Even annual sports games need a hook. ‘It’s a bit better than 12 months ago’ isn’t sufficient to entice potential buyers into shedding their cash, so you understand developers looking for the next catchy name or buzzword. Sometimes emboldened. Sometimes with capital letters. Sometimes in italics. For Madden 23, EA Tiburon is going for the clean sweep. fieldSENSE is its big new feature. You’re right, that stylization is migraine-inducing. But it’d be a shame if that puts people off, as its introduction has transformative potential.
FieldSense – I’m going to write it normally from here on out, if okay with you – is a brand-new gameplay system, developed on the specific basis of community feedback. [No, really – more on which shortly.] Passing is where casual players will note the biggest change. There’s a new meter to judge power, and an aiming reticle to affect accuracy, which when combined enable you to lead receivers and drop in back-shoulder throws. Enhancing this element of the game are one-on-one WR vs DB battles, where those receivers drop moves in an attempt to get open, while cornerbacks and safeties press at the line.
Madden’s not attempted an overhaul like this in decades, so it’s a tantalizing prospect. Especially if feedback from those who have accessed the game behind closed doors is accurate.
“We had some of the community in to review [the current build]and to see them start getting the hang of it over a drive or two – throwing the ball behind or in front off a receiver, or leading them into a gap in the defense – was pretty positive,” says senior producer Mike Maher.” Their feedback was, ‘holy crap – I can do a lot more than ever before with passing.'” For those who want to just jump online and sling Hail Marys until the New York Jets are relevant again, rest assured you can switch back to the old passing system at any time.
Oh what a rush
As for the running game, FieldSense’s aim is to eliminate what Maher calls “tanker turns”. Immediate changes of direction are now possible by holding L2/LT and flicking the stick in the direction you want to go. 360-degree cuts enable you to elude defenders and race away to the end zone, while it’s also possible to plant-and-go – moving all your weight in one direction to draw in an opponent, then dodging back the other way.
‘What about running in the trenches, or at the goal line?’ I hear you ask. Way ahead of you, McNulty. “There’ve been extensive improvements to both run blocking and line play,” promises Maher when I ask that exact question. “And if you’re someone who just wants to hit the line over and over again, there’s a new ‘tackle battle’ mechanic which enables you to [deliberately] target a single character. The UI will pop up, and depending on ratings and how quickly you hit the X Button, you can actually bat off that defender and keep going. We’re giving you the control to fight for every inch.”
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All of this would feel one-sided if FieldSense didn’t offer improvements on the defensive side of the ball. EA insists these balance out the new offensive mechanics. “The converse of that ‘tackle battle’ is true as a defender,” says Maher. “You can win that battle and pancake or flatten the running back on or behind the line.” Hitting the pile to assist tackles already in progress further helps to halt a determined ball carrier, and you can blow up blocks and force turnovers with standup tackles. There’s also another additional threat to receivers, as defenders can knock the ball out of your hands in mid-air in the process of grasping a catch. EA insists this will all add up to more “authentic, realistic outcomes” across the field of play.
‘Hit Everything’ is EA’s catch-all term for the physicality on offer on defense. No italicization, no caps, no bold font. Thanksfully. Because it does sound pretty exciting as a standalone gameplay feature.
EA really did fly in the face of social media claims of tone deafness, and develop FieldSense based specifically on community requests. “You can never please everyone, but we have a large community of gamers who come back year after year,” explains Maher. “Some play offline in franchise mode. Some play franchise mode connected with up to 32 teams. Some play Ultimate Team, some play Face of the Franchise. Some play competitive online only. We spent weeks after the launch of Madden 22 going through every comment , every review – deep into the depths of Reddit – and got really specific themes of feedback, wants and desires. That was a massive factor behind FieldSense, and has also driven features in all those other modes.”
We’ll have more on those other modes between now and the Madden 23 release date of August 19. For now, an EA press release (opens in new tab) does at least offer some hints at what’s to come from franchise mode. “Building and refining top fan requests including staff management, weekly game-planning and scouting, Madden 23 brings more authenticity and realism with new free agency and contract tools and improved trade logic represents the value of star players more accurately for fair and more realistic offers ,” it says. “Simplified user interface, goals, and increased scouting decision making create a stronger understanding of how to build a successful franchise.”
While we wait for details on Ultimate Team and Face of the Franchise, note that Madden 23 isn’t a complete upheaval from last year. For the community element that constantly badgers EA to start from scratch, that’s likely to trigger a group sigh. Those that did enjoy last year’s edition, however, can look forward to the expansion of some of its best features – such as dynamic gameday.
“Dynamic gameday was us dipping our toe into ensuring more realism and authenticity,” says Maher. “All those features are things that would occur in real life: homefield advantage, players who can’t hear plays, gaining momentum in a game as a team or player.” EA Tiburon has built on that not only with the new gameplay mechanics but also a fresh commitment to realism starting with the pre-match build-up, and ending after the post-match handshakes. We’re talking 4K touchdown cameras targeting celebrating players, and intimate details such as towel placements, strand hair and improved stadium exteriors.
There’s also has a very special Madden 23 cover star: John Madden himself, after the coaching and commentary legend passed away in December 2022. It was a loss the team took personally, and there could be no other choice. “There are people on the team here who, until quite recently, used to go to Coach’s house annually to review the game,” says Maher. “There is a deep connection [among the team] to him as a person. And he stands for authentic eleven-vs-eleven football. That caused us to go back and look at what inspired Coach, and EA, to partner originally. A lot of those principles are manifested in the FieldSense feature, and gameplay changes we made.”
Madden 23 release date is set for August 19, for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.