Iteration is the sincerest form of flattery.
Some might say (and in some cases have said) that sports games don't need a yearly redux. Give us a roster download every few months and we'd be set. Or so we think. Whether you feel the additions made to EA's monolithic football franchise every year warrant a full $60 price tag or not, you can't deny the benefits of constant iteration. Imagine if your favorite game had a dedicated team of devs working year-round to add new features and modes? That's what football fans get to look forward to every year and, so far, the additions to Madden 2013 seem to expand the off-field experience, while making the on-field one more organic and realistic than ever.
The meat and potatoes of long-term play will be the new Connected Career mode. While taking responsibility of a player and building him up over an entire career is nothing new to Madden or sports games in general, this new mode takes it a step further. You can choose to guide any existing player or coach, or even create one from scratch. Then by completing challenges, practice sessions, and performing well in games, you gain experience points which can be used to develop your character.
In the case of a player, this means enhanced attribute scores. Coaches have some more interesting options, such as improving their ability to develop players of particular positions, convincing players to come to their team or even to hold off on retiring a few more years. These intangibles are what separate good coaches from great ones, so it's cool to finally see them represented. “It's in the game”, indeed.
What really makes these careers “connected”, though, is their concurrent persistence. In years past, if you got bored of being a linebacker and felt like developing a halfback instead, you had to start a new career in what was essentially a different “world”. In Madden 2013, if you begin a career and then switch to a new one, the first continues to exist alongside your second. Heck, you might end up coaching a game as your new coach against your now veteran old coach, or vying for QB supremacy against a QB you've personally made a Superbowl MVP. The game will even assign an overall score to your character's career for you to compare to both currently active and retired legendary figures. Think you can become a more accomplished coach than Vince Lombardi himself? It's time to find out.
Of course, competing against dead guys can only be so much fun, so you can go ahead and create an online league for up to 32 players to join in the career shenanigans. That's 32 players creating or developing persistent coaches and players that continue to exist and advance even if they decide to switch from them. That's a whole lot of ownership and competition to soak up.
The new social media hooks Tiburon has built in make managing and participating in a league possible from a variety of devices, even if you can't get to your console. You'll be able to receive and approve trade proposals from your cell phone, create a Twitter feed for your league, or even post in-game events directly to your league's Facebook page. Something tells me all this social media connectivity is going to bring Madden Widow Syndrome to dizzying new heights.
On the field, the additions are more subtle, but no less welcome. Much of it is under-the-hood enhancements aimed at making the game a better simulation. The new read-and-react defense system actually determines whether any given player has line of sight to the ball before determining if they can make a play on it. The result is fewer psychic interceptions from inside linebackers who can't even see the ball and more effective counter and play action plays due to defenders attempting to play the ball based on their perspective on the field. Player collision is now completely physics-based, taking player mass, velocity, and momentum into full account on every impact. None of it will change the way you play too drastically, but it should make for a more authentic representation of the sport if nothing else.
Interestingly, the only new features that add dimension to how you control the action are exclusive to the Wii U version of the game, which we got our first look at. We weren't allowed to go hands-on, but the Wii U gamepad looks to bring some interesting mechanics to the table. As any football fan knows, reading a play at the line of scrimmage and making last-minute adjustments before the snap can break a drive wide open or end it in a hurry on the defensive side of the ball. The touch interface of the gamepad makes sending men in motion, changing defensive assignments, and calling audibles much faster and intuitive than the jumble of trigger and button presses normally required. Route changes were particularly nice, actually allowing you to trace new routes for your receivers with your finger.
If you ask me, this is exactly the kind of functionality the Wii U needs to exhibit in order to sell core gamers on the system's concept. Making advanced play mechanics more natural to use without dumbing them down is good for gamers of every stripe, and I hope it winds up being the rule rather than the exception for Nintendo's next console.
As it goes with the Madden franchise, some years are total game changers, while others are... not. 2013 doesn't look like a year of metamorphosis for the only NFL game in town by any means, but fans who were happy with last year's entry should definitely appreciate Madden 2013. Some may be disappointed in the lack of any sweeping gameplay additions, but sometimes, iteration is the sincerest form of flattery.