He is gone but not forgotten. When venerable coach and pundit John Madden passed away last December, only a few naive souls could have believed it meant the end of the giant franchise that bears his name.
Enough, nine months later comes the final installment as usual. In fairness to publisher EA, it goes to great lengths to make NFL 23 a tribute to the big guy. It’s all over the cover, menus, and the first game you play after tutorials.
As a taste of the full game, EA pits Madden against… himself. The coach prowls the sidelines in full 1970s favorite fashion, assembling a team of stars such as Tom Brady and Brett Favre. In the opposite sideline, another Madden with a different hairstyle does the same. You only control one team in what is obviously just an exhibition game, but for four quarters the commentary team admirably digs deep into Madden’s legacy and explains who he was and what made him so awesome.
It’s also an easy game in which to practice your new passing skills, which fall under the umbrella term of NFL 23’s FieldSense. you live football. First, player collisions seem more plausible and less predictable in their animations.
But, more importantly, the new optional passing mechanics give experienced players extra control over where you guide the ball through the air. At the highest skill level, this can be very demanding. But even hacks like me might figure out that the little meter above the receiver’s head governs accuracy just like the quarterback throws it to him. Additionally, the left stick can be used to steer the ball (and the receiver) a bit up, down, right or left – which obviously reduces the chances of an interception.
For me, this is unmistakably NFL 23’s signature, a huge leap from the mechanics of previous Madden incarnations.
The same cannot be said for most other modes. Ultimate Team feels dirty, much like FIFA and NHL games, with its micro-transactions and pay-to-win vibe. Franchise mode feels too much like admin to me, although plenty of other players clearly like that kind of team owner thing. Meanwhile, Face of the Franchise and The Yard stand as thin imitations of similar features in FIFA – namely The Journey story mode and FIFA Street.
Madden will of course be back next year. The brand is too entrenched for EA to stop now. But a fitting tribute to the greatest grilling coach of all time would be for the makers to give the game some leeway. What chance is there that they focus more on the authentic gameplay they’ve perfected and less on the bells and whistles? A man can hope…