Madden NFL 13 (Xbox 360) review: Madden NFL 13 (Xbox 360)

On the field, things haven't improved nearly as much. There are more animations (which is true in every new Madden release), and there is certainly appeal in seeing a receiver snag a poorly thrown ball out of the sky or a linebacker deliver a crushing hit. But uneven transitions between the animations make for awkward-looking tackles. Unlike in , where every hit reverberated with scary realism, the players in Madden 13 still move in a jarring way that's often distracting. Couple questionable animations with problems that have existed for years, such as random ball physics and unsettling character models, and you have visuals that look great on the surface but fall apart under closer inspection.

6393156The Rams worked hard for their "Lambs" nickname.None

But such lamentations are minutia compared to the wealth of strategic joy Madden NFL 13 offers. The franchise has existed since 1988, and the various tweaks that have gone into the game in those 24 years have translated into an incredibly fun experience. As always, Madden 13 is at its best in competitive matches, and it doesn't matter if you're playing a buddy on your couch or across the country, going head-to-head is when the beauty of this game surfaces. Calling hot routes and blitzes to keep your opponent off guard, or evading a heavy rush to deliver a perfect pass, is exciting. Although luck occasionally is a factor (especially with turnovers), you're usually in total control of your actions, and considering the amount of depth present, the more time you invest, the more you grow as a player.

However, one problem that stands out is that there isn't a great diversity between teams. This has always been true in Madden, but it's still disappointing that this aspect hasn't been addressed. If you choose the Michael Vick-led Eagles, you can certainly scramble more than Carson Palmer and the Raiders, and having a fast running back allows for more outside runs than a slower runner, but these are small differences. The philosophical discrepancies that separate teams in the real NFL simply aren't present here. You can forgo the running game and run tight end seam routes as every team in the league, even though only the Patriots have a roster capable of such an attack in real life. Having this flexibility does make Madden 13 accessible for those who just want an exciting football game, but it also highlights how different the virtual interpretation of the sport is from the real thing.

Madden NFL 13screenshot
Skip Bayless' enthusiasm translates to this virtual Twitter feed.

One new feature comes in the form of Kinect support. Now, you can call an audible at the line of scrimmage just by yelling key terms. Shouting "Quick pass" or "Blitz" urges your players to change their tactics accordingly, and a large number of terms are recognized. But Kinect support is severely flawed in both concept and execution. Madden excels in competitive multiplayer, and the Kinect doesn't factor in there. When you're playing locally, Kinect support isn't offered (obviously), and online, you have to mute your microphone so your opponent doesn't know what you're calling. Furthermore, the players don't always react to your voice. You may see on-screen recognition that the Kinect registered your "Hike" command, but if the meter doesn't turn green, the center won't snap the ball. Voice recognition is a feature that provides a checkmark on the back of the box, but doesn't add anything of worth to the experience.

Despite a few small issues, Madden NFL 13 is the best version of the same basic game that has existed for years. Nominal improvements in most aspects create a more believable experience, both on the field and off, and the expanded career mode lets you decide how much control you want in creating your team. But these changes never go beyond what you'd expect for a yearly sequel. And though the aesthetics have been improved, the core gameplay lacks the dynamic changes that make the real sport so exciting to watch. Madden NFL 13 is certainly enjoyable, but the dearth of evolution is more glaring every season.