The latest installment of Madden NFL makes an attempt to treat the passing of the titular football coach last year with reverence, but EA has instead missed the mark in ways that highlight the compounding systemic problems with the game franchise and the troubling nature of the company's stranglehold on NFL simulation.
Strong Holographic Tupac vibes
Madden NFL 23 features a lot of tributes to Coach John Madden, but most of them feel rather cringy. The Madden Legacy Game features a touching half-time tribute to Coach, but much of the actual game felt a lot like Holographic Tupac's Coachella performance. Coach Madden is gone, but EA brought back two character models and plopped them down on both sidelines. Young John Madden coaches the NFC All-Madden team, while Older John Madden coaches up the AFC All-Madden team. Both teams are full of players who had earned coach's respect over the years.
The Madden Legacy Game features some old sound bites from Coach Madden that are thrown into the commentary at the beginning of drives. Madden fawns over Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Barry Sanders with some lower quality audio recordings that are featured throughout the Legacy Game. There is also a video board that rotates through a fine selection of Madden quotes.
The special half-time tribute narrated by Tre Mosley is a highlight of Madden NFL 23. EA Sports highlighted the impact Coach Madden made as a player, coach, and commentator. While seeing two coach Maddens square off against each other is sort of strange, EA certainly made an effort to do right by the old ball coach in the Madden Legacy Game.
No Fun League
Madden NFL 23 continues the multi-year overhaul of Franchise Mode. This year's iterations include a new NFL Free Agency system that adds a new menu system, Player Tags, and Player Motivations. Some of these features are new to the series, while Player Motivations are very similar to how NCAA Football 13's Dynasty Mode handled recruiting. EA also claims to have improved the underlying logic for how free agency, trades, and drafts play out. While these are nice additions, Madden NFL 23's Franchise Mode does not reach parity with similar modes in football sims released over a decade ago.
I went into Franchise Mode with a simple goal: I wanted to run the Cleveland Browns so I could trade away their problematic quarterback Deshaun Watson and install my own create-a-player. While Franchise Mode does allow players to create and place a football player on their favorite team, the player mode does not allow for roster moves. There are two other ways to play Franchise Mode as the head coach or the owner, but neither of those roles allow for a created player to be placed on the team.
Players who choose to engage with Franchise Mode as an owner are able to manipulate the existing prospect list ahead of the NFL draft, but it was impossible to draft the player to the Browns because they had already traded many years of first round picks for Watson. Adding to this issue, I was unable to even execute a trade with the Texans because they were over the salary cap. It's moments like these where Madden NFL 23's attempts to be a football simulator end up overshadowing most of the potential for a fun escape from reality that Franchise Modes should provide for fans.
Instead of providing players a way to create a fun and engaging roster of custom players, Madden NFL 23 offers some really bizarre features in Franchise Mode. Despite not having actual Offensive and Defensive Coordinator character models, the game offers players skill trees for their coaches. These can unlock various buffs for the teams or specific squads, but highlight a disturbing trend with Madden NFL 23's design. Features like skill trees for coaches are an interesting wrinkle for a football simulator, but really lose some of their value when the people you are upgrading are not actually members of the team. The Player Personnel staff member on the Browns doesn't even have a character model, but they have a Talent Tree.
It is hard to understand the direction that EA is taking Madden's Franchise Mode without looking at Madden Ultimate Team (MUT). MUT allows players to collect different player packs to build a fantasy team of sorts. Ultimate Team is extremely popular, and it is possible that EA fears a more robust Franchise Mode could cannibalize MUT players and all that microtransaction revenue that comes along with that mode's business model. As it stands, Franchise Mode is nowhere near such a threat to MUT even after several years of improvements. The developers continue to claim that they are listening to the community's requests, but the current state of Franchise Mode showcases very bizarre design decisions and new features that no one really ever asked for.
Franchise Mode (Season Modes) used to be a nice place for fans of terrible football teams (like the Cleveland Browns) to escape from the painful realities of the actual NFL regular season, but Madden NFL 23 still limits players in ways that still have the mode feeling incomplete. The things EA has decided to emphasize as Franchise Mode upgrades this year really don't do anything to move the ball closer to the end zone. These incremental annual changes are not going to cut it for hardcore fans, and Madden NFL 23's Franchise Mode fumbles, bumbles, and stumbles before crossing the goal line.
A game of inches
Franchise Mode improvements were not the only new things added to Madden NFL 23. Sadly, some of these new features are only going to be included on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. FieldSENSE brings a slew of newer gameplay experiences to PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, but leave last gen console and PC players out of the fun. FieldSENSE introduces some refined hit stick abilities, skill-based passing that gives players a bit more control of where they place the ball when controlling the QB, new cutting mechanics, and moves and counters for wide receivers and cornerbacks.
Another noticeable update was made to the overall presentation of the game on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. Coach and player character models have been updated for the current generation of consoles, but still look pretty bad in some cases. New Jaguars coach Doug Pederson certainly looks different on PS5, but it is hard to lavish too much praise on EA when you compare the two character models to actual photos of the coach.
Madden NFL 23 also brings more updates to the Face of the Franchise mode, now starting players off as a veteran player. Gone are the awkward days of being a rookie trying to make the team, with new awkward cut scenes to experience. Chad Ochocinco is now your guide to help you join the vaunted 99 Club. Players can also now choose to be a cornerback, which was not an option in previous years. EA Sports claims that there was a renewed focus in providing players progression over narrative, but there are still plenty of unnecessary cut scenes to skip.
