The last few years have been difficult for Madden players. The long-running NFL video game franchise has continued delivering big sales numbers, but fans have complained for quite a long time that the series had gotten stale, rarely making positive changes from year to year and consistently selling folks on an improved product that didn’t actually improve. This year finally feels a little different. Madden NFL 23 doesn’t reinvent the wheel or break any significant new ground for sports gaming, but it does simplify a lot of the complicated mess of previous installments and cleans up a couple key areas of the game. Madden NFL 23 is easily the most enjoyable and least infuriating Madden game in a number of years.
The first thing to notice about Madden NFL 23 is how much less chaotic it feels once you arrive at the main menu. Things are presented clearly and it’s easy to navigate. The standard game modes are all laid out in front of you and there aren’t a million distractions on the screen at once. The gameplay itself matches that same feeling of ease.
Madden is known for being erratic in its gameplay with hitches in movement causing everything to feel jumbled and unrealistic. Madden NFL 23 smooths that gameplay out a lot. The difference between this game and Madden NFL 22 is very noticeable in that regard. Part of that can likely be attributed to the choice you get when you first start the game, as you’re asked if you’d prefer to prioritize picture quality or smooth gameplay. Choose the gameplay, and the picture is hardly affected at all.
Another element that adds to the smooth on-field play in this year’s Madden is the new passing controls that have been added to the game. The new passing system (which is optional) allows for more precise throws when you’re in the game. You can place the ball in different specific areas around a target in addition to choosing exactly what type of pass you want to throw. This ups the realism of the experience and helps cut down on frustrating passing glitches of years past.
The name of the game with Madden 23 is simplicity. The passing controls take practice, but they’re easy to grasp. The menus are simple and easy to navigate. Everything feels stripped down, but in a good way. It’s about the game itself without all the frills. This is really noticeable in the Face of the Franchise mode.
Rather than diving into some complicated story with a ton of characters, putting you on an accelerated path through college and the draft process, Madden NFL 23‘s Face of the Franchise begins a couple of years into your career. Your character is essentially billed as a backup who hasn’t gotten a real shot to prove yourself, but this upcoming free agency period is the chance to do just that. You have your pick of which team to go to, but each comes with a different salary and playing time opportunity. If you’re a quarterback, you don’t want to go to Kansas City and hang around Patrick Mahomes for your entire career, but you can opt to join any number of QB-needy teams and fight for a starting job. It’s all about how you want to play. This is an all-around effective way to get you into the game itself while also giving you the choice of where to play in order for it to make sense.
There’s nothing revolutionary about Madden NFL 23, but it’s a lot more enjoyable than Madden entries of the last few years. A pivot toward simplicity in all facets of the game represents something of a return to form for the franchise, introducing building blocks that can hopefully help foster continued improvement for years to come.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Madden NFL 23 is now available for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. A digital review code was provided by the publisher, and it was reviewed on a PlayStation 5.