do get too close for comfort will now be the required technique for any Hall of Fame QB’s in waiting.

They’ll be aided in their endeavours by smarter receivers who, with the help of easily identifiable icons, will show when they’re open and looking for the ball. The chances of successfully completing passes to these players, rather than those oblivious to a ball bulleting towards their bonces, will be much greater, and you’ll even be able to use the analog stick to try and direct teammates into specific positions, freeing them up to make vital catches and move the chains.

It’s this potential for a tangible step up in the artificial intelligence of computer-controlled players that’s easily the most exciting prospect in Madden NFL 13. For years, even the most mild-mannered Madden lovers have found themselves unleashing the kind of profanity-laced screeds that would beat even Rex Ryan in the swearbox stakes at the sight of dozy offensive linemen lumbering into one another, telepathic defensive backs breaking up play-action and superhuman corners apparently using the force to swat away game-winning throws. So major advances just in the realm AI could be the crucial factor in deciding whether Madden 13 make it to the post-season.

Combined with more variety and accuracy in the animations and more believable and overblown hits courtesy of the Infinity physics engine borrowed from FIFA, finally tackling Madden’s AI issues successfully could be the smartest thing the Madden development team have ever done. And if it all comes together, Madden could quite easily be back in the game.

Madden NFL 13 is due for release in Europe on 31st August and in the US on 28th August. For more on the game, visit its official site, here:  http://www.easports.com/madden-nfl

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