Big Changes On The Horizon
The friendly folks at EA Sports were kind enough to invite GameCritics to a closed beta of the hotly anticipated Madden NFL 23. Obviously, I jumped at the chance to spend a few hours with it, as this latest Madden is expected to represent actual forward progress into the current generation of consoles, and not just a cross-generation juke step.
Right out of the gate, it’s abundantly clear that EA is laser-focused on enhanced realism for the series — at least for current-gen console owners — as the all-new FieldSENSE is reflected in nearly every aspect of gameplay. Long-time Madden enthusiasts are likely aware of EA’s penchant for gameplay gimmicks which have produced mixed results over the years, but they can rest assured that FieldSENSE is an innovation on par with icon-based passing and the hit stick physics. It’s not another “passing cone” misstep.
So what is it? FieldSENSE isn’t a solitary gameplay feature, but rather an overhauled series of control upgrades that put more emphasis on player physics, accurate defensive controls, and revised passing options that (hopefully) put an end to questionable receiving statistics.
In the few hours I spent with the beta, it’s clear that FieldSENSE is still largely a work in progress, but there is a notable improvement in the overall feel, which leans heavily on the simulation side of things. Now, poor pass timing will have hyper-realistic results and fewer “magical” grabs in heavy traffic. Likewise, not utilizing the revised pass placement will result in more drops than a decade of Cleveland Browns highlights.
In single-player modes, I imagine this new approach won’t make much of a difference since the difficulty sliders are always there to help. But, my gut reaction is that this shift toward realism might frustrate newcomers looking to take their skills online. Madden enthusiasts who enjoy a challenge will likely master the new controls in short order and will dominate online contests like never before.
Likewise, the new defensive controls put more emphasis on precision and location. Users will not only have more control over the timing of their tackles, but also over their placement. This means lower tackles will trip up weaker runners, but it also might allow higher-ranked athletes to break free for large gains. Previous editions of Madden have hinted at this level of accuracy but were mired in predetermined animations that ultimately took control away from players. Though rough at this point in the beta, it was clear that my controller input had a greater impact on each play.
There’s still plenty of time for developers to polish this revamped system and I’m sure EA has no intention of alienating new users, so there’s no need for fans to panic. But, the pendulum is seemingly swinging in the direction of experienced players.
Looking beyond the controls, Madden NFL 23 has also begun to hint at improvements to the stalwart Franchise and single-player Face of the Franchise modes, both of which seemed like afterthoughts in the transition to current-gen consoles.
The Franchise mode, while strong in last year’s edition, still lacked any significant innovation. Now, in Madden NFL 23, EA introduces “Motivations” which are intangible goals that enhance contract negotiations by making deals about more than just money. It may not be enough to win back those who abandoned this mode long ago, but it may serve to add some extra personality to this annual micromanagement simulation.
More interesting was the recent addition of “Face of the Franchise” to the closed beta. Instead of telling another rags-to-riches tale of fresh-faced rookies, Madden 23 allows players to step into the cleats of a mid-career underdog, fighting for relevance and playing time. Better performance in this mode will result in more contract offers from a wider range of teams, allowing users to better control the storyline.
This subtle change to the narrative cleverly disguises the way players find a team. In other words, there’s a really good chance a user’s favorite team will offer a fair contract, eliminating the need to play for a team they don’t prefer. It also adds some urgency to the proceedings, since the story isn’t just about justifying a user’s high draft ranking, but rather about proving their worth in the league.
It’s still far too early to make any judgments about Madden NFL 23 and only time will tell if changes like FieldSENSE make a significant difference in the overall experience. That said, there’s definitely more originality on display than we’ve seen for the last few iterations.
Three editions of the game are slated to be released Friday, August 19, 2022 — Xbox Series X/S, PS5, Xbox One, and PS4.