At this point, if you’re diving into a Madden game expecting some sort of massive overhaul of the previous entry, then you’re either lying to yourself or just emerging from the rock you’ve been living under for the past decade. Still yet, with John Madden’s legacy overshadowing the NFL this year, as well as some major shifts in the league like Brady’s new legacy with the Buccaneers taking shape and Big Ben being out of the picture, not to mention plenty of feedback from fans over the incremental nature of the past few games, the Madden franchise finds itself in a unique position to really show up this time and turn this thing around.
Does it do that? Well, not really. There is a larger helping of tweaks and additions compared to the past few entries, but fundamentally, the moment-to-moment gameplay still feels like it always has, general offerings in terms of modes and progression are a similar lot to what we’ve been getting, and the whole package does ultimately fit in with the current trajectory of the series with conservative improvements and nibbles around the edges of what Madden really should be doing to win back the affection of its own fanbase. Of course, with EA being the only publisher that is allowed to make NFL games at this time, and a large enough audience of gamers who will continue to buy it no matter what, there is little reason for EA to do anything too drastic, and Madden NFL 23, once again, shows us that.
"There is a larger helping of tweaks and additions compared to the past few entries, but fundamentally, the moment-to-moment gameplay still feels like it always has, general offerings in terms of modes and progression are a similar lot to what we’ve been getting, and the whole package does ultimately fit in with the current trajectory of the series with conservative improvements and nibbles around the edges of what Madden really should be doing to win back the affection of its own fanbase."
The game starts with an introduction to the golden years of John Madden actually being on the field, those of us that have been around a little longer might get a nice hit of nostalgia from this, but once that euphoria starts to wane, a more familiar picture starts to form. Many current Madden fans will be pleased to see the return of Ultimate Team, and with just as much focus on nudging players into microtransactions and online play, EA is apparently very aware of that. Unlocking different level players is addictive of course, and serves as the energy that keeps the mode interesting. From there you can compare them to other players, add them to the eligible sets, auction them off, trade them, you get the idea. Missions and challenges can let you earn cards more organically than previous entries, making the mode feel a little beefier than before. Ultimate team also has online head-to-head, which, once you get your arms around everything, will likely be where players end up spending most of their time.
Face of the franchise also feels pretty familiar to last year’s iteration. It works well, and could be the centerpiece of the experience depending on what you’re looking to have out of Madden NFL 23, but ultimately, it’s a brief affair that only sees subtle improvements from last year’s like slightly better graphics and marginally better writing and acting. From picking the right starting contract and on, you play a rookie starting out their pro career with a little bit of experience under their belt, trying to prove themselves in a bigger way. The concepts of being a rising star in the league with all eyes on you and an underdog with a lot to prove seem to clash at times in a narrative sense, but the progression of upgrading your player is really where it shines best. You can play through the games more-or-less like normal or sim your way through them to get back to the nitty gritty of unlocks and making choices, so if you’re in a hurry to see it through it can certainly be streamlined.
Knowing your role and playing to the strengths of the player type you selected is presented as the key to this mode, but there’s not much weight to those choices though, since you can reassign your skill upgrades and even change your physique later on. Ultimately, I walked away from this mode feeling similarly underwhelmed as I did with last year’s. The pieces are already there for this to be the best part of the game and for it to really push Madden back into gamer’s good graces, as a great redemption story or a story about an aging icon like Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady passing the torch to a new custom player, if executed well, could really compliment the inner workings of this mode and make it a break-out feature. But as it is, we just get a slightly better version of the rise-to-fame character arc that everyone has seen countless times in countless other mediums. It feels like a missed opportunity at best, and woefully out of touch at worst.
"Face of the franchise also feels pretty familiar to last year’s iteration. It works well, and could be the centerpiece of the experience depending on what you’re looking to have out of Madden NFL 23, but ultimately, it’s a brief affair that only sees subtle improvements from last year’s like slightly better graphics and marginally better writing and acting."
Out of the annual tweaks to the general gameplay that we’ve come to expect, you do have some new goodies to try out. For instance, there is some new flexibility with passing systems which allows one passing system more focused on power and one more focused on accuracy. Both of which use a timing meter that you have one shot at negotiating correctly and do give you a more nuanced sense of control over the ball. You can also just use the classic system from previous games where the type of pass you make depends on the corresponding button combination. I liked the power-based system more than the accuracy one personally, but not enough to pull me away from the classic style completely.
I imagine that these alternative passing systems will afford more advanced players better chances of pulling off riskier throws, but for most, this is an area where Madden really doesn’t need to fix anything in my opinion, but hey, more options is never a bad thing. You also have the ability to break through tackles by tapping the X button in theory, but with how long it takes to shake somebody off, I was rarely never able to do much more than just delay the inevitable by turning a tackle into a scuffle until another OT piled on and finished the job. A more multi-layered tackling and collision animation set that is part of what EA is referring to as “field sense” which is a series of systems that includes more fluid animations, also has emerged here, and that gives a much more nuanced look to different tackles than Madden NFL 22’s handful of canned animations.
It’s a nice touch and works to sell the illusion of truly physics-based tackling more often than not, but can also make some moments with uncommon variables look even weirder than they would have in last year’s game. All that said, Madden NFL 23 handily runs and plays better on the PS5 than any previous Madden game has played on anything over the last decade as far as I can tell. While the gameplay itself hasn’t been overhauled by any stretch, this is absolutely the most stable version of what we’ve been getting out of the series. Graphics are sharper, and performance mode keeps everything pretty smooth. The gulf of detail between players and camera men in the end zone and audience members is still a staggering one, but it does look like some effort has started going into closing that gap.
"Madden NFL 23 handily runs and plays better on the PS5 than any previous Madden game has played on anything over the last decade."
Some questionable ratings for certain players aside, most of the choices made for Madden NFL 23 do make sense. The problem is that there isn’t enough of those types of choices to really score many extra points. If you’re a die-hard Madden fan who has been loving the series lately, this iteration will give you what you want. But if you have been waiting for that big overhaul or reboot that might revitalize your interest, then you may want to continue that wait. It does more than the past several entries in the way of quality-of-life improvements, but by continuing to do so in such an iterative way, it ends up highlighting its potential more than actually achieving it, which at this point is a little frustrating.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Keeps what works; Good performance; New passing systems are great.
Face of the Franchise is largely squandered; Graphics aren’t great; Improvements are too few and far between.