A Phinsider Review of EA Sports' Madden 13

Apr 25, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson holds up a poster after being named the cover athlete during the Madden 13 cover unveiling on the set of SportsNation at Times Square. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

The long anticipated release of EA Sports' Madden 13 is today, with many players waiting in line at midnight to grab a copy of the game. If you did not wait in line and are busy playing it right now, here are my initial thoughts on the game after playing the EA Sports Season Ticket early release over the weekend.

First thing is, I was sick all day Sunday, and did not make it as far into the game as I would have liked. I did not get a chance to try out the new free agency, the draft, or any of the post season menus. From what I have heard, the free agency screens are better than last year's, where if you looked away from a free agent for a second to go make an offer to someone else, you lost the first player.

I did play the new "Connected Career" mode, which is basically a merging of the old Franchise mode and the Superstar modes. I chose to play as Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, which put me in the Franchise mode side of the game, playing on "Pro" difficulty (just as a note, I originally set this up to be on "All-Pro", but I discovered that the "Connected Career" in offline mode does not autosave and when I set it up a second time, I apparently left it as "Pro"). When you play as a coach, you have all of the personnel decisions and play calling decisions, then you control all of the players throughout the play, just like Franchise mode.

The first thing I noticed is the "Game Plan" play calling is strange. It does not seem to take into account anything else going on in the game. On offense, long yardage third down will still give you a between the tackles run, or call running plays as time runs down with no timeouts. As for defense, it does not seem to take into account the opposing offense's formation. If they come out with a five wide receiver set, you can still come out in a base defense, ending up with eight men in the box and no one covering the receivers.

The Game Plan also had a defensive play suggested for me at one point when I was on offense. It may be a glitch in the game, or in the early version of the game, but that just stuck out with me.

The in game controls are still the same, but there are added components that you may not notice right away. It took me a few games to realize, the buttons weren't appearing above a receiver right away. Instead, they show up when a player is ready to catch the pass. It makes it harder to just fling a ball out there and the receiver automatically catch it. It makes you have to read the play a little more before you throw the ball.

Some other points from what I have noticed in the game play could all be things specific to the Dolphins players. Cameron Wake seems to lose his footing every time he gets blocked. I'm not sure if that happens on ever play, because I was switching among the players and was not watching Wake on every play. But, it seemed like every time I played him, he slipped.

This kind of goes along with Wake, but it hits on the offense as well. Not once did I successfully use a spin move, on either offense or defense. If I was Wake or Jared Odrick, or anyone else on the defensive line, if you tried to spin move, you were done. The player you were up against would just continue with their block, and you were getting shoved up field a couple of yards. On the offense, every time a player like Reggie Bush would try to spin, he would just get hit smack in the back and tackled. Spinning just did not get him out of the way of a tackler.

Another odd observation is that the ref will call penalties with his back to the camera. I'm not sure if this is a replacement ref who just doesn't know which way to face, but it's definitely a noticeable part of the game.

Opposing offensive lines are amazing. I'm not saying they are unbeatable, because Wake did get at least one sack in every game I played (with three against the New York Jets as a high - pretty sure it was still playing Wayne Hunter at right tackle), but it was frustrating that quarterbacks could just sit in the pocket for five seconds with no pressure. It seems like on defense, you cannot get past the offensive line, while rushing, whereas the opposing defensive line can run right past Jake Long no problem.

My last three in game observations comes from the passing game. When you are on defense, you will get frustrated at times, because a defender in a zone will sit in the middle of his zone, leaving a wide receiver open on the edge of the zone. You will be able to get the tackle right after the catch, but it will be just that - after the catch. Of course, on the other side of the ball, you will be able to use that to complete some passes.

One thing that I stumbled upon while playing is the left stick during passing plays. You can use the left stick to direct where the quarterback places the ball for a receiver. It adds the ability to pinpoint your passes, letting you lead wide receivers as they run their routes. It's a good addition.

Finally, pass interference seems to be a loose term in the game. It will allow a defender to run into a receiver's route, knocking them out of the way. Of course, it always seems to do this right as you are trying to make a slant or crossing route connection.

