They say Tom Brady sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, eats nothing but chia seeds and stem cells, and is still in the gym even when Mark Walhlberg’s in bed. But even by the evergreen QB’s standards, the way he’s fought off the advances of age in Madden 23 is truly exceptional. Because like every other player in the league, and indeed every other component of the game, he’s unchanged from last year.
It’s been EA’s policy, sports series-wide, for its PC versions to have parity with last-gen consoles, while PS5 and Xbox Series X/S get all the juicy bits. 2K has pulled the same stunt since NBA 2K21, when those next-gen consoles arrived.
The rationale, say the publishers, is that introducing these next-gen elements would push the minimum specs up on PC, and based on their data, huge numbers of PC players wouldn’t be able to play anymore. That would presumably mean absolute pandemonium – looting, rioting, far fewer microtransactions.
So like a modern-day Robin Hood in a sweat-soaked suit on a conference stage, EA and 2K protect the interests of those with low-spec PCs.
It’s not a position to dismiss out of hand – these titles shouldn’t be out of reach for most PC gamers in order to satiate the high-end hardcore. But hang on – haven’t PC graphics options, since time immemorial, incredibly famously, always been scalable? One struggles to imagine that there’s no way to implement the next-gen features to a PC port, and attach them to some sliders that adjust the resources required.
There hasn't been much talk of pigskins or concussion protocols yet, but such is the looming shadow of technical obsolescence over Madden NFL 23 on PC. Succinctly: it’s not a new game, as the next-gen versions are. It’s stuck in time. What’s really on offer here is simply a roster update and a small amount of content commemorating the late, great John Madden.
And that, I hardly need say, isn’t good enough. $60 is a good 30 seconds of electricity in 2022. We can’t be squandering it on frivolities like this.
The hard part, when you’re assessing such a game, is that in fact it’s also tremendously enjoyable. The same core tenets that have been present since Mr Madden was just a 16-bit sprite and an incredibly compressed voice sample are still here. Pick a play from the playbook, pass or run the football, do a bunch of needless stiffarms and jukes while the commentator shouts “The 30! The 20! The 10!”. You can feel that every microscopic mechanic involved has been honed over decades. AI tracks your routes smartly. Animations do well to convey the incredible impacts and lithe shoulder-drops in the sport’s most thrilling moments. And the presentation, this being EA Sports, is lavish and nearly TV-quality.
It’s taken EA Tiburon an incredible amount of hard work and devotion to reach this standard. But hand on heart, I think even the developers would agree that it’s a standard they reached some years ago now.
So, do you sharpen the pointy sticks and heat up the coals for Madden NFL 23 to walk across, punishing it for the crime of being such a meager incremental update? Or shrug a philosophical shrug and just be pleased there’s a great American Football game on PC, even if it’s lacking all the exciting next-gen features? Even if it’s the same as last year?
What I will say is that having dipped out of the series for a couple of years, stopping by on 22 only for the 10-hour trial period, I’ve had more fun with this game than I’ve had in Madden for years. I find myself thinking about my Bears Franchise Mode save when I’m at work. On trains. In bed. How am I going to upgrade my ROLB and LOLB now that I’ve traded all my good draft picks away? What areas am I going to focus on when Justin Fields next levels up? Will I spend my upgrade points on the defensive coaching staff, or my head coach?
There’s a depth to Madden 23 Franchise Mode that’s still capable of becoming life-swallowing. The RPG-like upgrade systems sprinkled across every aspect get you thinking about next season; about five seasons’ time, when your masterplan comes to fruition. And even if it doesn’t – well, you’re invested now, so you might as well keep playing.
I could very well be having the precise same amount of fun in last year’s career mode, however. Quite a few player face scans have been updated for 2023, so I’d be missing out on those. But otherwise…
So long, Coach
That Coach John Madden content. The former player, coach and presenter who sadly passed away last December is commemorated not just on the game box and key art, but in a legacy game that automatically loads up before you first hit the main menu. There’s a kick to seeing all-time NFC and AFC all-stars from wildly disparate points in history colliding with each other, and the half-time tribute is surprisingly touching and well-judged.
It feels slightly crass to hold this up and appraise it in the conversation about Madden NFL 23’s value for money, given the reasons for its inclusion. But the fact remains that this is about the extent of the game’s new content on PC and previous-gen consoles.
So, for another year, we wait. The PC really does deserve better treatment than this, and the idea that sports game players exist only on consoles is a bit of received marketing wisdom that’s been handed down over and over since the 80s. It’s time that the publishers in charge of distributing these long-running series challenged that assumption, and themselves.