The NFL season is now in full swing, which means there’s a new version of the beloved Madden NFL franchise in stores, but this year’s game comes with a somber cloud over it. The franchise’s namesake, John Madden, passed away late last year, and while the loss of the iconic coach and broadcaster is felt in every aspect of Madden NFL 23, developer EA Tiburon has honored the coach in ways seldom seen in gaming, and it’s certainly the highpoint of this year’s title.
Madden NFL 23 brings back all of the modes that make this franchise so beloved amongst fans. Developer EA Tiburon has gone out of their way to tweak every mode this year — especially in Franchise and Face of the Franchise — and while their intentions were solid, the actual execution is a little problematic.
The biggest change in Madden NFL 23 is the inclusion of the new FieldSense gameplay system. The developers took on a herculean task by trying to add as much realism as they can, in what is best described as an (American) football simulation, and unfortunately, in pursuing greatness, they have sucked the fun out of what is usually an annual good time for NFL fans.
This is immediately felt in FieldSense’s passing system. Instead of just hitting one button to snap the ball, and then another button assigned to a receiver, now players must execute a series of complicated timed button presses to make a completion. In some cases, this requires pressing five different buttons to complete a single pass, and the addition of timed meters that run in real-time further complicates things.
I’ve spent the last month trying my best to adopt the new passing mechanic and finally gave up last week — I play games to have fun, and my DualSense 5 has been thrown to the ground more times in the last month than any time in the last two years. For my sanity — and my wallet — I finally had to give up on FieldSense and switch back to classic gameplay. Judge me if you want, but we play games to have fun — and this just isn’t fun.
It’s such a shame though because on the defensive side, the FieldSense ‘Hit Everything’ mechanic holds such incredible promise. Using the hit stick and an additional button or two, defenders can completely eradicate the offense, causing devastating fumbles and picks while running your opponent out of town on stretchers. It’s awesome to watch linebackers swarm to ball carriers and actually work to try and knock the ball out. Tackles are more bone-crunching than ever, and finally, the defensive gameplay has recreated a taste of the intense speed of a real NFL game.
DBs and WRs have their own battles, and yes, while there are a few additional button presses needed, the end results show an immediate payoff. EA Tiburon has created a solid foundation to build on with FieldSense, but the passing game definitely needs a round of polish to make it fun.
Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) has also been tweaked for Madden NFL 23. Team building has been simplified, and it doesn’t take too long to amass a solid team, giving you chance to make waves in both offline bot matches and online games against human players. As with most ultimate team modes in EA games, the more you play it, the more you get out of it. I admittedly spend most of my time playing ultimate team in each EA Sports game I pick up, and Madden NFL 23 has earned a spot in my daily rotation.
Franchise mode has been given a much-needed facelift this year, as nearly every facet was tweaked and polished en route to a solid experience. Players can still choose to play as a real player or one they create, a coach, or a GM, but the list of factors at play while doing some of the higher-level tasks — like scouting, drafting, and signing players — is staggering. To sum it up in one example: GMs can use the fact that the team is located in an income-tax-free state when trying to sign players. Yes, taxes are a factor in Madden NFL 23. What will they think of next? GMs touting they have the prettiest cheerleaders in the league?
Face of the Franchise gets rid of the amusingly limited college football stuff — ahead of next year’s triumphant return of EA College Football, no doubt — giving players a chance to take over the career of a player who is ready for the pros. You can pick the team that signs you, and then start your career by trying to earn a spot on said team. Spoiler alert: you get the job. When not playing each weekend, players can complete side activities that help build rapport with their teammates, the organization, and even the community, and it all matters factors into your progression. These “career sims” have always been hit or miss in Madden, and this year’s is a hit. It’s taken a few years, but Face of the Franchise is going toe-to-toe with MUT when it comes to vying for my time and attention.
Of course, new animations, a graphics refresh (with some stellar player and coach models on now-gen systems), and other additions are always welcome additions, and Madden NFL 23 certainly delivers. But going back to the beginning of both this review — and the franchise itself — the way Madden NFL 23 honors Coach Madden is exemplary. I challenge anyone who has ever admired him to play the lead-off Madden Legacy Game and not get a tear or two in their eyes. Each side has a different version of John Madden as coach, and the teams are made up of some of his favorite players of all time, making this an incredibly exciting Pro-Bowl-like experience.
In fact, I’ve played the legacy game a few times now, never skipping any cutscenes as the presentation is absolutely amazing, even adding soundbites of the real John Madden talking about certain players, like Brett Favre or Tom Brady. It’s a fun distraction from the daily grind of HUT and the burgeoning career of the young RB for the Washington Commanders who happens to share my name. It definitely makes Madden NFL 23 worth owning this year.
This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Electronic Arts.
Madden NFL 23 honors its namesake in nearly every facet of the game, but the highly-touted FieldSense is overcomplicated and detracts from what should have been a fun and heartfelt tribute to the great John Madden.