In between games, you receive a checklist of items that you can either simulate or conduct manually. These include preseason cuts, practices, and things like contract renegotiations. I really enjoyed the negotiations piece, because each player with an expiring contract comes up throughout the season, telling you they are ready to negotiate. You can then choose to talk to them, to not talk to them, or to delegate it to your assistants.

I chose to do the negotiations myself. The screen shows what the player is expecting to receive as an offer, and a graph that shows what the salary would be for your offer. Once you make the offer, the player says his agent will get back to you next week.

A week later, you either get notification that the player agreed to your terms, or you get to continue to negotiate. If you low ball a player too much, or you can't come to terms, the player will decide to go test free agency. It's an added part of the franchise mode, rather than waiting until the end of the season. I really liked that added aspect.

There's also a fake Twitter feed running down the side of the screen, which will give you news from around the league, as well as information on some of the college prospects you can scout throughout the year. The Twitter feed uses a bunch of different media personalities, and does a decent job of adding the style of the person to the tweets. You will get some humor in the feed, which is nice.

Another part of the between games checklist is the player progression. Each player receives separate points, as well as the coach, to buy upgrades for themselves. You can choose to do each player manually, but it is very time consuming and tedious. I eventually just made it automatically do the upgrades each week.

It also means players will develop extremely slowly over the life of a season. Like I said before, I didn't make it to the offseason, so maybe there are player bonuses if you make the playoffs or have a great season, but I don't know.

The points for each player, and the coach, were odd as well. You get points for practices and in gam accomplishments, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the points. For example, an in-game accomplishment is three touchdowns. It will get you 625 points. Then, a season accomplishment is four touchdowns in one game. That will get you 100 total points. In practices (where you build your coaching points total), a hard accomplishment may be worth 400 points, while an easy one is 1,000 points. To be fair, the coaching ones may be based on the length of time you have to play to win the practice scenario - but it's still odd that you can beat an easy scenario to get a lot more points than beating the easy one.

Other game modes are available as well. The Madden Moments return, and should bring another enjoyable experience to the game. The game has five Madden Moments already in it, and will update throughout the season with live moments from the previous week. The Madden Ultimate Team returns as well, but was an unplayable mode in the Season Ticket release, so I don't have any input on that.

The gameplay and graphics are done well, something you would expect from Madden. The game switches to the new Infinity Engine this year, which brings a little more realism to the hits on the field. The idea was to make hits look more realistic on the field, and to have a hit do what it would in a real game - like a big hit actually looking like a big hit, while a glancing blow will not tackle a player. The engine works well for the most part, though there are things that will stand out to you. If a player gets hit from multiple players, his body is going to contort into impossible angles - but he will jump back up right away.

You will also get some funny moments. Players will trip over each other after a play, falling to the ground in a Chris Paul style flop. You do get a laugh out of some of the situations.

Another thing I did not try out was the Kinect compatibility the game has this year, simply because I don't have my Kinect plugged into my XBox right now. From what I have heard, the ability to call plays with your words is a great asset, but really, unless you are doing something like spiking the ball or trying to no huddle, then using the controller works just as well.

Overall the game is a lot of fun, and feels fresh again. If you are on the fence about buying Madden, or you haven't for a few years, this is the year to get the game. It really does add more to the game than previous seasons' editions. The new engine and the "Connected Careers" works to make the game feel new again. But, there is a downside to the Connected Careers - simply not enough explanation of how to work all of the new aspects. The game could find a way to better introduce you to all of the little things about the connected career. Right now, you will have to learn it by trial and error, reading the giant PDF file Connected Career manual on the EA website, or by catching the tips on the load screens.

I will pick up my full copy of the game on my way home from work today, but I will update my rosters with the opening day update I would expect to have rather than continue the season I started this weekend. I like to start as close to the Dolphins actual roster as possible when I play. We'll see what the roster update will do.

Now, if you have made it all the way through this 2,048 word review of the game, stop reading and get to playing!

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