The NFL season is less than a week away, and with that of course comes a new edition of the only licensed NFL game you can buy, but is it another hit?
What Is It?
Thanks to the Frostbite Engine, this year’s iteration of Madden is the best-looking one to date, but if you’re looking for anything new with gameplay, Madden NFL 18 is sadly more of the same.
Last year’s game was a major breath of fresh air with the inclusion Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis at the announce booth in addition to a refreshed franchise mode. This year, the biggest addition aside from being the first game in the series to run on Frostbite, is the introduction of Longshot, a Telltale-style story mode that easily tells the best story out of any sports game before it (yep, consider that “shots fired” at NBA 2K16‘s Spike Lee story).
Why Should I Care?
Quite frankly, Longshot is reason enough to pick up the game–even moreso if you didn’t pick up Madden 17. The roughly five-hour story mode puts players in the shoes of Devin Wade, a kid who knew he wanted to play quarterback until tragedy struck his family, causing him to leave the college ranks and throw his NFL potential to the sidelines. That said, he’s lucky enough to get a chance at demonstrating his skills at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he gets solicited by a couple television producers to be on a reality show called Longshot–a show that follows one NFL hopeful (a longshot) on his journey with the hopes of making it to the NFL. On the show, he’d get coaching and advice from real NFL talent to give the show some value to sports followers and hopefully get the exposure he needs in order to get drafted.
The story begins when Devin is a child, playing some backyard ball with his best friend Colt Cruise and his dad (played by Academy Award-winning actor, Mahershala Ali). This portion, and the greater majority of the game, require no Madden skill at all. Instead, a lot of the interaction comes in the form of quicktime events as well as timed dialog responses not unlike the ones you see in a Telltale game and EA’s own Mass Effect. The decisions made when it comes to dialog affect Devin’s Scouting Report, and almost any instance can lead to some sort of consequence. For example, early in the game on your way to the Scouting Combine, you’ll have the option to take a selfie with Colt in front of the hotel before checking in. If you decide to do it, not only will you be too late to check in to the hotel, scouts will dock you stating that you’re too concerned with social media.
The main issue with the dialog choices is that things felt way too predetermined. There’s an instance in the game where you’ll have a disagreement with Colt, and while I tried to be humble and understanding about everything, it seemed like every answer I picked made Devin look like a hot head. That said, the game still offers multiple scenarios with every decision, so this is probably just a personal issue I have with Devin as a character. I felt for Devin more than I actually felt like Devin.
Longshot also features some interesting skill challenges. One of which is a minigame just like the Precision Passing game featured in the Quarterback Skills Challenge before the Pro Bowl, where you have to throw the ball at various targets to outscore your opponent. There’s also a playcalling challenge in which you have to call out plays exactly as the coach calls them–something I failed at too many times, simply because of the amount of words to remember. I really felt like I was in Jon Gruden’s Spider-2-Y-Banana school looking like an idiot, and it cost me an achievement trophy.
Speaking of trophies, if you’re into achievement hunting, playing through Longshot gives you a pretty significant portion of the game’s trophies. Not all of them are gimmes, though, as there’ll be plenty of instances where a certain amount of success is required. While there’s nothing wrong with that, the problem is that after you finish Longshot’s four-to-five-hour story, if you want to go back and try to get any trophies you missed, you have to watch and do everything all over again from the beginning. There’s no option to go back to specific points in the story, and that’s really a huge miss here that EA should consider patching into the game.
Of course, what matters most in the evaluation (and Madden 18 overall) is the talent and smarts you show on the field. The few instances in which knowledge of Madden gameplay is required in Longshot include Devin’s own high school highlights. The game makes you play through his best moments, from he gets put into the starting lineup as a freshman and even a desperate attempt in the playoffs when the defensive coordinator calls Devin’s name at safety in a way to showcase your ability to play on both sides. These instances also double as an opportunity to try out Target Passing, Madden 18‘s main new gameplay mechanic.
Target Passing is done by activating the Coach Cam with the right trigger pre-snap and selecting your receiver. Once the receiver is selected and the ball is snapped, you can hold the left trigger to activate a spotlight that you can freely move along the field with the left stick so you can throw specifically to that spot.
If all that sounds complicated, it’s because it is. The game doesn’t really do a good job of showing you how it’s done either. While it’s true that Target Passing gives you more control of your passes, with the amount of time you have to scan the field and throw the ball, it’s simply too much. To make matters worse, because you have to hold the left trigger to activate the target spotlight, the low trajectory throw button has been switched to L1/LB, which is bound to confuse veterans with muscle memory. Only time will tell whether or not this feature is kept, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see it go the way of the QB Vision Cone that the developers tried to push at players a decade ago.
Longshot aside, there isn’t much to Madden NFL 18 that’s worth talking about aside from the graphics engine and some changes to the Play Now option that sort of merged itself with Franchise Mode, in addition to letting you play games that are actually happening that week with the exact rosters being used thanks to weekly updates. It’s not something we can speak much of especially since the season hasn’t actually started yet, but similar features last year, including the new commentary statements, were all robust.
Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) now gives players the ability to play online co-op games, and you can choose to be an offensive and defensive captain as well as a Head Coach, but the core of the game still revolves around obtaining the best players and obviously playing the game well, so again, there’s nothing really huge to note or analyze.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
As previously stated, the biggest reason to get Madden NFL 18 is because of Longshot. It has its cringy moments, but it’s definitely something any gamer who considers him or herself a football fan should experience. In fact, it would be extremely surprising if EA didn’t just make the mode available as a standalone download. I’d definitely shell out the $20 or so it would cost, and I’d probably watch it if it ended up being an actual TV show.
At its core, Madden NFL 18 is every bit as great as the last Madden was, but aside from its awesome story mode, there really isn’t anything new to talk about. If you’re a Franchise guy, it’s the same. If you like MUT, there are some new things sprinkled here and there, but it’s mostly the same. Madden is still Madden, and it’s not really a bad thing. The only bad thing is that it’s your only option.