Review: Madden NFL 13 (Vita)

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We have reached the halfway point of the 2012-13 NFL season, and I have to say that so far this has been the most unpredictable season of American football that I can remember watching in a long time.

The replacement refs turned the first few weeks of the season into a bumbling display of game mismanagement and authoritative ineptitude. The Saints “Bountygate” scandal has developed into a twisting and turning legal battle between suspended players and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Perennial Super Bowl contenders like the Packers, Patriots, and Steelers have looked fairly average (although all three are finally beginning to return to form of late). The basement-dwelling NFC West has suddenly become a competitive division from top to bottom. And just when you think the Giants are going to lose, Eli Manning pulls off another 4th quarter miracle you couldn’t possibly see coming.

The only certainties so far this season seem to be that Michael Vick will turn the ball over at least once or twice a game, the Chargers appear to be nose-diving into their yearly collapse, the Cowboys still find the most heartbreakingly bone-headed ways to lose games that they should win, the Steelers have the most God-awful throwback jerseys ever made (they looked like a bunch of bumble bee convicts running around out there!), and Tim Tebow will be shoved out onto the field for a handful of plays for absolutely no purpose. Hey Sexy Rexy, Tebow may not be a prototypical drop-back QB, but using him as a decoy receiver and a punt protector is just stupid.

This season’s edition of Madden NFL 13 for PlayStation Vita has been just as unpredictable as the sports league it’s licensed from. At launch, the game’s performance was all over the place. I’ve been playing for over a month now, completing a full Franchise season and taking my created superstar through another, and in that time I’ve experienced no less than 10 system crashes (many resulting in lost progress), jittery framerates during play selection and post-play scenes (but oddly not during real-time gameplay), players getting stuck running in place on the field, shaky online performance, commentator gaffs aplenty, and a variety of other random glitch oddities. I know EA Sports wanted the game to launch for the NFL season kickoff, but the original build of this game never should have cleared the final QA certification process for retail distribution.

The announcing is particularly lousy. While the CBS Sports team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms bring broadcast-caliber professionalism to the content and quality of their commentary, the synchronization of what they’re saying as it relates to what’s happening on the field is way off. No, the game didn’t end in a tie, there is this extra period called overtime yet you two dolts just said the game was over…right in the middle of the pre-OT coin flip!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to color commentary blunders. They’ll say a team needs to kick an onside kick after they just scored to tie the game or take the lead in the closing seconds. They’ll talk like the game is ending during the two minute drill at the end of the first half. They’ll say that the QB needed to slide to protect himself after a regular running play with the RB. After a near-sack of the opposing QB, who will throw the ball away as a result of the pressure, they’ll go off about how he should have thrown a better ball because the offensive line gave him all day to find an open receiver. Shoot, one time on a whim I went for it on 4th and 17 from my team’s side of the field, and when I failed to pick it up they said I should call more plays like that. Really?

Throwing up penalty flags on itself left and right, EA Sports issued a massive patch earlier this month, and fortunately the update has cured much of what initially ailed Madden’s Vita debut. Since applying the update, online performance has stabilized, the framerate has been locked in, and I haven’t had even a single crash. Of course, some glitches still exist (just the other day I encountered three instances of players getting stuck running in place on top of each other, all during a single game) and some new ones have cropped up (performance reports after games and practice sessions in Superstar mode now show a blank page). But overall the major game-breaking problems are gone.

This is all good news, because once you dig beneath the warts, on the Vita playing field Madden 13 presents a respectable, highly entertaining pigskin simulation. When you’re actually playing the game, players resemble their real-life counterparts close enough to be recognizable and the tackling animations are dynamic and realistic, not canned and repetitive. Optional features like Accelerated Clock and GameFlow playcalling streamline play selection and the overall pace of play for quick gaming on the go. The fundamental controls also feel tight and responsive across the board, whether you’re passing, running, or playing defense. Timing in the passing game is particularly smooth.

