Marc: Connected Careers mode looks to revolutionize how gamers interact with Madden NFL 13. With offline Franchise, online Franchise, and Superstar mode all integrated into the same framework, Connected Careers gives players some much-needed flexibility.
First, the good news: Connected Careers works exactly how it says it does. Upon first entering the mode, the player is presented with a choice of playing as a coach or a player. Choosing to play as a coach gives you an experience that is similar to last year’s Madden Franchise mode, with some new features. You can then take this instance of your CCM offline or online at will, allowing you to bring your friends in if they purchased the game after you, for example. You can have as many “careers” as you want.
On the coaching side of CCM, there are a few new key features. First is the addition of XP, which you can use to progress your players and coach manually. You earn XP by doing things like completing practice scenarios, winning games, hitting certain performance goals in games, and making the playoffs. You have separate XP for your coach and each individual player, and they are used to level up different aspects of your team. For example, coaching XP might make scouting easier, while player XP is used to progress attributes.
John: The structure of the mode is such a welcome addition to Madden NFL. It brings what was once a bland franchise mode to life. Even playing solo offline the mode feels alive with the news and twitter feeds and the activities you need to do each week, from practice to scouting.
One thing that I always felt was missing in prior Madden titles was real hands-on scouting and player progression. The new player progression system using XP and the new scouting system actually makes both tasks into their own strategy game. The same can be said for contract negotiations. Instead of being a one and done event, negotiating contracts could span multiple weeks.
Marc: Instead of the hectic auction style Free Agency bidding of last year, this year it is more akin to bidding in past Madden games. You find the players you might want to target, make bids based on their contract requests, fit within your scheme, and interest, then advance the week to find out whether or not you were successful. Like John said, sometimes you will have to make 2 or 3 contract offers, as the CPU is pretty aggressive with the players it wants. I did see, however, instances where a handful of highly-rated players (James Laurinitis being one example) were not signed in Free Agency, and were still available after the draft. Most of the remaining FAs were rated in the mid to low 70s, so time will tell if this becomes a problem or if it’s based on mimicking the volatility of NFL Free Agency.
John: As Marc said there are a few issues. Practices are just brutal, and I’m not talking about difficulty. Most of the practice scenarios take as long as a game to complete. I find myself either focusing on a few really short ones, or just skipping practice altogether.
Marc: New this year also is the process around the draft. Throughout the season you will be prompted to scout rookies, all of which are generated by the game. That’s right, there is no importing of college players from NCAA Football 13 due to the way Madden NFL 13 handles the draft. While this is an unfortunate omission, it was necessary to accommodate the new storyline aspects of the draft. Regardless, scouting players throughout the season unlocks certain ratings of your choosing. Considering the points that are unused from one week carry over to the next week, I’d recommend holding off on spending a lot of points on scouting until you have a decent idea of which pick you’ll have in the draft.
Once the draft itself commences, you’ll be floored by the presentation. Although it does not feature a virtual Roger Goddell or Radio City Music Hall, the amount of information and context given to draftees is staggering. The news feed leading up to the draft will reference storylines such as position switches, feuds between teammates, and more. Then, when players get drafted that fit these storylines, you’ll hear Trey Wingo of ESPN come on and talk about the storyline, giving you deeper context into what’s going on around the league. It remains to be seen, however, if these storylines are referenced in the commentary and league presentation after the draft. In real life, these interest stories are usually put to the wayside after a player gets drafted, so I imagine that will continue here.
While the changes in Connected Careers are amazing, it’s unfortunate that some issues remain. Namely, the replaced Superstar Mode is somehow worse than in past editions of Madden. That’s right, the newly dubbed “Player Mode” in CCM is somehow worse than its predecessor, Superstar Mode.
John: It’s just boring. It has been for years and continues to be. It’s also not logical and doesn’t have a realistic feel. Things like being able to pick your team instead of entering the draft or free agency to being able to pick the plays when not playing QB don’t give you the feel of having a realistic NFL career. The mode also doesn’t have an exciting rhythm to it, after a play if I’m still on the field it should just go to the next play, and if I’m off the field I shouldn’t be prompted to sim or watch the game. I hope the Madden team sits down with Sony’s MLB The Show in the next 12 months since that game’s Road to Show mode is phenomenal.
