Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and Xbox One
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts
It’s that time of the year again! The football season is about to begin and that means it’s time for a brand new entry in EA’s annual football video game franchise, Madden. With Madden 18, the series brings new innovations both big and small. Hardcore fans may notice tweaks to various modes and gameplay mechanics while both the veterans and casual players will notice major implementations like the brand new story mode titled Longshot.
After the success of FIFA 17’s campaign mode, The Journey, EA decided it would be smart to invest in more story content for their sports titles. Each EA game this year will have a story driven campaign for better or worse. With Longshot, players will follow a young man named Devin Wade who is a high school star athlete that went on to play for the Texas Longhorns as a QB in his college career. After a traumatic event in his life, Devin finds himself unable to focus and leaves his days of football behind.
Three years later, Devin wants to go back to the sport and dreams of being drafted into the NFL along with his long time friend, Colt Cruise. Wade eventually finds himself on a TV show which will train him to be an expert football player and put him in the spotlight for NFL scouts. It’s a really great story about trying to turn a man who knows little about football into someone who can masterfully call plays, make quick decisions, and throw the ball with great speed and precision. Wade must overcome personal obstacles and live up to the mistakes he’s made. He has a very great character arc that builds and builds until the credits roll. Every actor does an incredible job and it’s not just the story of The Journey reformatted for football, it’s unique to the sport and the characters within Longshot.
Longshot features a well-written story but suffers from severe lack of gameplay
It's a well-told story, but that story is also its biggest weakness. This is basically a movie/TV show, there’s hardly any gameplay here. Longshot is told through incredibly lengthy cutscenes with the occasional quick-time event akin to that of a Telltale game, Metal Gear Solid 4 would be impressed with just how long some of these cutscenes are. You play about 5 matches of football throughout the entire campaign and this is by no means a super short story mode. I played through it in one day, but it was in two very long sittings that lasted about 8 hours total, if not more. The first match takes about 20 – 30 minutes to actually get to, there are some QTEs in between, but it takes quite a long time before you’re wearing a helmet and pads. Two of the football matches are high school games, none of which are full length. You jump in for a quarter or two and then the game is over. Two of the other football matches are 7 v 7 scrimmages/practices played until one team scores 21 points (3 touchdowns). The fifth and final game is a bunch of various challenges, they’re pretty fun and offer some great tension but it’s frustrating that there isn’t more football in the campaign of the world’s best football series.
On top of that, there are some really weak mechanics in Longshot that will likely drive some people insane. At various points, you’re asked to demonstrate your throwing skills by passing the ball to someone. To make it a bit more engaging than just pressing “X” or something like in a regular game of Madden, the player has a reticle that they must drag out in front of the person they’re passing to. The reticle is green and that’s obviously an issue because you know what else is green? The football field the reticle is hovering over. The further away it gets, the harder it is to see and you have to be really accurate otherwise you’ll be forced to try again until you complete the pass.
Longshot also showcases some of the game’s technical issues. Since it’s told similar to a movie, you’ll cut between various scenes, transitioning to new locations and what not. These transitions aren’t very smooth, it almost seems like one scene pauses for a second and then has a jarring cut and the next sequence begins. You’ll also notice some weird lip syncing at times, one character’s mouth didn’t move when he was speaking during one particular moment. There are also various glitches like a character’s hand is clipping through an item like a cell phone they’re talking on and some other stuff, none of it is incredibly substantial but it is very noticeable. It can also take you out of the “cinematic experience” when you see very obvious flaws only present in video games.
MUT Squads is one of the best cooperative experiences out there:
Outside of Longshot, Madden 18 continues to innovate inside EA Sports’ trademark online mode, Ultimate Team. In Madden Ultimate Team, MUT for short, EA has added an incredible mode called MUT Squads. Players team up with two of their friends and combine their Ultimate Team rosters together for one respective team. Each player picks one of three roles, Head Coach which allows you to choose things like the field you play on and your uniforms, Defensive Captain which puts you in charge of all of the plays when playing defense and your team takes control of your defensive MUT line-up, and Offensive Captain does the same thing except for offense. You combine each person’s respective lineup together and then take on another team of three players.
The mode requires lots of teamwork, just like real football. You’re constantly strategizing with your teammates, telling them where you’ll pass the ball, where they should be positioned, and more. When it all comes together and you pull off a successful play or score a touchdown, you get this feeling of satisfaction that not many other games can deliver. Your hard work and effort pay off. The entire MUT experience is thoroughly enjoyable, even when we lost, we enjoyed ourselves and learned from our mistakes during the next match.
The mode will really resonate with players and will be incredibly fun for people who want to play competitively with their friends. It’s one of the best innovations for Madden in years and I can’t wait to see it return next year and hopefully in other future EA Sports titles.
Franchise mode and the Frostbite engine showcase the bang for your buck with Madden 18:
Fans will also want to look at Franchise mode where they can personally manage their own team made up of real NFL players. There’s a lot of different options in how you can play this mode, whether you want to be the owner or the coach or want to change various settings so it fits your personal playstyle, Franchise mode has an option for you. It offers a unique business/sports manager simulator inside of an NFL sim which is pretty incredible, most developers make entirely separate games for that kind of stuff.
Madden 18 takes advantage of the Frostbite engine which you may know from the Battlefield games and FIFA. The visuals are beautiful, the gameplay is fast and fluid (even if you do sometimes run into your teammates when running the ball), it’s truly one of the best performing sports games out there. Players who are planning to get an Xbox One X are really going to want to look at Madden 18 when they look for games that showcase the power of that system. The lighting is wonderful and is accurately reflected on player models, rain looks incredibly realistic, and characters are seemingly more detailed than ever before.
Even if you’ve never played a Madden game before, you’ll want to jump in on Madden 18. As someone who isn’t a major football fan, I’m in love with Madden 18. Although Longshot didn’t resonate with me like FIFA 17’s The Journey, Madden 18 makes up for it with its fun and unique innovations in Ultimate Team with modes like MUT Squads. The annual football series also continues to build a gameplay experience like no other with unparalleled visuals.If you’re one of those sports games fans who skips every few entries and waits until there are a ton of new features, this is going to be the Madden game that will rope you back in. Madden 18 is undoubtedly the best football game in years – even with its flaws.