EA Sports’ extensive efforts to utilize the Vita hardware should be applauded as well. All of the basic football actions remain linked to face buttons and analog sticks, while the touchscreen and rear touch pad open up an complimentary set of mechanics that mostly enhance the game in a natural and effective way. Switching players requires a simple tap on the screen, a far quicker method than the usual tedium of repeatedly pressing a button to cycle through the lineup player by player. Dragging your finger across the rear touch pad has many uses, from performing spin moves with your running back, to swatting down balls as a defensive back, to subtle pocket movements for avoiding the pass rush as a QB. Even the gyroscope is used without feeling gimmicky—lining up kickoffs, punts and field goals by physically tilting the Vita in your hands actually works great. Off the field, you can also use the on-deck camera to snap a photo of your face to plaster onto your created superstar avatar.

The biggest advantage provided by the touch screen, though, is when it’s time to make pre-play adjustments. Sending players in motion is as easy as tapping and swiping the screen, and by tapping on the quarterback or wide receiver you can quickly access audible and hot route options. By pulling down on the left shoulder button, you can also pull up a Call Your Shots feature that literally allows you to trace out individual wide receiver routes like you are drawing things up in the dirt with your finger in a playground pick-up game. Scouting the coverage and drawing up the perfect route to beat the defense gives you the chance to feel like human football computer Peyton Manning, if only for a moment.

Except for the touch controls and other Vita-specific mechanics, this version of Madden 13 is largely based on last season’s content model. Disappointingly, console features like the Infinity Engine physics, Ultimate Team mode and Connected Careers are missing in action. Don’t expect to be able to transfer progress cross platform if you already own the PS3 version either, as such functionality is not supported. EA missed an opportunity to make some extra bucks on that one for sure.

However, even without some of these key players, this game suits up a strong mode roster. Exhibition, Franchise, Superstar, and Practice modes cover the basics, in addition to two-player online play with regular roster updates to download. Online connectivity in general deserves high marks. Once you’re connected to EA’s servers, a live news and scoreboard ticker scrolls across the bottom of the menus. Then there is Madden Moments Live, a mode that allows you to relive/rewrite signature games and player performances from the past few seasons, including regular updates from this season’s top weekly games.

For example this week you can jump into the end of the Cowboys vs. Giants game and attempt to finish off the comeback, erasing the heartbreak of Dez Bryant’s out-of-bounds-by-a-fingertip overturned touchdown grab. Similar challenges are available from previous weeks, from Big Ben’s game-winning drive against the Eagles to the Packers vs. Seahawks hail mary debacle, dating all the way back to games from 2010 and 2011. Once you’ve finished a scenario, you are given a score that can be compared against your friend list and a Top 100 leaderboard, adding a social beat-my-high-score touch that motivates multiple replays.

Madden 13 on the Vita reminds me a lot of last season’s New York Giants. During the regular season they were barely above average, just sneaking into the playoffs with a win in the final week to push their record up to an unimpressive 9-7. But once they got hot and performed up to their capabilities in the postseason, the Giants proved that they had the collective talent of a Super Bowl champion.

Madden 13 similarly underperforms in many areas on the Vita, but when it hits a bug-free groove it really is a great handheld NFL football simulator to keep in your pocket throughout the remainder of the season. Due to the incomplete level of polish and all around poor optimization for the platform, though, I can’t in good conscious outright recommend a purchase. The game just isn’t up to snuff in too many areas. However, as far as Vita football games go, this is your only option until next season. If you’re able to look past some technical faults, I think you will be pleased with the overall experience—just download the demo first to be absolutely sure you know what you’re getting in for.

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Pros:
+ Solid core game of simulation football
+ Effective use of touchscreens/gyroscope/camera without going overboard
+ Madden Moments Live keeps you coming back for new weekly challenges
+ Post launch update fixed many major technical problems

Cons:
– Riddled with bugs at launch, with issues still lingering even after a patch
– Laughable commentary blunders
– Feature set, stats and rules largely based on last season

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: 8/28/2012
Genre: Sports – Football
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2 (online multiplayer only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!