Perhaps no franchise in gaming has been in more dire need of a reboot than Madden. EA Sports’ premier title is the most consistent part of the gaming calendar, with a guaranteed August release every single year, but with that consistency has become a noticeable drop in quality. Fans have grown tired of every year being a slog of annoying (albeit very funny) glitches, the lack of major updates to modes like Franchise, and almost all emphasis going to Ultimate Team or timed events in The Yard.
So, is Madden NFL 23 that much-needed reboot? No, but it’s a necessary step in the right direction that the franchise desperately needed. Madden NFL 23 still has many of the same issues that may just be attributed to how difficult it is to make a yearly sports game, but those problems are far more tolerable when the actual act of playing simulation football works. This is not the best sports game out there — it’s not even the best sports game produced by EA — but it has done something that many fans felt was never gonna happen again: It made playing Madden fun again.
Here, we reviewed three elements of the game on PlayStation 5 to give you a sense of what you can expect if you pick up Madden NFL 23 for your console.
There’s no need to get into the details of what FieldSENSE is, because it’s been advertised everywhere, but it is what’s changed everything about this year’s game. The biggest issue of Madden for years has been that it just wasn’t very fun to play anymore. Running the ball felt stiff, passes didn’t go where you wanted them, defenses were either pathetically weak or extremely overpowered, and none of it looked realistic, either.
With the addition of FieldSENSE, players have a level of control they haven’t had previously. The ability to control cuts, put the ball exactly where you want it, or go lay in an extra hit on a running back to force a fumble all feel great. Player animations still have moments where they don’t look natural, and more than a few times, I’ve seen players bounce around on the ground like a pinball, but none of this impedes the gameplay experience. By focusing on delivering a fun gameplay experience first, we’re able to overlook odd moments because they’re not usually happening while playing the game.
This level of control Madden NFL 23 gives gamers has led to a bit of a learning curve for some. The first game you’re going to play is the John Madden Legacy game, and you’re going to find that the A.I. is coming for blood this time around. You can pinpoint the ball exactly where you want it now, and if you don’t make the right reads, elite players will pick you off easily. Running is harder than ever before against strong defenses, and lower tier wide receivers are going to struggle to get open. This does create the awesome feeling that, yes, Patrick Mahomes should be better than Nathan Peterman, but if you’re using lower overall teams, don’t be surprised when you get randomly get rolled.
For years, fans have been told that Franchise mode is going to get a much-needed change and finally deliver the experience that made many people fall in love with it in the first place. While they haven’t fully delivered, it did finally get the face lift many have been begging for. A lot of the familiar is still here: player dev traits, key in-season moments, skill trees for coaches, and bonuses if you perform certain actions. It’s up to the player to decide how deep they want to get into all of this. They can either micromanage every single trait and upgrade while running each practice themselves, or they can focus on playing only the games. Typical stuff.
The big changes come in how you approach free agency and the addition of player tags to the game. Players are no longer focused solely on money to decide which team they want to join. Money is now a factor that can certainly influence why a player may sign somewhere, but it’s not the end all, be all. Players now receive tags that will influence their market value, decision-making, and if they ultimately want to re-sign with your team or not. Some players prefer to play in warm weather states, others want to go sign with a contender, and some want to go play for their hometown squad. These tags will also be applied in other ways, such as rookies who crack the starting lineup receiving the “day one starter” tag.
Franchise is far from fixed, and we want to continue seeing steps to improve it, but these new additions have improved it. The major downside is that you can still break it and turn a team into a super dynasty with relative ease. Tags let you sign players for deals below their market value, and in-season moments can turn decent players into superstars with only one or two good performances. Suddenly, you have a team of Pro Bowlers six weeks into the season and you’re re-signing all of them easily. So obviously balance is an issue, but the additions are largely good and we’re happy to see them be improved on in the future.
Face of the Franchise
For a little while, Face of the Franchise was the new emphasis for Madden. It had a story involving your player’s journey to the NFL, and most of them were either okay or bad. This year, the narrative has been dramatically reduced. There’s no Heartbreak Kids moment or forced awkward dialogue between you and a friend. Instead, it just gets you right into the action. The “narrative” this go around is that you’re coming off your first four years in the NFL and are only receiving one year prove-it deal offers from every single team across the league. So you — as your quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, or cornerback of choice — gets to choose where you want to go and do exactly that.
Cut scenes are no longer forced narrative moments, but are instead a part of your weekly menu that you receive as a player for whatever team you choose. They’re still not great, but it’s much more tolerable when they’re short, out-of-the-way moments instead of these overly dramatic lengthy scenes that are stopping you from getting to play the video game. The best part of this year’s Face of the Franchise mode is it wastes no time getting you on the field, a gigantic plus for everyone who was tired of the corny narrative arcs from previous games.
As for the gameplay itself, it’s the same as the rest of the game, you’re just now locked into a single position, so keep that in mind when you make a position choice. Unfortunately, QB is still far and away the most fun position to play, but it at least gives the player a little bit of variety on repeat playthroughs, or when they’re creating characters for The Yard.
Madden NFL 23 is not a perfect video game, but it’s the first positive steps the franchise has taken in years. Obviously, there are issues, as there always will be, but it’s nice to turn off my PlayStation 5 and feel like I had fun playing for once.
A copy of Madden NFL 23 for the PlayStation 5 was given to Uproxx for review purposes.