FieldSENSE and EA's effort to improve core gameplay systems still fail to address problems that have plagued Madden NFL games for the better part of a decade. The player models certainly look better, but there are still very strange throwing animations and the usual parade of absurd bounces, fumbles, and interceptions. For a game that aims to be a football simulation, Madden NFL 23 still drops the ball when it comes to feeling anything like a real football game experience. The updates brought to PS5 and Xbox Series X/S feel like half steps towards building what players really want.
Best-selling monopolistic trash
Madden NFL 23 will probably be one of the best-selling titles of 2022, and it is not because it is a good video game. The football video game franchise has skated by for over a decade with no actual competition, and this shows through with the way they approach their yearly updates. I had hoped that this year's release would have been treated with more care since they put the late John Madden on the cover of the game and spent considerable time including him in menus and on the sidelines of the Legacy Game.
In reality, Madden NFL 23 uses the legendary Hall of Fame coach as a means to shill Madden Ultimate Team card packs. In fact, there are static advertisements for MUT that run during most loading screens. Players have to interact with these screens to close them, and it is very easy to accidentally click on a button that sends you to the MUT storefront. EA Sports even included an All Madden Ultimate Team pack and relentlessly advertises it to players who are engaging in completely unrelated modes like Play Now or Franchise Mode.
MUT is a cash cow for EA Sports, and it is very obvious where most of their efforts are being placed this year in Madden NFL 23. There are some blatant errors that have shipped with the game. The still frame montage of key plays at the end of games has things moving in the background while players are frozen in time, and the Rams playbook spells the word "inside" incorrectly. There are even issues with MUT this year with Trade Block being currently disabled.
The fact that EA Sports keeps getting away with releasing games in such poor shape speaks to the abusive relationship the company has built with its community. Their exclusive NFL simulation rights have lead to no competition in the industry, and Madden NFL 23 truly fails to effectively simulate the game of football. There are blatant issues that have existed with online multiplayer that still persist years later. One such issue is with the ridiculous lag when using the kicking meter in an online match. This problem has been there for years, and EA has done very little to remedy the situation.
This year's installment of Madden NFL highlights EA's priorities. Instead of bringing new features to PC, the company forces players to buy $70 copies of the game for consoles that are still hard to come by. Instead of creating value with the addition of crossplay multiplayer, the company forces friends to choose a platform to play on or even buy multiple copies. This is checkbook game development, and enough is enough. The developers of the Madden NFL franchise need to be held to account, not by video game reviewers, but by the community itself.
At the end of the day, Madden NFL 23 is a poor pro football simulator. It isn't even a fun arcade-style game. It feels somewhat aimless with the development team pulling the game in many different directions at the same time. The changes from Madden NFL 22 are minimal and the PS5/Xbox Series X/S exclusive features still do not address core gameplay problems.
This Madden NFL 23 review was based on a PS5 copy of the game provided by Electronic Arts and a PC copy of the game that the reviewer received early access to as an EA Play + subscriber.
Madden NFL 23
- New player and coach models on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S
- Madden Legacy Game Half-time tribute
- FieldSENSE gameplay updates not brought to PC
- Foundational Football tweaks did not stick the landing
- New player and coach models not on PC
- Madden's likeness being used to sell Ultimate Team packs
- Franchise Mode updates still not at parity with decade old football sims
- Core gameplay experience remains very similar to last year
- No character models for actual NFL assistant coaches and support staff
- Playbook typos
- No crossplay multiplayer
Asif Khan posted a new article, Madden NFL 23 review: In the Maddenverse of Badness
Oof. I know the Madden team has been phoning it in for years but this seems pretty bad.
Oh many I thought the picture of the coach was Asif and then saw it was the jaguars coach and he didn't like the graphics. :( Now I feel bad about making that connection.
"The fact that EA Sports keeps getting away with releasing games in such poor shape speaks to the abusive relationship the company has built with its community. " Also wow at that statement. Man those last paragraphs are brutal and I like that you bring up the fact the consoles are still hard to come by. So many people going "just buy it on the new console!" when others get sad at the lack of backwards compatibility.
Mistaking a character model of Jags coach Doug Pederson for a create-a-coach me speaks to the remarkably crappy state of this game franchise.
1> No FieldSENSE on PC is stupid
2> No upgraded models on PC is stupid
3> Coach and Staff Skill Trees are stupid unless you can Trade / Hire&Fire those personnel
4> No Roster Moves in Create-A-Player mode is stupid
5> No Create-A-Player in Owner or Coaching mode is stupid
6> Bubblegum cards are still a part of this game. BUBBLEGUM CARDS WITHOUT EVEN THE BUBBLE GUM!!
7> Still shots of Key Plays with moving background is just an homage to Police Squad
Good job hitting all the modes.
Oh, and being able to be a cornerback is NEW THIS YEAR?!?!!??!
The big thing that keeps standing out here to me is that this is the year that was in memoriam to John Madden, living legend and the game's freaking namesake.
If, in a year where EA had every reason to make the game the best possible, they couldn't even be bothered to make it good, then there is no reason to expect anything out of this franchise anymore. This game is so disrespectful to Madden's legacy and everyone who made decisions to ship this should feel bad.