Madden NFL 23 Performance Review

EA’s latest entry in the long-running Madden series sees some upgrades over the previous-generation game, including improved visuals, presentation, and animation. Today’s analysis is all about graphics, performance, and comparisons between platforms and generations, though I won’t be delving into the details of the sport simulation.

Performance

I’ll be looking at PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S, as well as PS4 Pro as the representative for the previous-generation consoles. All of these target and hit 60fps at all times during gameplay, though with the stop-start nature of the game, these segments are rarely that long. The only time I noticed a drop from that solid 60fps line was when the game shifts into realtime replays, anaugural segments, or video wipes, as these can cause short pauses that blend between them, and the video wipes all run at or around 30fps. That said, since these segments represent the TV presentation style, they weren’t of any consequence to gameplay.

The only exception to that 60fps target is in the Quality mode replays on Series X and PS5, which now target 30fps rather than 60. This is the case on PS4 Pro and Series S as well, which only have a single mode, rather than Quality or Performance to choose from. Again, the impact here is minimal considering these sections are non-interactive, and aside from the shifts into these segments, they hold that 30fps with no issues and then blend back to 60fps once play resumes. All in all, every format and mode delivers a smooth and consistent level of performance.

Loading is fast on current generation consoles, with PS5, Series X, and Series S all coming in less than three seconds from the menu. The PS4 Pro is slightly slower at around ~10 seconds, and also has other changes and cutbacks on presentation style, video quality and character models.

Graphics

The current generation version does offer upgrades in a couple of key areas, the biggest being the Field Sense animation system. Many may recognise this in other guises, such as Naughty Dog’s similar Motion Matching system used in The Last of Us Part II, or Ubisoft Motion Blending as we saw in For Honor. It has also been used in previous FIFA titles from EA, which did include last generation consoles. But here, this new motion blending technology is only available on the PS5, Series X and Series S. This aims to keep a multitude of motion-captured animation cycles in memory and then dynamically blend between many of them in real time based on a multitude of factors as they happen, such as foot position, speed, velocity, and even mid-air collision. The aim is to achieve even more realistic and convincing human movement and interaction during the games and replays.

Realistic human movement is a key aspect for sports games like this, where the human eye and brain is naturally good at detecting when things like body weight, limb position, and collision feels and looks unrealistic. And in this sense the new entry is a great first step to improving the quality of the simulation. In comparisons of last gen and current, you can certainly see cleaner, more organic shifts of animation routines as players turn, spin, and get tackled. At times, the PS4 Pro version highlights key frame jumps between two or more animation cycles as models warp into a new position or jump out of current ones. By contrast, the FieldSense system does increase the accuracy of motion – this is highlighted best in the replays, which can show some excellent levels of blending.

However, the main issue is that this is not always the case, and it does not hide every single blend. This means the ones that do show up stand out more, as the quality is not consistent. This is compounded by heavy clipping in many areas – in both gameplay and replays – as well as some severe gulfs in model quality at times – which are upgraded on the new generation systems also – likely due to the extra bone-rigged models required to run this new animation system. You can see the models look smaller and less, well, buff in some sections, as do some of the various pyrotechnics and particle systems. But they do offer increases in triangle count, which can be seen on the deformation of arms and other areas when skeletal rigs move into extreme positions. This means the new consoles are pushing more polygons per frame whilst computing higher bone density on animation and blends, which is overall better. As is the lighting which offers better per pixel coverage, higher shadow, and shading quality, along with higher detail in stadiums, grass, and textures.

Finally, the physics-driven hair system can also improve model quality, as seen here with Mr Madden himself, offering much denser geometry of hair rather than the flat, motionless hair fins of the PS4 Pro version, though this does vary depending on the model in question. While some might argue that some visual changes are not necessarily an improvement, ultimately the current-generation versions do offer better detail, shading, materials, and post effects over the last generation versions.

Resolutions

All of this means we get some varying numbers in resolution counts. Starting with the lowest first, the Series S offers a fixed 1920×1080 output both in gameplay and real time cinematics, which is not a surprise as FIFA games which use the same engine were also 1080p. The shock may come from the PS4 Pro, which targets 3200×1800 and uses a checkerboard resolve to hit that level, meaning the final output image is sharper than the Series S, but it has lower quality pixels, and the heavy chromatic aberration the game uses lessens the sharpness of the higher resolutions.

The chromatic aberration also affects the bigger consoles, which both target 3840×2160 in the Quality mode always, with the noted 30fps frame rate during replays. This is the sharpest image you can choose and overall the game is very stable in most sections with quite a flat lighting model and minimal specular or noisy pixels cropping up. The difference comes in the Performance mode, which targets 3200×1800 to enable the doubling of the real time replays to 60fps – but either this is dynamic or the checkerboard technique used here can falter, meaning we can get counts down to 2560×1440 on both consoles. In gameplay both modes target the same levels and outputs, which use a checkerboard technique to present 3840×2160, meaning the change to Quality mode only increases the replay resolutions along with increases to the bokeh depth of field, which can revert to a cheaper Gaussian blur filter in dense geometry shots, along with subtle shadow and hair changes – but this may be as a result of the lower resolution buffers. In all, even in side-by-side comparisons, the differences show that the increase in resolution is not as noticeable as the reduction in frames per second. Regardless, the choice being present is the best thing – and most importantly gameplay is identical from both, so pick your poison.

The increases that Madden 23 offers on current generation are good, but not great. Most players will likely not notice the improvements in the animations system in moment-to-moment gameplay, and even less so the increases in model quality and replay frame rates. Also, the improvements here are not consistent or even always better than the older models – at times crowds can look equally bad with fixed vertices being ill-placed with no movement when it should be cloth, low polygon arms being front and center in replays and Heavy collision, and obvious jumps between animation cycles still cropping up. I hope this is a basis for the team to work hard on significantly expanding the move sets and blending techniques in use here for the next game in the series, along with redesigning many of the player models to work better with this new system and increasing the fidelity on offer. Other small changes would also be welcome, such as updating or even interpolating the video wipes to 60fps when in the performance mode, so they do not look as jarring. All in the boosts that Series X, Series S, and PlayStation 5 players get are certainly welcome and visible, but I doubt last gen players will feel they are missing out on much.

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