|Also available on Xbox 360|
In 1984, Dan Marino set an NFL record by throwing for 5,084 yards in a single season. Decades passed with no quarterback coming close to that hallowed ground, but things began to change a few seasons ago. With stricter rules governing how tight cornerbacks could play and a safety initiative implemented to eliminate dangerous hits to offensive players, passing numbers skyrocketed. In 2011, two players eclipsed Marino's record, with two more close behind. These numbers are not an anomaly. The NFL is a league built on trends. As new strategies arise and rules are introduced, old ideas are left in the dust. Enter Madden NFL 13. 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. The tactics that worked a decade ago are still effective here. And unlike in the NFL, where every team has to use its specific skill set to succeed, there is little diversity. Despite this clash with reality, Madden 13 is still an eminently enjoyable experience. But by focusing on improvements to the aesthetics instead of the core mechanics, Madden NFL 13 does little to separate itself from its predecessors and cements the growing disconnect between it and the real sport Teaming Gus Johnson, the most enthusiastic play-by-play man in the business, with Cris Collinsworth, a no-nonsense analyst, seemed like a dream pairing. But the stilted chatter in Madden NFL 12 forced people to scramble for the mute button. Thankfully, these commentators have been escorted from the premises in Madden NFL 13, replaced by CBS's number one duo, Phil Simms and Jim Nance. Their presence is less invasive, often letting the rhythm of the game speak for itself, but this has its downside. Automated replays, long a thorn in Madden's side, are once again clumsily implemented. The commentators often clam up, and disjointed cuts make it tricky to see what happened, ruining much of the broadcast charm the game attempts to evoke. The biggest changes are seen off the field. Connected Careers is where you play out your franchise dreams, and there is an enticing twist that makes it more engaging than in years past. Joining an offline or online league, you choose whom you want to control. Fancy taking over your favorite player's career? Or maybe you have your eye on a retired great? Playing as Steve Young in the modern era is a dream come true for 49ers fans who have suffered through subpar quarterback play the last 13 seasons, and when it's time for him to hang up the cleats, you can take your pick of someone new. There are a handful of former players in a variety of positions, so if you'd rather dance to the end zone as Deion Sanders or abruptly retire as Barry Sanders, the choice is yours.
Connected Careers is a big improvement over Franchise mode. Now, you can choose exactly how much control you want over your organization. Play as a quarterback, and you only have to worry about throwing the ball. When your team is on defense, you just simulate the action, and then you're back in the huddle calling audibles to keep the ball out of your running back's hands. But if you want more control, you can be a coach. Current coaches along with all-time greats are present, or you can put yourself on the sidelines. Being able to switch between player and coach when you want to experience different aspects of Madden gives you new appreciation for how much depth is present in this game. Building a team through free agency, trades, and the draft is trickier than just taking the field blind to the front office's struggles, and you decide how much influence you want.