Named after the late great John Madden, each new year gives us a fresh release of this storied EA franchise. Being a huge football fan myself, I try to keep track of each annual launch to see if any improvements had been made from previous iterations. But, candidly speaking, I was tempering my expectations for Madden 23 due to the criticism it had garnered in recent years.
Having last played Madden in 2015, I was mentally prepared to commit embarrassing mistakes and suffer lopsided losses while I was relearning how to play the game. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the shallow learning curve it took to get used to Madden 23. However, it is important to note that the game is being reviewed on the PS4, which means this version does not contain the FieldSENSE gameplay system that the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S editions boast.
Madden 23 classily opens with the “John Madden Legacy Game,” where you’re given the option to use historic rosters of either the NFC or the AFC. Each team features stars and hall of Famers from the past and the present such as Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Jerry Rice, and the exhibition match aptly has John Madden acting as the coach for both star-studded sides. The introductory game not only helps new and old players become acclimated to the game’s new mechanics but is also a fitting show of respect to one of the most influential figures in football history.
Once you’ve exited the legacy game, you can start accessing the other modes Madden 23 has to offer. Similar to other EA sports titles, Face of the Franchise is Madden’s single-player story mode where you’re given the chance to live out your athletic dreams by creating your own character, choosing your preferred position on either defense or offense, and embarking on your journey to superstardom.
Face of the Franchise’s story in Madden 23 focuses more on its gameplay and mechanics and is less dramatic compared to previous releases. This time around, your character’s path to the NFL doesn’t involve several cutscenes and a handful of college games. Instead, you take the role of a journeyman who finally gets a chance to make it big in the league. After a short introduction, it immediately lets you choose a suitable contract from a list of offers from each NFL team.
The Yard mode in Face of the Franchise also makes its return in this year’s release. This feature lets you play in either a solo or co-op 6 vs. 6 backyard football match where the rules are near non-existent, and the pace is faster than that of a regular football game. This facet of the game is perfect for whenever you want to take a break from the structure of playing organized football or if you just want to let loose and have fun.
Although hilariously buggy at times, Face of the Franchise was the mode I enjoyed playing the most as it allows you to immerse yourself into the game as you improve and build upon your player’s legacy. Additionally, since you only control the character that you created in the position that you chose, it doesn’t have the added complication of having to strategize on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
On the other hand, Madden 23’s Franchise Mode enables you to experience an entire NFL season while being given the option to play as either the head coach, a player, or the owner of the team of your choice.
As a head coach, you’re responsible for managing the team’s roster, negotiating player contracts, and calling plays in games on both offense and defense. If you choose to be one of the players, it gives you almost the same experience as Face of the Franchise, with the only difference being that you get to control an already established player on your chosen team.
Finally, playing as the team owner hands you the same responsibilities as the head coach, with the added benefits of being able to relocate your team and having control over ticket and merchandise pricing. Of course, each role has its pros and cons, but whichever you choose, it ultimately ends up heading towards the same goal of winning a Super Bowl for your franchise.
Last but not least, the infamous, microtransaction-filled MUT Champions is a staple of each annual Madden launch. MUT Champions is Madden’s online competitive game mode that lets you create a fantasy roster of former and current NFL stars by acquiring them either through challenges or by purchasing packs using MUT points. Although purchasing points to buy packs isn’t strictly necessary, it does become more difficult as you progress through the ranks and start going up against veteran players with highly rated squads.
These ‘pay-to-win’ modes that EA franchises contain have garnered the most criticism throughout the years and are a major reason I tend not to play them too much to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of endless spending.
Even though it wasn’t anything special, the game, in its simplest form, reminded me of why I picked it up in the first place. Being a huge football and sports fan, I tend to have a soft spot for games like these because, at the very least, it allows me to see my team finally win a championship.
Madden 23 returns to its roots by focusing on gameplay improvement and player experience. Though no significant developments or additions were made to its multiple game modes, this still feels like a step in the right direction for a franchise that has otherwise been taking it in the shins in recent years. It still remains to be seen whether EA can build on the solid foundation of this year’s release, but at the very least, the game is a fitting tribute to the legend of John Madden, who preached fundamentals above all else.
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