Madden ’13 Review: This year, things feel different

It's way easier to forgive flaws and inconsistencies if they're made when someone is trying. To quote legendary coach Tony D'Amato, "If you're going to make mistakes, make them big … I'm not going to eat your lunch for that."

So Madden '13 and I are going to get along just fine. It's not perfect. If you want to play the game while looking for something that's wrong, or off, or somehow not as realistic as you want it to be, you'll find it. But you're also going to find a game that feels infinitely smoother and more flexible than it ever has. You're going to find a Madden that, at long last, acknowledges that it needed to try something big.

That something is what EA Sports calls the "Infinity Engine," which means that players are going to react to what happens around them, instead of just going through the motions of an animation because Madden decided that's what should happen when two guys end up in that particular position. They say that the Infinity Engine means that no two plays ever look or feel the same. After playing several games, I cannot argue with this.

Collisions feel 1,000 percent smoother than they ever have. This version makes me angrier at the past few versions of Madden for feeling so sticky and repetitive. In Madden '13, legs get tangled up in piles. Hitting a guy head-on will feel different than hitting a guy from a very slightly different angle. The overwhelming majority of the time, colliding players will react as they should, or at least in a way that's plausible. The locomotion of body parts is reactive and spontaneous.

I can't tell you how big a difference this makes. It feels like the first time I drove someone else's well-made, expensive foreign car after spending my first few licensed years driving a series of old, poorly maintained Fords. Someone asked me how it felt, and I said, "I didn't know driving a car could be like that." It corrected something that I'm not sure I even knew was a problem.

That said, there is still the occasional goofiness. I've seen players stumble when you wouldn't think they'd stumble. I've seen a player chase down a ball carrier from behind, use the hit stick, and somehow go flying backward. I've seen a player on his knees, with his feet and ankles up in the air behind him. I don't even know if that's possible, but I'm not going to be the one to find out.

But these things stick out only because 98 percent of the time, everything goes pretty much as it should. One of my favorite things about the game is how much more gratifying the hit stick can be with the new "Infinity Engine." You can deliver some savory kill shots on receivers coming across the middle, which is nice, since it's a video game, and you don't have to worry that the receiver will be eating mushed carrots through a tube for the rest of his life.

Even though the game feels so different, don't take that to mean that it also plays tremendously differently. It doesn't. It plays pretty much the same, with all your favorite, familiar plays and results. Things are tuned better so defensive backs can't magically turn themselves into pigskin-seeking missiles and receivers put in more of an effort to make plays. But the game largely plays the same as it has in past iterations; it just feels a little different when it does.

The other thing Madden '13 can hang its hat on is that the games look much closer to actual NFL broadcasts than they ever have. I don't know why it's always been so difficult to capture, but the Sunday afternoon vibe is there this year, when it hasn't been in the past. It's a significant upgrade.

The pregame intros are better, the graphic packages are better, the on-field atmosphere is better and mercifully, the two-year Gus Johnson/Cris Collinsworth experiment is over. Those two did for video game commentary what Jerry Jones did for hip-hop. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms take their place, and while I'd rather have Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth calling an actual game, I'll take Nantz and Simms in video game land. They're fine.

The other big change I notice is the arrangement of menus and game modes, which felt more like change for the sake of change. Things feel out of place and complicated, but I can find my way around to what I want, so I suppose it's no big deal. It seems like the online game gets emphasized more every year, which I understand, but it isn't for me.

What I used to call "Dynasty Mode" is similar to past iterations of Madden. There are some worthwhile improvements -‒ most notably in offseason happenings like the draft and free agency -‒ but they're far outweighed by the bizarre rearrangement of menus that had to be done with the goal of making things more time-consuming and confusing.

The little news stories are good and the fake tweets are cute, but there should be one screen that allows me to see my current record, what stage of the season or offseason I'm in, and my next game/task. Access to the standings and my statistics shouldn't be far away, either. I don't think I'm asking too much with this. Trying to get from one piece of information to another in dynasty mode feels a lot like plowing through Facebook privacy settings.

With the impact made by the Infinity Engine, though, everything else almost feels nitpicky. It's not perfect, and I'm not saying it makes Madden '13 something that will revolutionize your football gaming experience. It won't.

But it has my respect because they tried. They tried something big, and they need to do that. If not every year, at least every couple of years. Swing for the fences. Throw that haymaker. If you're going to make a mistake, make it big. The effort here, and the significant change it produced, makes this year's Madden, at the very least, a respectable title. It's earned my recommendation.

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