Tuesday, September 27, 2022

‘Madden NFL 23’ review: Latest installment continues to trend in right direction, honors late John Madden well

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‘Madden NFL 23’ carries the momentum from last year’s installment

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The king of the virtual gridiron is back with its latest installment: Madden NFL 23. 

This year, EA Sports was tasked with honoring the franchise’s late namesake, John Madden, who passed away last December at the age of 85. As the Hall of Fame coach could appreciate, the game threads the needle of paying the perfect amount of tribute to him. Along with gracing the cover, gamers are thrust into “The Madden Legacy Game” at the launch and play in an AFC vs. NFC matchup that features some Madden icons like Brett Favre, Tom Brady, and Barry Sanders. The in-game broadcasters reminisce on Madden’s accomplishments throughout his football life and there are even different versions of Madden coaching each team, one older version and his younger self. There are also halftime and postgame tributes to his legacy within that game as well, which were a nice touch. 

As for the game itself, I’ve been playing it for the last couple of days after getting early access and “Madden” has largely carried the positive momentum from last year’s edition. While there aren’t any new benchmark game modes like we’ve seen in the past, there are some interesting enhancements that make for overall better gameplay. That said, there are still some issues surrounding the game that has plagued the franchise for quite a while, which we will break down in our full review below. 

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What I Liked

  • Skill-Based Passing: The biggest change that users on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X | S will notice is “FieldSENSE,” which is a new gameplay system. It includes new and more realistic animations on defense (particularly tackling), but the most impactful change that this will bring to the game is its Skill-Based Passing system.

    Basically, it’s a new way to throw the football and gives the user more control on what type of throw you want to make and placement, which is sort of reminiscent of the “passing cone” from Madden NFL 06. There is a meter that you can fill depending on what kind of pass you’re trying to throw (you hold it down to throw a bullet pass and tap it if you want to loft a pass). In terms of placement, you use the analog stick to more accurately throw within this setting. 

    If you’re like me, this will drive you crazy the first few times you play it because it does require some practice, but once you get the hang of it it’s a pretty fun way to play the game. 

  • Franchise Mode: This has always been my favorite mode and “Madden NFL 23” does carry the baton nicely from the changes the game made last year, which included a more in-depth scouting process. Free agency got a facelift and you can now read players’ behaviors and motivations, creating a more realistic negotiation process. 
  • Field Pass: I didn’t dive too deeply into Madden Ultimate Team just yet, but I do like the arrival of “Field Pass” which is essentially Madden’s version of a Battle Pass, and users can level up and earn rewards. 
  • Nerfing the mobile quarterbacks: Gone are the days of Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray being absolute cheat codes. This year, Madden has improved the play of edge rushers, giving them a more realistic wherewithal that better helps contain the quarterback. Now, it’s a bit more difficult for mobile signal-callers to simply roll out and run for a massive gain, which is a plus.    

What I Didn’t Like

  • Face of the Franchise: As a huge fan of MyCAREER in the NBA 2K series, I’m dying for Madden to give us something that is even in the same stratosphere. So far, Face of the Franchise just doesn’t have that deep of a universe.

    There are new spins to this year’s edition as you’re an overlooked veteran looking to sign a one-year prove-it deal rather than working your way up as a rookie and you can pick from any team in the NFL (although different landing spots are more valuable than others). You can also play as either a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, or — new this year — cornerback. There is a story component to Face of the Franchise in Madden NFL 23, but it’s not as prevalent as in previous iterations.

    I’m also not a huge fan of the player-lock controls either, which is currently the only option in Face of the Franchise this year. While I guess it’s more realistic as you’re a singular player looking to reach “The 99 Club”, there are some maddening (no pun intended) moments that can result from it. One example came when I was playing as a quarterback for the Colts, I threw a pass to Michael Pittman and he needlessly tried to juke and juked himself out of bounds instead of simply running straight for what likely would have been 10ish more yards. Again, I get the logic behind the play-lock, but the CPU IQ needs to be better. 

    Overall, it just feels like it’s missing depth that makes this a bit more of a well-rounded mode that competes with other “my player” modes in other franchises. The fact that “Madden” continues to change this mode up also gives off a sense that they don’t really know what this mode wants to be.

  • Glitches: Maybe this was because I was working with an early release of the game, but the gameplay was sometimes a bit clunky and there were a handful of the glitchy moments that fans of “Madden” are all too familiar with. Maybe as updates roll through that will subside. 

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