Madden NFL 13 Social
Not quite ready for prime time.
Madden NFL 13 Social is a bold experiment that may backfire on publisher Electronic Arts. Instead of releasing a port of the console Madden with smartphone and tablet-specific features, the company opted to go with a free-to-play pigskin effort built around asynchronous multiplayer, upgrading one's team through rated player cards and some in-app purchase for good (or bad, depending on your perspective) measure. Suffice to say, we didn't see it coming, and quite frankly, would've preferred the alternative.
On paper, the concept sounds intriguing. EA's goal was to streamline the Madden experience specifically for both casual and hardcore fans, while implementing the aforementioned card mechanic to add a layer of strategy. Games were supposed to take place within 30 minutes or less, while swapping players from all NFL teams would give users access to their own personal super squad of gridiron greats.
That's on paper. In practice, Madden NFL Social is anything but fun. For starters, it barely works. The best way to play is to log in through Facebook, but connections time out constantly. Not only that, but we encountered a bothersome glitch that prevented virtual buttons from working, and another that caused the on-screen text to flicker uncontrollably.
The actual games, meanwhile, come up woefully short. EA's decision to focus mostly on the offensive side of the ball results in easily scored touchdowns. Ultimately, it's all about who can wrack up the most points the quickest before time expires, with little opportunity to get stops. In fact, we've yet to go four and out on a drive. Actually, we haven't seen fourth down at all.
On top of that, these games aren't quick. Random players take hours to respond, if at all, so your best bet is to start as many games as possible. Otherwise, you'll have nothing to do, aside from switching players and purchasing card packs with virtual currency; these are extremely expensive, and quality players don't appear unless you spend a ton of cash. And don't expect these NFL pros to behave like their real-life counterparts. Based on what we've seen, everyone moves at the same speed.
As for the playbook, EA locks much of it away, forcing you to unlock plays as you go, even something as simple as kicking off to the right side of the field. At first, we thought this was going to be an issue until touchdowns rained from the sky.
Bottom line, Madden NFL 13 Social wants to satisfy two groups and winds up disappointing both. It lacks the strategic element people love about the annual football sim, but also the high-speed, high scoring thrills of NFL Blitz. The result is a frustrating mess that fails to provide the sort of armchair quarterbacking experience we so desperately crave.
What's Hot: Free-to-play, buying cards to improve one's team, selling cards at the auction house, asynchronous multiplayer with Facebook/iOS users.
What's Not: Random opponents take their sweet time responding, bothersome glitches, too many Facebook pop-ups, defense is virtually non-existent, sluggish controls, players move at the same speed despite higher/lower stats.