Madden NFL 23 Review

Thanks, Coach.

by Shaun Cichacki

The world of Football lost a legend on December 28th, 2021. John Madden, the titular namesake of this long-running franchise left this earth, but his impact on the sport will never be forgotten, nor will his influence on the world of video games. The first video game in the Madden franchise came out back in 1988, with blocky pixels running plays in a realistic fashion, and players have excitedly anticipated new releases year after year.

Unfortunately, it seems that Madden had lost its way with the fans, with increasing critique placed on every new entry in the franchise, with features that seem to be lost, gameplay that seems to suffer from a consistent development cycle, and just a general feeling of a lost identity. However, this year was different, and it’s all thanks to John Madden himself. The development team at EA Sports seemed to listen more to the fans, implement new changes that could be seen as a positive, and published a title that wraps up the play in just the right ways.

There may be a few fumbles along the way, but Madden NFL 23 has its heart in the right place for the first time in years, and with plenty of new features, gameplay additions, and polish going into some of the most important aspects of the game, it seems that fans may have something to look forward to this year, rather than wonder what may have gone down the drain compared to last year. There’s no reason to call an audible this time around, as things are starting to get back into the proper place. Here is our review of Madden NFL 23.

A Hail Mary Pass For The Fans

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Over the past few years, the Madden franchise has begun to suffer from a lack of new ideas, a lack of polish, and a seeming lack of respect for the sport that it simulates, to the point where even the most diehard of fans have begun to call for boycotts on the franchise. If they decided to skip out on this entry, however, they would be missing out on the most polished Madden experience to date, with plenty of care placed on many of the aspects of this title.

One of the first things that fans of the franchise are bound to notice is the large improvement in on-field animations, with players seldom falling prone to issues that have marred the enjoyment of previous titles. Players no longer seem to clip through one another, the stiffness of movement has been reduced to a bare minimum, and the general momentum of making your way down the field feels the best it has in quite some time. There are still a few issues here and there, but it seems that EA is actually paying attention this time around, and wanted to put out a product that would make Coach happy.

You’ll also find that the presentation of this game has been, for the most part, improved over previous entries in the franchise. Wide, swooping graphics that fill up the screen during big plays, the presentation that emulates the excitement of a real game of football, and more help bring this title to life more than ever before, and there have been a few times that this game has dropped my jaw. Putting a simulation game on between two computer opponents looks almost real, and there’s a very good chance that you could fool quite a few people into believing that there is an actual game being played, rather than a video game.

While commentary still is one of the lower points of the whole aspect, you’ll hear fewer lines repeated less often, and feedback on the plays that feels much more natural than ever. It’s quite the improvement over prior years, but the excitement level of the commentators sometimes doesn’t match what is happening on the field. There’s more excitement in their voices, and with big plays getting a slight bump in the hype level, it feels that it’s just about time to replace the two hosts with someone that could push the excitement and elation of a Hail Mary to the next tier.

You’ll also find that the halftime show is something that could use a bit of a refresh, with a play-by-play of what happened, followed by a boot back into the main game. While it’s almost a full guarantee that fans would be excited to see this for the first few times, it could also be seen as a downgrade, as this helps you get back into the flow of things much faster, rather than having to sit through a long-winded conversation between hosts, ala the 2K series. However, the presentation bump for this entry makes things so much more enticing and exciting, that it will be something to build on and make perfect in the future.

For those that need to hear just this simple fact: the game feels the best it has in quite some time. Plays feel snappy, players move realistically, and fans have little to worry about in terms of strange graphical glitches. The action on the field feels greater than ever, and if you’re wanting to grab this game to get into a few rounds of football with your friends, you’ll love what is on offer here. However, if you’re looking to get more in-depth with the game, and get involved in some of the other modes that it has to offer, we’ll dive into those below.

Are You Ready For Some Football?

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If you’re looking to live out your dreams of making it into the NFL or managing your favorite team, you’ll be happy to know that the standard Franchise Mode is back in play, as well as the Face Of The Franchise Mode, alongside plenty of other options to get as in-depth as you would like to. If you’re looking to play with friends, you’ll be able to go back to The Yard, which will allow you to bring your player-created avatar onto the field, to show off who is the greatest of all time. Or, if you’re looking to lose yourself in some different challenges to test your skills, you can always jump into the Madden Ultimate Team, to start earning your favorite players.

No matter what you’re looking to do, be it jumping in for a game on the gridiron that follows every rule to the T, or just enjoy a quick 3-on-3 match with as few rules as possible, all of the possibilities are there, and in the best shape that they’ve been in quite some time. You’ll want to come back to the majority of these modes, and while the Ultimate Team mode can be riddled with microtransactions, the rewards that you earn feel somewhat generous this time around, but if you’re looking to pull better players, you may need to throw down some cash, which could put a sour taste in some players mouths.

There are plenty of options to pick from, from a mode that almost harkens back to the days of NFL Street, to something that someone would love to do if they are passionate about the sport more than anything. There are plenty of players that are willing to drop the cash, just to play around in Franchise mode, so they may want to make sure that their favorite mode has not been bastardized by the developers. And for the most part, everything here feels great, with a few little things keeping it from being the best it’s ever been.

