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EA Sports Madden NFL 23

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: Aug. 19, 2022


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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Madden NFL 23'

by Redmond Carolipio on July 9, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

EA Sports Madden NFL 23 is the latest installment in the long running football franchise.

The optimism I have for Madden 23 is comparable to the tempered hope many NFL teams have as they enter training camp. There is excitement, but there are also questions. There's plenty of talk about "promise" and "steps in the right direction," or jock-speak where if factors X, Y and Z happen, "then we should be pretty good." Most of the time, teams will say, "we'll be fine."

In the case of Madden 23, however, fine won't seem like enough. Not now.

I don't have any hard data to back this up, but it feels like this latest edition of Madden is entering the landscape with a surreal amount of pressure (and skepticism) behind it. Much of that is sentimental. When John Madden, the beloved coach, TV personality and namesake of the franchise, passed away on December 28, 2021, the sports and gaming worlds mourned. Hell, I'm still bummed he's gone.

The other side of the pressure coin is technical. The last few versions of the game (many would go back even further) left legions of loyal fans feeling jilted, and they fed into the perception that EA is sitting back, making token improvements to some the game's pieces and printing money regardless of the flawed and occasionally broken results. Meanwhile, other sports titles — namely NBA 2K, FIFA and MLB The Show — have absorbed a lot of the sports/pop culture space while putting out more polished, tighter experiences.

When it was announced who was on the cover for Madden 23, the choice of America's late coach was universally applauded — but then was quickly followed with an overarching thought: The game had better be good.

The Madden 23 beta didn't offer too many obvious answers during my time with it — it's a beta, after all — but there were a few things that jumped out to me in the hours I spent trudging away on the virtual gridiron.

As far as the actual act of playing football goes, you can tell that EA at the very least has been fine-tuning the on-field experience for decades. One of the oldest stories about John Madden and the genesis of Madden football was that it absolutely had to be 11-on-11, otherwise it wouldn't be football. It had to look like the game on the field. With that spirit in mind, we'd see details of all sizes over the years, from actual numbers on the jerseys to passing cones to over-the-shoulder catches to expanded playbooks. There's also TV-style presentation, as well as the all-important commentary. But it all comes back to: Does this look like football?

That brings us to one of the core features EA's been trumpeting for this year's game: FieldSense, which I interpreted as a system of smaller tweaks and improvements to the on-field experience that were basically designed to make the on-field stuff feel more active, intuitive and fluid. For me, the biggest thing dealt with reflexive action from varying positions. If I'm a tailback picking a crease, am I cutting up to and through the hole instantly, or am I steering the guy into it? If I'm a safety playing shallow to sniff out routes in the middle first before trying to contain the running back leaking out to the flat, will the action resemble what I've seen a million times in real life and on TV? So far, so good for the most part. A lot of the big hits I virtually administered or took looked real and natural: more grimy, less arcade-like than in editions past.

As with every Madden game, I engaged in my tradition of running the living hell out of the ball, an act that is less and less popular in today's pass-happy NFL (don't worry, there appear to be plenty of new plays and updated playbooks for the gunslinger in all of us). I do this to get the best sense of how everything is supposed to move at a fundamental level, from the handoff to the line play to contact at the point of attack and beyond. Visually, it was more satisfying than in past editions. Using someone like Derrick Henry to control the game, wear down a defense and watch him consistently and realistically fall forward or cause defenders to lean back felt just as cool as him breaking a big one for a long TD. The line play looked visually tighter and more organic, with very little in the way of neon-sign holes to run through or comically powerful pancake blocks.

When it comes to the aerial attack, part of the FieldSense package is a little passing reticle for even more accurate throws. In theory, this can allow QBs to "throw guys open" or focus on ball placement more than ever before. I imagine this is easier to do with someone like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers as opposed to a rookie. There's also a small meter that measures throwing power that pops up with every toss, something that might feel a little visually familiar to NBA 2K players. It feels like a cue for the eyes, so you know when you're throwing a touch pass versus a bullet.

The game, of course, looked solid so far, making use of the power of my PS5 but not necessarily pushing it. Strangely enough, one of the first aesthetic things I noticed were the players' shoulder pads. They were finally skinnier and tighter to the arms. I liked that. The player models appeared just a little more accommodating to various body types, and the pads reflected football's real-life shift to different, less-bulkier equipment. We're a long way from the '80s and '90s, when players would have shoulder pads that went up to their ears. It's a small detail, but the fact that EA handled it might give you some hope that attention went to other things.

The largest black eye from the last few versions of Madden had been the initial lack of attention paid to the game's Franchise mode, where you can control practically every aspect of a team through multiple seasons. It felt barely addressed in Madden 22 out of the box, and EA has responded with a series of updates since the game's initial release. I can't tell you if it's going to be "fixed" from dabbling in the beta, but one of the things that popped up was the ability to gauge player interests when trying to sign or retain them in the offseason. If you've been following the year-round updates, it's to be expected that the stuff from the April update, such as Team Turmoil (a divided locker room dynamic) and X-factor hot streaks will be present in Madden 23.

The last thing I dabbled in was Face of the Franchise, the single-player RPG-ish campaign where you guide a young hopeful through his NFL career, hopefully to stardom. Past versions included drawn-out and elaborate "longshot" storylines that could stretch all the way back through high school. The experience I found in the beta was a little more grounded: A young NFL veteran who's hit free agency after a few years in the league is looking to prove himself with a new squad. My created player chose his team based on things like positional need or scheme fit, which is good if you like control over where you want to play and don't want to risk getting drafted by a team you can't stand. If there's an early concern I have, it's that the mode is player-locked. I personally despise player lock, especially from the quarterback spot, where I have the perspective of occasionally throwing the ball deep and hoping and praying that the receiver I can't really see catches it. I know it's like that in real life, but I've also gotten annoyed at throwing the ball to a receiver and having to watch him run poorly after the catch. Not a fan.

There's a lot that can happen between now and Madden 23's release in August, but I remain at least still curious about how this latest edition of the football franchise will come together. Will it bring back lost fans and reel in new ones? Or will it just be "fine" or worse? Time will tell if it's a bust, or as the late coach would say, "boom."

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