(Credit: EA Sports)We don't envy the game makers at EA's Tiburon studio. Year after year, the minds behind Madden are tasked with inventing new ways to keep people playing gaming's flagship football franchise. It's a 365-day development cycle each time -- not a lot considering the financial and cultural importance of the series -- and they've been at it pretty much nonstop since the late 80s.
That insane pressure has led to some truly great games, but also a handful of busts. So which is it for Madden NFL 13?
According to critics, we're in luck: it's a good year to be a Madden fan. Releasing Tuesday and packing some big new features, Madden 13 is the freshest entry in years -- and while it isn't perfect, its 83 rating should be enough to make your roster.
Games Radar, in fact, thinks it's worth a starting spot.
"It's not often that a stalwart franchise like this reinvents itself so significantly, but Madden NFL 13 has pulled this off with aplomb," writes Richard Grisham in a 4.5/5 review of a game he calls "the best Madden of the generation."
Why? The game's realistic new Infinity physics engine, for one thing. While previous Madden games were known for their spot-on graphics, Madden NFL 13's engine takes hit detection to crazy -- and painful -- new levels.
"Running backs stumble when their feet get tangled with teammates. Wide receivers spin to the ground after absorbing huge in-air hits. Quarterbacks bend backwards when sandwiched by tacklers," he raves, adding that it's "a game-changer."
IGN's Greg Miller is down with it, too, especially when it comes to the little details.
"The Infinity Engine makes every hit a little bit different," he says in a 9/10 review. "Angles, weight and more matter. Watching a halfback break free of a shoddy tackle or a wideout come down just in bounds before stumbling over really amplifies how the game looks and feels."
Miller also loves the game's new Connected Career mode, which mashes together past modes like Superstar and Franchise into one big, addictive football RPG that he calls "awesome" and "a big time sink."
Game Informer goes a step further.
"Connected Career is a brilliant mode that in one fell swoop makes the online franchise feature set the same as the normal offline one, introduces XP to upgrade players and coaches, bolsters the stagnant Superstar mode (including being able to call your own plays), and injects year-round drama into your franchise," praises Matthew Kato. He's not as wowed by the Infinity Engine, however, calling its effects "inconsistent."
"You never know if you're going to unexpectedly trip during inside runs, and the new physics system can make players look sloppy," he gripes, though the game still gets an admirable 8.25/10.
Gamespot also takes the game to task, but mostly because writer Tom McShea just doesn't feel it's doing enough to keep up with the sport it emulates.
"With an overhauled presentation and a more refined animation system, this is the best version of the long-running franchise yet. But it's still Madden. Unlike the real sport, it hasn't evolved in meaningful ways," he says in a 7.5/10 review. Pretty tough score, but that's currently the lowest out there.
Scores only tell part of the story, however. Throw the numbers away and we're left with a similar tale across every review: thanks to a slew of tweaks, this year's model is one of the brightest Maddens to come along in years. Considering how long the series has been around, that's saying something.