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A gamer chooses to control the life of a rookie player or a coach and build his virtual career to that of a pro football Hall of Famer using options to even join an online league with up to 32 humans.

I picked the player option and rather than construct a budding superstar (you can even import a photo and rebuild a body around your own likeness), I saw some tantalizing possibilities with the selection of a classic star from the NFL.

An initial selection of legends is available such as Otto Graham, but many need to be unlocked including George Blanda (find his card in the Madden Ultimate Team trading card game) or Jerry Rice (unlocks this month for players logged in with an Internet connection).

One legend immediately caught my eye, and you guessed it, I selected the record-breaking running back of the Chicago Bears, Walter Payton.

Honing the rookie skills of Sweetness during practice sessions and pre- and regular season games was an emotional joy. His fighting for every inch, this master of the stiff-arm and acrobatic runs was only handicapped by my ineptitude while following a blocker or running a pass pattern.

As a player reaches goals for his position or has in-game successes (win a scrimmage with 3 minutes left in the game for example) he collects experience points used to increase Walter’s skill levels. These can include ball carrier vision or juke moves.

Connected Careers should consume most of a Madden connoisseur’s time.

Next, back again, is Ultimate Team, a fantasy football meets collectible trading card game that allows coaches to build, buy and trade player cards to build the strongest line-ups. Tempting scenarios such as unlocking the use of Vince Lombardi as your coach (if you can beat the modern-day Packers with him at the helm) also really add to the fun.

Actual packs of trading cards are opened and used to construct lineups. What’s great is coaches are exposed to many players they may have never heard, yet they can perform admirably for them. Vikings back-up quarterback Joe Webb was a dynamo in my roster as well as recently released Baltimore Ravens running back Anthony Allen.

Gamers collect cards and manipulate line-ups to put the best team in the simulation and play actual games against online opponents or solo challenges, collecting coins for efforts to buy more cards. Unlocked players can also take part into other modes of Madden NFL 13.

I’ll readily admit to being a casual fan of the Madden franchise over the last decade and have spent as much time marveling at how well others play as actually wielding the controller.

That reported, this year is a game breaker for me. Sure, I’ll still watch the occasional real NFL game, but I’m spending my football couch time devoted to being part of the Madden team experience.