You’ll have to bear with us because we tend to ignore the fancy names given to new Madden 13 features. What they call Total Control Passing, for example, we’ll just refer to generically as the new touch passing system. Trust us, it can get quite confusing trying to keep track of all those new marketing-driven phrases every year so it’s better if we just look at what they actually do rather than what they’re called.

Timing is going to be everything in Madden 13’s passing game. After the snap you, as the quarterback, have to be aware of the fact that your receivers will be looking for the ball only at certain points during a play. On an in-route, the receiver won’t be looking for the ball until after he makes his break; on deep routes, the player won’t be looking for the ball until he gets a certain number of yards down field. This didn’t seem like that big a deal on paper but when we saw how Madden 13 is implementing this system, our reaction was mixed. When we say a player isn’t looking, we mean that literally now. Offensive and defensive players actually have to look at the football in the air before they can make a play on it. If the receiver on the in-route doesn’t look up for the ball after he makes his cut, it’s highly unlikely he makes the catch. Obviously this is where a receiver’s AWR and CTH rating will play a part. This doesn’t mean that you can’t throw the ball early on a timing route, like a curl, knowing that the receiver will be looking for the ball immediately coming out of his break. That will definitely work. Our cause for concern comes from the fact that you may not see the passing icon over the receiver’s head until the timing for the pass is right. That is, your X receiver on a fly route won’t have that ‘X’ over his head until he’s at a point in his route where you’re supposed to deliver the ball. This disappearing/reappearing icon will likely be optional when the final game ships, but for now it definitely takes some getting used to.

We ran with the Oakland Raiders (our favorite team) to see how Carson Palmer’s arm and Oakland’s speedy weapons would function in the new passing system. The timing system was apparent on a screen pass to the underrated Marcel Reece. The whole point of running a screen to the fullback is that no defense is ever going to commit more than one player to watching the fullback. Thus when we snapped the ball and didn’t see the “LB” icon over Reece’s head, there was a moment of brief panic. You can still throw the ball to a receiver who doesn’t have the icon over his head, but we nonetheless thought we’d called the wrong play or something had gone wrong when Reece’s icon didn’t come up. A split second later when we hit the “LB” button to deliver the ball anyway, Reece broke off his route and headed upfield rather than drifting toward the sideline like the playart shows. Now Reece made the catch, but because the timing of the play was thrown off by our early pass attempt, the blocking didn’t get a chance to set up and he only gained two yards. Yes it’s only one play, but it clearly illustrates the importance of timing in Madden 13 and it does it using a screen pass; the ultimate timing play. The takeaway here is that the disappearing icons are meant to simulate the reads and decision making quarterbacks have to make during a play. It seems to be implemented fairly well but we’ll need much more time with the game (which we’ll get) to really see how far this new timing system goes toward accurately representing NFL football.

Hand-in-hand with the new timing system is the new ball flight trajectory and precision passing system. We’re now given more control over where the ball goes and how it gets there. The distance between the quarterback and the receiver will determine what kind of power you can put on the pass. No more rifling short passes six yards downfield or inadvertently throwing a “moonball” out of bounds. Tapping or mashing a passing button will determine what kind of touch you’re putting on the pass but there are limits to how fast and how high the ball will travel through the air. We had a difficult timing separating the effects of the precision passing system from the flight trajectory system. In theory, you’re supposed to be able to use the left stick to lead a receiver with your pass and do it better than we’ve seen in previous editions of Madden NFL. For years, holding up or down on the left stick as you press the pass button would throw the ball high (so your man can outleap the defense) or low (so you can pick apart a zone with precision). Aiming left or right while passing didn’t have a dramatic effect, really. Now, in Madden 13, all of those directions on a pass will cause your quarterback to throw the ball ahead of, behind, deeper or more shallow than the receiver’s current route….sort of. As best as we can tell, the same left stick controls during passing will also still throw the ball high or low. So of course we tried all sorts of variations of passes intended to illustrate for us just what does what. For example on a broken play, we always want the receiver to break deep down the field so we can throw a high touch pass over the defender and make a big play out of something. In past Madden’s this is very difficult. In Madden 13, in theory, it should be easier with all of the new passing control changes. What we ended up with was a lot of incompletions and interceptions. In our session with Madden 13, we couldn’t get an understanding of how to at least attempt creative passes regularly. Whether it’s user error, incomplete design or simply a rough early build of the game that’s to blame, we’ll be digging into this in later sessions.