Break Through The Line

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Let’s start off with a look into the Face Of The Franchise mode, which will allow you to bring your created character, be it yourself, or something that you have dreamed up from your worst nightmares into the National Football League. You’ll have a chance to select the team that you’d like to play for, with a graded scale to showcase your growth with that team as you work from the underdog to the MVP. Select a position that you would like to master, and work your way through the league; that’s really all there is to it. Feeling more in line with an RPG in its presentation, you’ll get to work with some unfamiliar, and very familiar faces to push yourself to your limits.

You’ll need to find ways to improve your skills, level up your player, take care of them, and more. It’s a weird addition to the game but honestly can help those that aren’t as familiar with the sport fall more in love with it, especially through the way that it allows you to work through small skill trees and create the ultimate player. And while the story will not win any awards, you’ll find yourself engrossed with the overall narrative, even if you know jack-all about the sport, and may make an in its proper seasons, as you root for a player that isn’t the most well known and hope to see them make their way to the championships.

For those that are looking to get into the full nitty-gritty of the coaching scene, you’ll be ready to go all-in on the Franchise Mode. While the Franchise hasn’t reached the heights of its competition, you’ll find that it’s more engaging this time around, even compared to the improvements that its predecessor made. Is it perfect? Is it the most in-depth thing that you’ll ever experience? Not in the slightest, but if you’re a fan of the idea that you may be able to take the Bengals to the Super Bowl, you should at least give it a try, especially if you have friends that are as excited about this prospect as you are.

However, while the microtransactions that litter this mode may be blatant in their intentions, the Madden Ultimate Team, or MUT for short, helps bring a nice challenge to the game, pushing you to select your comfort level and make your way through changing challenges that update quite often. If you’re ready to show off your skills and help win a Super Bowl with a last-minute play, on your favorite team with a whole group of new faces, this could bring some extra entertainment to your living room. And while you are more or less encouraged to throw some money down, you’ll be able to earn a fair amount of packs without spending a dime, alongside a gacha system that will give you a random assortment of cards to build your team up to greatness.

A Few Inches Short Of A First Down

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The way that things feel, as well as the general polish that this title brings to the table helps it feel the best that it’s felt in quite some time, however, there are a few things that keep it from reaching the pinnacle of perfection. While there have been a noticeable amount of improvements that have been made to the way that the game plays, alongside the graphical presentation, there are still moments that may leave you scratching your head and wondering why these things turned out the way that they did.

Bringing this into consideration, let’s examine how the players look. You’ll notice that from afar, things look better than ever, with excellent lighting, smooth animations, and more helping bring the game to life, you may be taken aback when things get too close for comfort. While they look astonishingly good from a distance, there are times when the camera pans in close that it reaches a strange uncanny valley, where rather than looking at your favorite player, you’re staring into the void, while the void stares back at you.

Take the Green Bay Packers for example. Hailing from the great land of cheese and beer, players have grown to know and love everything about the great Aaron Rodgers, and as you stare upon his visage in Madden NFL 23, something feels a bit off. Is it the lack of his glorious mullet, escaping from the lower portions of his helmet? Or his facial scan, which shows him looking like a young buck, rather than the seasoned veteran that he is. No matter the reason, players need to have a serious facelift in future releases of this title, and they can’t blame the budget on something like that.

There are also small things that are bound to nag at seasoned football veterans more than those of us that just enjoy playing the game. The roar of the crowd feels less electric this year, and while some close-ups show members that look like actual people, cardboard fans and undetailed models still seem to plague these games, taking out some of the realism that players should come to expect at this point. Especially with the power that the next generation systems possess, it would be a huge improvement to the overall feel of the game if that is addressed in the future.

And for fans of the sport, you may not need to upgrade to this entry if you are playing on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, as many of the newest features that this title has brought to the table are, unfortunately, not available. No FieldSENSE, no major improvements in graphical quality, just a solid game of football. The next generation of consoles is starting to pull ahead, while the legacy consoles may see their way to the bench sooner than later. It’s a shame, in a way, but they’re ready to move on to bigger and better things that these systems can no longer handle, and may need to be put to pasture to allow the developers to see their vision to its full extent.

Final Thoughts

I didn’t expect to walk away from this title, as someone that is not particularly well-versed with the sport of Football, loving this as much as I did. It’s easy to see that the developers are working towards a brighter future for the franchise, and while there are still some things that could be ironed out to make this the best sports-simulation title on the market, they are on their way to making that happen. With the push in general gameplay feel, as well as the upgraded visuals and animations, Madden NFL 23 shows that EA Sports still has what it takes to make an excellent sports title, without pushing the buttons of longtime patrons.

Once this franchise can finally leave the previous generation of consoles behind, as they are beginning to lag behind on features and graphical prowess, we can only hold out hope that they continue to push things in this positive direction. While other years have felt like a fumble, this feels like a solid first down, and we can only hope that they go for a successful Hail Mary the next time around. The spirit of Madden fills this entry in the franchise, and it feels that there is hope that it can reach its roots once more, and become the premier football simulator once more. Are you ready for some football? Because I know that I am.

This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.

- This article was updated on August 19th, 2022

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  • Score: 4 / 5
  • Available On: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
  • Published By: Electronic Arts
  • Developed By: EA Tiburon
  • Genre: Sports
  • US Release Date: August 19, 2022
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
  • Quote: "While other years have felt like a fumble, this feels like a solid first down, and we can only hope that they go for a successful Hail Mary the next time around. The spirit of Madden fills this entry in the franchise, and it feels that there is hope that it can reach its roots once more, and become the premier football simulator once more. Are you ready for some football? Because I know that I am."
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