There is a beautifully poignant start to Madden NFL 23. As many in the American Football world will know, the iconic John Madden passed away in December 2021. A triple threat in the footballing sense, he could play, he could coach, and he changed the way American Football was reproduced in a digital form. His legacy lives on in every form, and Madden NFL 23 has a special tribute to the man himself.
As long-time fans will know, there is always an introductory game before you get to the main menu that will highlight some of the new features in this latest instalment. Thoughts and opinions on this aside, this time around, the introductory game is the John Madden Legacy Game. It is a Pro-Bowl-esque affair, pitting the NFC against the AFC with some of John Madden’s favourite players past and present. It even takes place in a fully realised retro style Oakland Coliseum where Madden made his greatest impact on the game. The commentary features insights into the life of John Madden, complete with voice snippets of him detailing why he loved the game and the players featured. It is a wonderful tribute to a man who fundamentally changed the sport he loved.
Rest in peace, John.
In creating the Madden NFL series, John Madden wanted things to feel much more like a simulation sports title than those that had been before. Perhaps it is fitting then that Madden NFL 23 features some of the best improvements on the pitch the series has had for years. Known as FieldSENSE, this is only for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S players (even PC owners miss out here). There is a new animation branching technology that makes player movements look far more realistic. Movements look less staccato, and the blend is almost seamless from regular movement to hitting the Hit Stick physics.
A new method of passing has been introduced that feels very much in-line with John’s initial wishes. This skill-based passing offers up a lot more than the contextualised passing methods of before. Now you have far greater control over where you can put the ball to make sure it stays out of the hands of the defence. It comes in two flavours: Placement which allows finer control over the strength of the pass and Placement and Accuracy which allows you to fine tune where exactly you want the ball to go. It may take a few games to get used to but after familiarising yourself with it, it feels intuitive and something that should have been added a long time ago.
Classic passing mode is still here for those that prefer this method.
It isn’t perfect though. It’s a big improvement over previous years, making Madden NFL 23 one of the most fun Madden games for a while, but bugs are still present. There is a weird flickering that appears every now and then, all related to the lighting, and we are still seeing character models walking into each other in between plays without any reaction or change of direction. No amount of FieldSENSE appears to be able to fix these basic, reoccurring issues.
In a refreshing change too, there are no new modes added this season for Madden NFL 23. This may sound like a bad thing, but returning players will be pleased to know there is no surplus bumph to deceptively flesh out the overall package. Superstar KO and The Yard are both still a thing but instead of having their own main menu options, they’ve been shuffled into the Play with Friends category. Out of sight, out of mind as the old saying goes.
Of course, Madden Ultimate Team is still present, but the changes here are minor yet positive. The inclusion of new Field Passes allows players to better and more clearly see what rewards they are unlocking and how to achieve them. There are three available: Season, Competitive and Program, and are essentially Season Passes but build solely into Ultimate Team. And they do not require any further purchases as they are available to all. Throughout the NFL season expect to see some themed Field Passes where unique items and players can be unlocked.
Face of the Franchise also returns, again with an emphasis on improving the overall experience. Rather than starting you as a rookie, or even further back into college football, this time around you are a 5th year NFL player. However, you have yet to really make your mark, taking contracts without ever establishing yourself. Your ultimate aim is to make it to the Madden NFL 99 Club in what is the most meta Face of the Franchise yet.
It is, however, a big buggy mess. There is more of an emphasis on actually playing football for a change, but the cutscenes are terrible. Most of the time you are having a conversation with someone there is usually a solid wall in between the two parties, and several areas you walk into are just white voids with nothing rendering in.
That just leaves Franchise mode. After receiving a major overhaul a couple of years ago, this has been in a much better state. However, some refinements have still been made to make it even better. The Free Agency area has had a new system implemented to avoid some of the more questionable roster changes that have previously occurred. No longer will franchise QBs be popping up for the likes of the Jets, Lions and Jaguars – sorry Jets, Lions and Jaguars fans – as it takes things like location, ability and more into account. It’s a positive improvement and one that doesn’t mean your Franchise save quickly devolves into some weird fantasy scenario.
From a purely personal point of view, the soundtrack in Madden NFL 23 is one of the better ones in recent years. Featuring the likes of Cypress Hill, Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg – AKA people that I have heard of – it is still heavily focussed on rap and hip-hop but the song selections are the best they’ve been for a few years.
Whilst at first, the additions to Madden NFL 23 would appear to be more subtle over previous versions, they all add up to make one of the better instalments of recent years. The FieldSENSE technology makes gameplay feel fluid, and the new passing mechanics add a tactical depth that has been missing for some time. Some bugs are still present, but these are usually smoothed out over the first few months.
It feels like Madden NFL 23 is putting the franchise back on an upward trajectory. We’re sure John would have been proud to have his name attached to it.
Take it to the endzone in Madden NFL 23 from the Xbox Store