EA Sports’ new addition to the Madden franchise, Madden 18, finally makes its inevitable shift to EA Games Signature Frostbite engine, and in doing so, becomes a much better-looking version of the good game we’ve received in previous years.
Madden 18 chooses to roll with a more “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude, adding minor adjustments and a new career mode that adds a fleetingly fresh experience to the mostly unchanged longstanding franchise. These modest extras offer up just enough to keep Madden 18 a rewarding and fun title that both football fans and casual gamers alike can sink their teeth into.
The biggest addition to this year’s Madden is the cinematic Longshot mode, which fills the void of a story based mode that EA Sport games have lacked in recent years. As strange as this may sound, a narrative in a sports game is actually quiet fitting, and Madden 18’s Longshot tells a similar story that many real-life young NFL hopefuls have experienced. This mode has you follow NFL prospect Devin Wade through the murky and cutthroat waters of professional football world as he deals with the loss of a loved one and the unpleasant interactions that potential stardom brings. This career setting, unlike the rest of the game, operates a bit differently, focusing on a more Telltale-like cinematic playstyle that offers dialogue options and choices in between timed mini games and brief football games sprinkled throughout.
Longshot even manages to teach you about the fundamentals and the nuances of the game of football as well, without forcing a tonne of information down your throat. Though your dialogue choices do impact Devin’s player rating, this statistic doesn’t actually carry any weight or bearing on the path of the story. However, they still manage to successfully feel like they have influence on the narrative, due to how tough some of the decisions you’ll have to make are.
Longshot’s premise also starts off in a very real setting, with very believable characters, but unfortunately, this changes. This sudden shift to an over-the-top premise conflicts with its more grounded moments, not always hitting the mark in terms of storytelling and emotion. That said, it does deliver a breath of fresh air from the traditional modes for which the Madden franchise has become popular.
Something that does aid the story here is the excellent motion capture performances, heightened by the power of the Frostbite engine. For the first time in a long time in a Madden game, faces finally feel real, and when coupled with the well-written script and strong cast, serve as a solid new addition to the Madden series.
My only real heavy complaint here is that some mini games in Longshot mode are more annoying than enjoyable. One passing mini game in particular — which appears about a third of the way into the story –has you frustratingly throw balls at moving targets that seem unhittable, even if the target is dead centre. Luckily its skippable, but it messes up the pacing of what is mostly an enjoyable add-in to the yearly franchise.Perhaps the most welcome of changes to Madden 18 is its visual overhaul thanks to the Frostbite engine. The lighting is perhaps the best I’ve seen in a sports video game: sun beams cut through stadium glass tops creating amazing beams, lights glisten off players’ helmets, and night lights glow up stadiums to almost photo realism. It also improves how players physically look and feel, with faces and body types starting to appear like their real-life counterparts.
The upgrade to tactility and the weight of players movements makes manoeuvres like a clean slant route or a break run between two defenders feel weighty and realistic. Bodies crash into each other with lifelike recoil, whilst jukes and pivots by speedy wide receivers and running backs feel jarring to those who miss the tackle and satisfying as hell to the ball carrier. It’s what makes the moment-to-moment gameplay so punchy and combusting with big highlight plays. It’s only a shame sometimes these plays end with a janky animation that have plagued the Madden franchise for the last few years. This disappointing bookend pops up less frequent this time around, but it’s still not totally uncommon to see players caught up on each other as they attempt to get back up off the ground.
As far as mechanics, this year’s Madden plays nearly identical to last year’s title, with some subtle differences. The largest new gameplay element is the target passing mechanic which lets you lead your pass catchers with a moving target. It’s insanely difficult and I can’t completely understand why it’s an added feature; it could potentially be for crazy, high0skilled players to use to create a further challenge, but it adds no advantage if pulled off perfectly.
Madden 18’s most technical mode, the inbuilt card game that is Ultimate Teams, yet again returns. If you’re unfamiliar with this mode, it’s basically fantasy football, except you must earn players through in-game card packs that can be either earned or bought with real-life currency. If you are an Ultimate Team fanatic, you’ll be happy to learn that this mode has received a bunch of tweaks and even an integration with Madden 18’s Longshot mode. Upon Longshot’s completion, you’ll unlock cards representing Devin Wade, Colt Cruise, and a few other characters from the story.
As for additional challenges, Madden 18 offers up the new ultimate team based MUT Squad mode, which is a 3v3 mode that has each player select either the offensive captain, defensive captain, or the head coach. It’s definitely a mode catered towards the more die-hard fans of football, as it demands a higher understanding of the game and communication. If you’re up for something a little more traditional, Madden 18 has you covered with its Play Live Now mode, which lets you jump into any of the current week’s scheduled games with updated real-world rosters.
The biggest disappointment to Madden 18, though, is its ignored franchise mode. Franchise mode is above and beyond my favourite mode in Madden, and it’s disheartening seeing that its identical to previous years. Player creation is still bare minimum, giving you a measly selection of preset heads to choose from, and there are still no advancements on player growth beyond the same drills and EXP you earn from game to game.
Madden 18 is a great football game that I’m starting to feel like I’ve played for the last few years, despite the player and number on the front cover changing. For now, it’s safe, and offers a teaspoon of pigskin-powered goodness that should keep you happy until kick-off this time next year. Let’s just hope EA Sports’ next rendition of the game makes real yardage instead of inches.