A Madden for Everyone
One of the weirdest things about Madden games is the menu option you get whenever you power the game on, which plays a little video about what’s new that year. I haven’t seen anything like it in another non-sports simulator game, and it really messes with the gamer regions of my brain. It’s like I’m looking at a product on a show floor somewhere, which is an alien feeling. When one of the most common complaints about Madden is, “it’s the same game every year with roster changes,” the game feels presented in a way that doesn’t challenge that. But, as the video insists, Madden NFL 18 is a “ Madden for everyone.” It’s Madden attempting to feel like a Real Video Game in 2017 and not software running off an assembly line. With new playstyle options, a bizarre Hollywood-reaching story mode, and a new online mode made for co-op play, Madden NFL 18 wants to appeal to more than just the football nerds, It wants their friends, too.
The most important factor in this goal, in being a Madden for everyone, is the game’s teaching tools. How does someone who doesn’t know how the hell to play, or better yet, how does someone who isn’t in the football trenches, going to interact with Madden NFL 18 ? First things first: playstyles. Madden NFL 18 offers you a choice, right at the start, with opportunities to change it later of course. There are Arcade, Simulation, and Competitive offerings. Arcade is your option in this context; the game structure opens up a bit, things get sloppier and penalties are called less, ultimately leading to more scoring. Combine this with lower difficulty choices, and you get the closest you can get today to a football game on the outer rim of simulation.
You might then venture to the practice drills, where Madden NFL 18 gives you a million different sections for introducing the controls, the basics, and more and more complicated, in-depth explorations of high-level football concepts and complex maneuvers. This is fine, if you’re planning to dedicate time to really learning how to play Madden . This is where you can, much like a fighting game, put the time in and gain an actual mastery of the Essence of the Football Simulator. But that’s not what Madden NFL 18 wants Everyone to do. This is where Longshot comes in.
Longshot is the first-time-ever story mode, the marquee new addition in Madden NFL 18 . Using the Frostbite engine, EA Tiburon has built an entire world outside of Madden ’s football fields. In terms of game development, this is a significant technical feat. Longshot is a venture to take the Madden NFL 18 platform, make it accessible, collaborate with people in the industry and outside of it, smash it into what’s exciting to video game players right now, and add America’s cultural love for football on top to make something part familiar, part new. It’s a little bit Telltale, a little bit Friday Night Lights, and a little bit Madden .
Despite being roughly three hours long, Longshot feels like an entirely different video game. It only resembles Madden in brief moments, and even then eschews the rules, the look, and the structure, all in service of the narrative experience. It’s presented like a football movie, with real actors, (virtual) cinematography, and NFL cameos. It’s presented like a modern, story-driven video game, with dialogue choices, quick-time events, multiple endings, and big challenges. It’s a huge, ambitious experiment.
Longshot is not a sports game career mode. You don’t make a custom character, run through hours of challenges, upgrade your stats and equipment, run through menus, and so on and so forth. It’s almost entirely isolated and seeks to tell a story with clearly defined characters. It isn’t even about what it’s like to be an NFL player, probably the boldest choice in Longshot. It’s a brief story about trying to be an NFL player, and you aren’t guaranteed to make it at the end. It’s a tried and true story about two friends chasing their dreams and running headfirst into brick walls along the way.
I have issues with Longshot, but it’s also hard to forget. With the attention to detail, the dogged emulation of what a real, filmed movie looks like, and the peak Football Movie Melodrama, Longshot leaks passion from every opening. The people who made this cared deeply about it, and you can tell from the moment it starts. It’s full of clichés and tries to cram far too much into far too little time, resulting in a lot of unearned Big Character Moments asking us to care about stars Devin Wade and Colton Cruise before we can ever really get to know them. But despite the awkwardness, the frustrating minigames, and bizarre moments of, “Oh, you’re not a football expert going into our accessible story mode gimmick? Ten points from Griffindor!” I found myself wrought with concern over what my ending would be like by the end.
Longshot is not a good teaching tool. It overwhelms the assumed casual player with terminology and doesn’t do a single thing to introduce the controls or fundamentals. When you actually play football in specific moments, it feels far too difficult for first-time players and doesn’t always let you try again if you mess up. Since messing up matters, that’s a frustrating obstacle. But it does get you to care, and maybe you care enough to play through once, go learn how to play Madden better, and come back to try to find the perfect ending or all the endings.
Get through Longshot, and Madden NFL 18 guides you into the third pillar of the Madden for Everyone thesis. Once you finish Longshot, you get some goodies for Madden Ultimate Team , or MUT. MUT is the sandbox, the mode you want to play for incentivized play that isn’t too far into the nerdy stuff (that’s what the sim-like Franchise is for), but with more depth than the pick up and play modes. In MUT, you develop a team as you go, based on various Loot Crate-esque packs of players, unlocked by earning in-game cash, and smelting down players you don’t want for upgrades. New to Madden NFL 18 is MUT Squads, a mode that lets up to three players band together and play MUT as a co-op experience.
In MUT Squads, everyone pools their resources and then distributes roles. One player gets to be the defensive captain, one the offensive captain, and the other gets to be the coach. These players get the respectively pick the plays and interact with the game in the context of their chosen role. When the game is over, the roles are not locked in; you can swap freely. This is where Madden truly excels as a game that is more accessible. It succeeds in its goal because of its modularity. There are countless options for any number of scenarios, with a mix of players of varying skill levels.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, play Longshot and figure out if you’re into it or not. Maybe go through some tutorials, maybe get a more knowledgeable friend to walk you through the basics, and play some couch co-op together. Once you get your feet wet, get into MUT Squads and let your buddies play offense and defense, while you pick head coach and continue learning. Or you’re already familiar but you aren’t great, so you set the game to arcade mode, play Longshot a few times, then build up your MUT game to a huge OVR rating. Or, of course, you’re a huge Madden nerd and you’re tweaking the minutia in the options for hours before you even start playing. Madden NFL 18 wants to be a Madden for everyone, and it’s built to allow a player of any skill level to mold their experience around themselves.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
Fantastic motion-capture, both in the core play and Longshot, shows off EA’s resources with little in the way of glitches or stiffness. 3.5 Control
As complex as football is in real life, but plenty of options are in place to embrace a full range of skill levels. Minigames in Longshot are often obtuse and frustrating, however. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great commentary, soundtrack is full of variety but acting in Longshot is all over the place. 5.0 Play Value
So much content and so much variety you’ll likely get your fill well before you manage to do everything. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best