Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Price: $60 - $70 (varies by platform)
Release Date: August 19, 2022
The annual Madden franchise finds itself in a unique situation with Madden NFL 23. The titular John Madden, an American football legend both on and off the field, passed away just before the start of 2022. As such, this year's game is the first Madden title since his death. EA Sports clearly wanted to pay tribute to the man, and the company has done so remarkably well. The rest of the game, however, feels more like it's just meandering through the motions.
Madden NFL 23 certainly feels like an authentic NFL experience, thanks in no small part to its presentation, and the commentary during each game. The act of controlling players, however, feels ordinary, fitting the "same old Madden" stereotype that plagues the franchise every single year. The new FieldSense technology — Madden 23's big gameplay innovation — is wonderful when it works, but frustrating when it doesn't. Unfortunately, the latter is the case more often than not.
This year's version of Madden isn't bad, as there is fun to be had completing challenges in Ultimate Team, or leading custom characters to glory in Face Of The Franchise. The problem is that Madden 23 doesn't have anything to make it stand out from its previous iterations, putting a limited shelf life on that fun. Read on for our full Madden NFL 23 review.
Madden NFL 23 review: Gameplay
Seasoned Madden players will turn on Madden NFL 23 and feel like they're getting back on a bicycle for the first time in a year. This sense of familiarity is ultimately a good thing, as it allows players to jump in with little effort. Fans who are new to Madden will have a larger learning curve, particularly because of the new AI and animation systems, but the basic controls are easy enough. After a while, putting together a scoring drive against the CPU won't be much of a chore.
Madden NFL 23's major addition is the aforementioned FieldSense, which is an overhaul to the basic gameplay technology under the hood. FieldSense is supposed to add a new layer of realism to the experience, from the way running backs carry the ball, to the interactions between offensive and defensive players. There are brief moments when those aspirations come to life, but there's a lack of consistency that weighs the whole system down.
Gang tackles are a perfect microcosm of FieldSense's shortcomings. Sometimes, the animations are fluid, as multiple defenders take down a running back at the line of scrimmage. Other times, the ball carrier appears to ping-pong off of multiple bodies before falling down on his own. The FieldSense system looks cool when it works, adding to the authenticity of the simulation. But when FieldSense doesn't work, it rips away any immersion you might have felt beforehand.
The passing game is even more inconsistent, as the new ball-aiming features are not as revolutionary as they're cracked up to be. Madden NFL 23 allows for "precise" aiming of a pass, through a mixture of button presses that don't entirely make sense. It feels like a system built for competitive Madden players: Hold a trigger button, while also pressing a shoulder button, while also pressing the button for the intended receiver, while also aiming the pass with an analog stick. (This is really one of the options). For a casual fan, however, this system leads to more frustration than anything else. Watching the screen display the words "perfect accuracy" as a pass sails into the hands of an opposing player feels like a slap in the face.
Madden NFL 23 review: Game modes
Madden NFL 23 begins with an incredible tribute to John Madden, in the form of a pseudo-tutorial called the "Madden Legacy" game. The teams are split up by conference, NFC and AFC, and the roster is filled with some of Madden's favorite players of all time (or so the game says). As a tutorial, it gets the job done. But as a tribute, it's one of the best eulogies that a video game has ever offered. Madden Legacy is not worth the price of admission alone, but it's incredibly well done.
As for the rest of the game's offerings, there are a few different options. You can choose among the "Play Now" exhibition modes; a franchise mode that lets you manage the team as you progress through seasons; the "story mode," called Face Of The Franchise; and Madden Ultimate Team, the microtransaction-riddled, card-based "build-a-team" mode, which has been a focal point of the series for a while now. You can also play a few of these modes online.
None of these modes radically change how you'll play football, although some require a macro team-based level, or a micro player-specific focus. Face of the Franchise is a neat little story, but the cutscene dialogue is so generic and unnatural that you'll want to laugh, for all the wrong reasons. Other than that, none of these modes feel much different than what the Madden franchise has offered before.
Madden NFL 23 review: Presentation
Madden NFL 23 makes you feel like you're watching an authentic NFL game. The graphics, the commentary and the sounds of the crowd all go a long way toward creating that feeling. The commentary in particular is top-notch. Announcers Charles Davis and Brandon Gaudin both sound so realistic, it feels like they're in the room watching you.
However, the game's presentation is not entirely perfect. For example: As a native Philadelphian, I don't think I've ever heard a crowd chant "let's go Eagles" more often during a game than the iconic "E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!" But in Madden NFL 23, the former gets more play.
The shots of the crowd don't always match up, either. In one game, I was winning by 15 points with 10 seconds left, but the camera panned to fans from the other team, clapping it up and cheering like they were about to win the Super Bowl. These are minor breaks in immersion (and that Philly one is admittedly niche), but they exist nonetheless.
Madden NFL 23 review: Performance
I have no complaints about Madden NFL 23's general performance, outside of some long loading times in the menus. An actual game of football runs smoothly for the most part, maintaining a steady frame rate and allowing players to feel the rhythm of the game. However, there are some gnarly glitches making the rounds on social media. While I didn't experience them myself, I can't deny other players might not be so lucky.
What struck me the most was the lack of loading time between finalizing team choices and the stadium coming into view. Madden NFL 23 loads every player, crowd member, coach and field incredibly fast, letting players jump right into the action without having to sit through tedious loading screens. For one game, I counted the seconds between my last button press and the stadium fully loading. I only got up to "three," which is impressive.
Madden NFL 23 review: Verdict
I had fun with Madden NFL 23, but it's the same sort of fun I've had in previous years. It's a well-worn criticism of Madden at this point, but nothing about this year's version truly stands out. It's good old American football, portrayed as only Madden can do it, but you already know what you're getting when you press start.
Even so, there are a few highlights in this reel. The Madden Legacy game is a tribute worth playing multiple times, as you can't deny the love for the man behind the name. The presentation of the sport is as close to the real thing as anyone could want. In the end though, it's the same old Madden, and anyone waiting for a revolution will have to wait for at least one more year.