TUCSON, Ariz. — Like a franchise that tore up its aging roster to rebuild for the future, the dev team at EA Tiburon hit training camp hard to emerge with a new vision for the football franchise.
At the core of "Madden NFL 23" is a back-to-basics mentality meant to pay tribute to the name on the cover.
Football icon John Madden, who died at age 85 in December, reshaped the game as a coach, broadcaster and sports sim video game visionary. The game's tear-jerking intro recalls Madden's successes, interspersing snippets of Madden's successes with gaming clips from yesteryear and today.
At the top of the game plan — exclusive to new-gen consoles — is a revamped animation suite dubbed 'FieldSENSE.' Aimed at reducing preset tendencies to show defenders locking in and tackling ball carriers similarly, the new physics model shows hits, broken tackles, and takedowns happening more organically than before.
FieldSENSE also boasts 360-degree cuts for ball carriers, an expanded set of passing control options that let you pinpoint the intent of your throws, and deeper jamming battles between receivers and defensive backs.
The most fun addition is a rejiggered hit stick that allows you to emphasize collisions with left-stick movements to shuck the ball loose, push a pile back or lay out a crossing receiver flat on his back as the ball sails in.
While so technically complex that they will probably go over the heads of casual players, the differences impact those who live and die by annual "Madden" releases, showing a deeper introspection by EA Tiburon than in recent years.
Several nominal tweaks also bolster the package. Franchise mode is more vibrant and relatable thanks to the addition of deeper and more varied scouting updates, and inside-football details such as rollover cap money make their appearance. You can also delve deeper into player motivations to adjust your signings.
The RPG-style experience gets a significant makeover from "Face of the Franchise: The League." In past games, you'd play as a high school and college star who tried to start out in the league as a rookie. Now, you play as a free agent who signs a one-year deal and makes a splash on whatever team you choose.
While I miss the story modes that were phased out a few years ago, there's something to be said for the organic way your story develops in the replacement mode.
The card-based, money-hungry Madden Ultimate Team remains largely unchanged, save for a challenge-based intro that forces you to take the field and learn the basics before unlocking crucial aspects of your team-builder.
There's also an all-time greats all-star showdown in the form of the Madden Legacy Game, which pairs two teams of ludicrously stacked squads with all-time greats — both coached by different versions of John Madden — and is buttressed with commentary lines that explore Madden's life and career.
While lacking any flashy gimmicks meant to mask a lack of wholesale changes, as has sometimes been the case in years past, "Madden NFL 23" nails the meat-and-potatoes fundamentals that Madden preached as a coach and broadcaster. It's an effort that would have made its namesake proud.
The publisher provided the review code.