Another year, another Madden. EA Sports has been producing this yearly football series for a long, long time now. With age, the title has fallen victim to minute changes and predetermined perceptions. People see a new Madden, and they think they know exactly what the game has to offer.

This year’s effort, though, changes in all the right places. Expect better presentation, better mechanics, better AI and new ways to play.

But, are all things as good as they seem?

Hitting feels much more realistic.

One of the most annoying things about sports games in general is the way they frequently break down and feel fake. For football titles, that bit becomes excruciatingly obvious when players hit, tackle and block.

Before Madden NFL 13, hitting another player would result in the playing of a canned tackle animation. The game sported a ton of these animation, but they were all scripted and bound to repeat. Now, there’s a new physics engine in place. They call it the “Infinity Engine,” and it essentially takes more variables into account before playing one of these tackle animations.

The result is a football game that plays in a much more realistic way. You’re not just playing in between moments of contact, you’re trying to virtually push piles forward and elude tackles in order to gain tangible yardage.

And that all adds up to a game that feels better on all sides of the ball. Passing, running and special teams are so much more reactive that each play feels different. Over my week long binge, I never felt like I was just entering a land of rinse-and-repeat football, something that so many previous Maddens brought on

Your Franchise Mode was turned into Connected Careers.

Franchise Mode is gone! Sort of.

This is where EA Sports angered and frustrated a lot of their core following with the release of Madden NFL 13. Thankfully, most of the frustrations are misdirected. Franchise Mode may be missing from the game’s menus, but it is still present in the game itself.

Career Mode, both online and off, is essentially Superstar Mode, GM Mode and Franchise Mode all bundled into one experience. You launch it and elect whether or not you want to join an existing league (yes, league play as both a player and coach), create your own or play entirely offline. From there, you pick whether or not you want to play as an NFL legend, a current NFL player, a player you custom build or a coach.

Once you’re actually in the Career Mode, things feel great. The process for trading players, making roster adjustments, diving into practice and actually playing games has been streamlined. If you’re playing an individual player, things are dead easy. EA Tiburon even went so far as to create virtual Twitter feeds from NFL personalities in order to build a storyline around every season.

You won’t be able to do very specific things like import your NCAA draft class. That stuff is gone. But the essentials of Franchise Mode remain. Yes, they’re under a different name, but they are still here.

The trade off? Now your career mode is an online league. You can manage your team away from your computer in your favorite Internet browser. You can challenge your friends, and they can play against you as either a coach or an individual player. Franchise Mode is online. That’s a new difference that I completely love.

Career Mode, both online and off, is essentially Superstar Mode, GM Mode and Franchise Mode all bundled into one experience.

Presentation made better.

This year’s flavor is CBS. EA Tiburon tries to model their yearly looks around those of the major television networks. Madden NFL 13 absolutely looks like it’s taken a page from the CBS broadcast manual.

Even further, though, is the presentation of the game in general. One of EA Sports’, as a collective entity, clearest goals is a heightened sense of realism. These developers obviously want to deliver a game day-like experience to their virtual players. Madden NFL 13 sports the best attempt at that mantra in the series’ lengthy legacy.

The camera angles, stadium noises, broadcast styles and directed shots all look like they could have been ripped from any one of the games that play every Sunday in the fall. For fans that love feeling like the game their playing may as well be airing on television, Madden NFL 13 is a success in most spots.

Which brings me to the game’s audio…

Goodbye, Cris Collinsworth. Hello, awkward repetition.

Let’s make this abundantly clear: EA Tiburon’s decision to drop Cris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson was a good one. I don’t have too many complaints about Gus, but Collinsworth’s attitude, tone and value as a commentator is lousy. Hearing him prattle on, inaccurately, about each and every game was getting incredibly annoying.

Who’d they get to replace Cris and Gus? Phil Simms and Jim Nantz. Here are two guys who are great for the gig. They aren’t annoying, they’re intelligent and they exude a love of football consistently. Their voices and unique dialogue make playing Madden NFL 13 a joy.

The bad news, though, comes with the good. Simms and Nantz simply don’t have enough audio recorded for an annual sports title that’s played as heavily as Madden. Having dug into the game for more than a week now, I find myself uttering phrases in sync with the boys behind the mics. There simply isn’t enough variety in the commentary this year.

The variety that is there is often downright wrong, too. Nantz and Simms constantly observe the virtual game before them incorrectly. For instance, and this came during my second day of play, I managed to force a turnover during an opening kickoff. My special teams player stripped the opponent of the ball, snatched it off the turf and carried it into the end zone for a touchdown. That’s how the commentary should have ran.

Instead? Nantz and Simms told me the receiving team elected to take a knee for a touchback. You know, they were playing it safe.

A game of addiction and reward.

Assessing sports titles is hard. Next to the MMO genre, sports games are quite honestly the most difficult titles to approach in a fair manner. They release on a yearly basis, often flip between mediocre and greatness and present a ton of tiny changes to a massive picture.

That said, this is the most addicted I’ve ever been to a Madden game in a long, long time. I’m booting it up whenever I have free time. I’m settling in to play well after my work day is done. And, when Sunday was rolling by, you better believe I squeezed in rounds of Madden during halftime.

The Connected Careers are rewarding, the AI in the game is smart, the physics engine makes the experience dynamic and the streamlined process makes it addictive. This Madden isn’t perfect, but it’s still really, really good.

Rating

7.5

We received an Xbox 360 copy of Madden NFL 13 from EA Sports two days after the game’s launch. We played the game as much as we possibly could since then before starting this review.

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