Marc: Player Mode in Connected Careers has a few problems for sure. The first and most glaring one is that there is no longer a custom camera for your player. Playing as a defensive back or wide receiver becomes incredibly difficult, as there are certain camera angles which keep your player off of the screen. There is a very useful player lock camera in NCAA 13, so there’s no excuse as to why this would not be included in Madden 13.
The second problem in CCM is with practicing, which John mentioned. Instead of running drills or getting multiple reps on a single situation, Madden 13’s practice is basically relegated to playing the game. You have the choice of picking different scenarios, but they all bring you the 11-on-11 timed gameplay that you’ll find in the game proper, with nothing added to make them specific or interesting.
Finally, the on-field gameplay for “Player Mode” is just poorly thought out. There’s no rewarding players for good positioning or for helping with certain tasks. The progression is tied to statistical accomplishments, such as rushing yards, catches, or interceptions. The NFL is about doing your job, and EA should reward players for doing their assignment on a play correctly, regardless of the outcome. If they happen to record a tackle, touchdown, or forced fumble, that should be an added benefit.
Having the ability to call your own plays in Player Mode is just really strange. If you’re playing as a tight end, for example, you can call passing plays on every down instead of waiting for your opportunity. Granted, the playcalling in Superstar Mode was more or less broken in past iterations, but I’d rather them fix that aspect of it than just letting the user pick whatever he or she wants. As it stands now, there’s nothing separating the Player Mode from Coach Mode, except that you can only control one player at a time instead of eleven. Hopefully as they refine this mode over the years, they’ll give gamers more reason to play as a single player. As it stands now, you make your player, pick a team (you don’t participate in the draft), and play the game as you normally would.
Despite some bugs (assisted tackles are not tracked at all in user-played games), Connected Careers is great…for the coaches. Progression and regression work properly (93-rated Peyton Manning dropped down to an 89 after year 1), and the simulation engine more or less works properly, without any glaring statistical abnormalities. It’s unfortunate, though, that only half of the mode is actually interesting and worth playing, even if that half will last you a very long time.
John: Playing as a coach in Connected Career is top notch. Playing alongside friends online is also very fun and there are some neat league aspects, such as being able to link your league to a twitter account and then receiving real world tweets concerning your league. Connected Careers really feels like a living breathing career mode.
John: As far as additional game mode changes go this year, Ultimate Team has also received a decent overhaul. I feel this year those gamers who never really got into Ultimate Team will find themselves playing it a lot. Firstly MUT for the first time is tied into the bigger game. Collecting Legends cards in MUT will unlock those legends in Connected Career. The other really nice addition is that of Solo Challenges in MUT. These challenges are situational for instance the first challenge requires you to beat a Vince Lombardi coached Green Bay Packers. Winning the challenge scored me some coins but more importantly got me the VInce Lombardi Legend card. The only problem with Solo Challenges is as of now the next 6 challenges require me to have a much higher level team, I think the next 6 should have at least been tiered with the rating requirement, this way I can keep playing them as my team improves, not just unlock them once I hit a rating of 85.
There are also a lot of nice rewards for those who have been playing Madden NFL and MUT for the last few years. For starters those who have been collecting the 2012 NFL Rookie cards in Madden NFL 12 will be able to carry them over into Madden NFL 13, plus as the Rookies real stats become known in the real world their cards will be updated as well. Another way players are being thanked for their loyalty is through the Gridiron Club. You’ll be able to unlock free packs of cards depending on how many past Madden Games you’ve played and your past work in MUT. Gridiron CLub also houses the new Madden Moments Live, which are challenges based off real world events that occur during the NFL season.
This year Madden Ultimate Team feel much more open to the more casual Madden gamer. Plus all the ties-ins to Connected Career gives you a reason to really sit down and play the mode.