Madden 23 review: A franchise in freefall

madden 23 maroon commandersEA SPORTS

The introduction of the new FieldSENSE mechanics can’t save Madden 23 from being another bland entry in a franchise that sorely needs a rebuild.

The month of August is a meaningful time for football fans – the start of the NFL season is just within reach, fantasy football drafts have begun, and preseason is already wrapping up.

On top of all of that, Madden makes its annual return. EA SPORTS’ football sim hasn’t wowed fans in recent years, or even really wet their whistle in any meaningful way that would engender good faith in EA.

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With 2023’s entry, EA SPORTS slaps a few bandaids on Madden and attempts to trot it out on the field to survive one more snap, hoping the store-brand bandages will numb the pain of the series’ torn Achillies.

Madden 23 – Key details

  • Price:  $59.99 / £59.99 on PS4 / Xbox One X / PC,  $69.99 / £69.99 on PS5 / Xbox Series X/S
  • Developer: EA Tiburon
  • Release date: August 19, 2022
  • Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Xbox

Madden 23 trailer

John Madden honored

The first thing you will notice about Madden 23 is that it honors the franchise’s namesake who passed away at the end of 2021, John Madden. The game even opens with a John Madden Legacy game, with John himself coaching on the sidelines. Each of the NFC and AFC teams on the field of The Coliseum is loaded with the best players of Madden’s time involved with the league, from greats like Brett Favre to Randy Moss.

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The match is a nice touch in honor of the legendary coach turned broadcaster. Sadly, beyond the Legacy game, there isn’t much to honor Madden as his presence isn’t felt much throughout the rest of the game. A great way to honor him would’ve been to update the game’s color commentary and presentation as a whole, but strangely, received no new meaningful updates.

Football flailing

Sports sims live and die by the quality of their gameplay, and with Madden 23, EA heavily marketed their new FieldSENSE technology as the main selling point of this year’s entry.

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FieldSENSE is a blanket term for new physics-based animations and skill-based passing. For passing, the update does make passing feel slightly sharper than in years past, as you can place throws exactly on the money, and makes quarterbacking more relied on skill rather than ratings determining who catches a ball and who gets the same throw picked off.

Beyond that, updates to tackling and contact between players on the field don’t hit the mark. Mid-air tackling animations have players glitch out of control mid-air consistently, and running backs tackled for a loss have a chance to helicopter-spin forward for a first down.

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There’s simply not much grace or realism with the FieldSENSE changes as players of any rating can tackle ball carriers from multiple yards away using the hit stick to dive at their legs, pulling them down with the force of Ray Lewis each time. Tackling is one of the most valuable and difficult skills in real football, and Madden 23 is okay with making it one of the easiest actions to perform.

Madden 23’s gameplay is certainly not as glitchy as many viral tweets complaining about the game would have you believe, but it also isn’t a fully polished product. Note that the PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions of Madden 23 do not have the FieldSENSE gameplay update. This means that if you buy Madden 23 on any of those platforms, you’re basically buying a $60 roster update, so beware.

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madden 23EA SPORTS
Madden 23 overhauls the passing and physics systems.

Franchise mode gets much-needed improvements

Madden 23 offers the same key game modes as in years past – Madden Ultimate Team (MUT), Franchise, and Face of the Franchise. In this year’s version, there was a major effort to get Franchise mode back on track, and seeing as it’s the mode I always spend the mode time within sports sims, I was eager to get my hands on the changes.

What we have here is a handful of minor updates that are decent but don’t evolve the game mode in any super meaningful ways. Free agents now have updated player motivations, like veterans hunting for a Super Bowl, players looking to play close to home, and players looking to play in a scheme that fits their strengths. On top of that, A.I. has been updated so computer-controlled teams offer more realistic trades and seek out free agent targets that actually make sense.

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These are good additions that help Franchise mode operate slightly closer to what real NFL offseasons look like, but it’s genuinely shocking these updates weren’t added years ago. Many of Madden’s sports sim contemporaries, like MLB The Show and NBA 2K, have had these features for years, making it quite jarring that these updates are being marketed like some sort of revelation in the genre.

As someone who enjoys grinding the ever-living hell out of Franchise mode, I have enjoyed the quality of life updates to the game-mode, and have found it to be the only game mode worthy of returning to.

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Scouting was rehauled in last year’s edition of Madden, a system that makes its return in 23. Hiring scouts and focusing them on specific positions and placing them in certain regions felt boring and uninteractive when they introduced it, and not much has changed here.

justin jefferson madden 23EA SPORTS
Justin Jefferson battling for a catch.

Face of the Franchise is a joke

Face of the Franchise is a real sore spot for Madden 23.

Although it is neat that you can choose to be a linebacker or cornerback instead of the traditional roles of quarterback and runningback, the game mode is pathetically bland. Sitting through the cookie-cutter cutscenes of your players’ poorly voice-acted journey to the NFL makes NBA 2K’s MyPlayer mode look like a Scorsese movie. Playing through games doesn’t feel rewarding in either making big plays or fumbling the ball. I would call this game mode a joke, but a joke could at least generate some humor. This just made me numb.

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There is absolutely nothing here that is fun or interesting gameplay-wise or narratively speaking. This game mode is in need of serious changes down the road if it’s ever going to be taken seriously as a main component of the Madden series. It lacks even a drop of character that even a minimal amount of effort would’ve provided, making it shocking the mode is included at all.

For Ultimate Team fans, Madden 23 will give you what you’ve been expecting in years past. Build a team either through grinding Challenges or stealing your parent’s credit card, and take on opponents head-to-head online. It’s exactly what EA has created huge profits with in the past, and there’s not much that’s changed here outside of new cards and player ratings.

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The Verdict: 5/10

Even with the introduction of the new FieldSENSE technology, and updates to Franchise mode, Madden 23 is a disappointing entry into a franchise that seriously needs to reevaluate everything from the ground up. As a diehard Madden fan since my youth, I desperately wish that EA would straddle down and say enough mediocrity is enough. Sadly, it’s hard to say that day will ever come.

Reviewed on PlayStation 5.

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