A Fitting Tribute To The Man, Not The Tech

HIGH FieldSense passing is a precision QB’s dream.

LOW Learning the advanced controls is beyond difficult.

WTF The graphical glitches are simply unforgivable in 2022.

Each year, devoted Madden NFL fans embrace the latest title with feverish excitement and anticipation. Despite the fact that the last decade hasn’t been kind to the series, digital football enthusiasts are more than willing to bury their bad feelings and enter a new season with a renewed sense of hope.

Unfortunately, this may be the year that breaks fans’ collective spirit. Not because Madden NFL 23 is a bad game — regardless of the overblown disdain it’s received thus far, it’s actually notably improved on the field. However, the continued presence of familiar glitches, questionable AI, and stale mode offerings make this year’s edition less exciting than usual.

Given the recent passing of series namesake John Madden, fans knew Madden NFL 23 was going to serve as a love letter of sorts for the legendary coach and announcer. EA certainly delivered in this regard, bringing users right into a game featuring Madden’s favorite football luminaries from several eras. While a little long, it certainly honors him and gets players ready for what’s next.

Once the intro is complete, players can access all of the usual features, from quick Play Now to the requisite, card-based Madden Ultimate Team (MUT), to the story-driven Face of the Franchise. Herein lies the biggest problem — these are all features fans have experienced time and time again, with little next-gen advancement to show for it. Sure, the Franchise mode has been streamlined for accessibility and the MUT isn’t as focused on microtransactions, but by and large, this is the same slate EA has presented since the middle of the last generation. That said, improvements are improvements, and there are several areas where Madden NFL 23 starts to flex some muscle.

The look and feel are initially stellar, with stunning stadium fly-bys, improved crowd and sideline animations, and detailed player models. Likewise, the improved physics offered by the FieldSense system adds a layer of realism to all player motion, from big hits to subtle foot movements. No longer do tackle and running animations feel canned and predetermined. Instead, when users properly aim their players and execute moves, physics leads the way, leading to (mostly) accurate outcomes.

The FieldSense passing is the most unique QB control system since the ill-fated “passing cone” mechanic from the mid-aughts. Unfortunately, it’s far too complex for anyone but the most-ardent Madden devotees to truly master. The skill-based feature leads to insanely realistic throws from any angle or position, but the combination of ball placement and power controls while evading oncoming defenders is unwieldy, even after several hours of practice.

In short, FieldSense isn’t perfect, and the controls will likely prove too obtuse for newcomers. On the plus side, the foundation is in place for something truly new in videogame football. This alone is worth recognizing.

unfortunately, for everything new in Madden NFL 23, there’s something that reminds players of how much this series still needs to grow.

Despite the massive horsepower of the Xbox Series X, I repeatedly noticed players glitching through sideline NPCs, and through teammates during quick cutaways. There were also several instances of linemen moving through one another when adjusting positions pre-snap. I’m sure there’s a patch coming to rectify such things, but on a machine so capable, it’s mind-boggling that legacy issues still persist.

The audio is also confusing. While crowds react appropriately to most game situations, I did notice home fans cheering for my opponents on more than one occasion, and the less I say about the lifeless, inaccurate commentary, the better. After a strong showing in the John Madden Tribute intro, the announcers have nothing left once users start their seasons, and before long, I tuned them out entirely.

Finally, I need to address the much-maligned Face of the Franchise mode. On a positive note, the tired “college standout needs to prove himself” trope is replaced by a more interesting tale of a veteran underdog fighting to stay in the league. Unfortunately, the drama and gravitas of the narrative are muted early on with a limited number of cutscenes to draw users in. Instead, a standard week-to-week progress screen handles most of the “storytelling,” leading to a boring journey. I applaud EA for trying to keep this mode relevant, but it might be time to concede this battle and focus on bringing more originality to the Franchise and MUT experiences, and more stability to the online offerings.

Madden NFL 23 certainly isn’t lacking content and is arguably more realistic than ever. Yet, after nearly a decade of treading the same still waters, it’s never been more evident that a new approach is needed. As much as I appreciate the gameplay improvements and still enjoy the annual Madden experience, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recommend investing money into it year after year.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published by EA Sports and developed by EA Tiburon. It is available on XBO, XBX/S, PS4, PS5, and PC. This game copy was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. Approximately four hours of play were devoted to online multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. This is a realistic representation of full-contact NFL football, and some tackling animations and injuries may concern some parents. That said, if your children watch real football, they should be fine with this.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are available in the Game Settings menu.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Madden NFL 23 features subtitles and numerous tactile feedback features within the controller, in all modes. Subtitles are not able to be resized or altered. The game is easily playable without sound and is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.

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