Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4
Welcome to the new NFL season! If you’re anything like this reviewer, Madden NFL 18 signals the beginning of everything when it comes to football. Full games on TV, fantasy football, and of course a new video game to play! While Madden has not always been more than just a roster update, this years version is packed with more features than you can spike a football at!
Madden is rated E for everyone this year as it usually is. There is very little in terms of disagreeable content, unless you do not like the violence involved in tackling. As it was in last years Madden NFL 17 review (a great read from our own L.J. Lowery) the lyrics to music that could be considered offensive are taken out of the songs.
The area that has an occasional blip of content is the Longshot story mode. There’s a moment early where you watch as your buddy Colt is implied to be urinating on the side of the road. Thankfully nothing is seen and Colt is covered, but it could be found as derogatory to some. During my playthrough I never heard any curse words, but ESRB lists “h***” as used.
Madden has long been a polarizing figure in the video game medium. With its acquisition of the NFL license in 2006, many players were left with the feeling EA Sports simply could not measure up to the competition in 2K’s ESPN NFL Football franchise (and some still feel 2k5 is better than any recent Madden). But as recent years have shown, EA Tiburon has done its part to build Madden into a successful game with additions such as the Hit Stick, 2016’s pass catching system, and of course Madden Ultimate Team. Madden has gone a long way from the barely updated revision we saw in 2013 to the game we have in 2017.
The release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One certainly provided new firepower for EA Tiburon, but revamping Ultimate Team, adding new features into the offense, defense, and special teams, and most recently including a story mode has reinvigorated a title many would have thought was on the road to ruin.
While not much has changed in terms of how Madden plays, we can focus this review on the new features they have added. There are four main subjects to center our attention on: the Longshot story, the target passing, the Ultimate Team Squads mode, and the addition of the Frostbite 3 engine.
Longshot is the first time Madden has ever introduced a story mode, and it is a great beginning. You start the feature as Devin Wade, a five-star high school quarterback who dropped out of the University of Texas after a traumatic event in his life. Three years after this he has decided try out at a regional combine in hopes of being drafted by a NFL team, and in the process ends up on a football reality show called Longshot in order to raise his draft profile. The story behind the mode serves the purpose of helping you to empathize with Devin and what he’s going through. Here, the developers are successful. He has to grow up far too fast and is dealing with the hardships of it, something many of us can relate to.
As you progress through the story, you are met with lines of dialogue to complete that are reminiscent of a Telltale game mixed with a bit of Mass Effect. My issue with the choices however is with the design. Choosing your answer is confusing given there is not a tutorial beforehand. I was left guessing if I had highlighted the answer I wanted to give. With a timer on every response, there was a bit of panic in my first selection. I figured it out within my first few answers, but every time the options would appear, I would double-click towards what I wanted to choose just in case. The Telltale games do this better with using the face buttons to select your reply.
The scouting report for my Devin was also somewhat confusing. There were some areas where what I chose affected the report. Other times it did not when I thought it would have. For instance, one challenge required me to I face off with Dan Marino in a sort of shooting gallery with footballs. I finished the duel with Dan 46-49, only losing by 3 points. Even being an amateur quarterback versus an all-time great and losing by that slim a margin, I still received a negative grade. Unless my accuracy was truly that bad, the scoring system needs some work.
I did wonder going through Longshot if I could lose. Maybe I would not get drafted if my grade was not high enough. I was pushed through to the next round of the reality show by the executive producers after a middling performance in the quarterback drills due to my being a “ratings grabber.” I would say that you can compete hard enough to beat the other quarterbacks, but what’s the point if you cannot lose?
The best part of Longshot besides the story are the scenarios. Two in particular stand out: the beginning high school game and the Legends game. These are not as shallow as some of the other challenges.
The high school game tells the story of your becoming a starting freshman quarterback, thrust into action due to an injury. You are down 21-7 in the third quarter and you have to lead your team back from the brink of a lost season. It plays just like a Madden MUT solo challenge, but with a specific trial you must defeat during your time on the field. Not only is the chain of events fun, but EA Tiburon manages to immerse you with great visuals and an interesting story. The icing on the cake is two redneck color analysts who make every moment in this stage perfect.
The Legends game comes right at the end, with a series of five challenges you must complete in order to impress the NFL scouts in the stands. This section is really fantastic because you are competing against other NFL players that have come upon hard times and are trying to punch their ticket to another team. These players are even played by their real life counterparts like Chad Johnson and Larry English. The story shines here with your interactions with your coach Jack Ford, your best friend and wide receiver Colt Cruise, the other players, and the crowd. If you succeed, your chances of being drafted rise high, if not, your stock will sink low.
This brings up the actors of Longshot. JR Lemon wonderfully portrays Devin Wade and his reactions to the world spinning around him. Scott Porter, otherwise known as this reviewer’s favorite, makes the character of Colt Cruise someone you cheer for, as well as laugh at when his antics turn to the hilarious. Rus Blackwell as Jack Ford stands out in his role as a former NFL coach. Dan Marino and Marem Hassler do justice to their characters—Marino as himself and Hassler as Julia Vasco, an executive producer for Longshot.
There are two issues with two actors, Mahershala Ali and Ricky Wayne. Ali plays Cutter Wade, Devin’s father, and the problem here is simply that we do not have enough of him. The relationship between the two is set up beautifully and we do not get enough to fill in the massive gaps. Ricky Wayne plays Ross Fountain, the television producer of Longshot who is just terrible. Wayne’s acting falls flat, and instead of hating the character as a sort of villain, I found myself more annoyed by him.
As I ended the story, I found it was a good beginning. This chapter in Madden 18 seems to be just starting, so I hope they will continue it in 19. I would hate to finally find a team only for everything to be over.
My next experience was with the target passing. This affects any game you play, but is honestly useless to any casual or regular Madden player. This feature would seem to be only valuable to an expert. Whenever you activate the feature, a pylon appears in front of the receiver and you are forced to race a similar pylon over the top of the previous one. If you get there in time, a button prompt appears and you throw the ball to the wide out with much more accuracy.
The problem with this is that the game does not slow down around you. Most of the time you barely have the time to find a receiver let alone take the time to find him with the ball. Back in Madden 2006, they implemented the “vision cones.” That was a controversial addition, but at least it worked fast and fluidly. The entire premise of target passing sounds good, but it is ultimately pointless (as in, you won’t score any points using it).
I also tried the new Ultimate Team Squads mode. Squads is the three versus three mode of Ultimate Team. It took three tries before I was finally able to play. The first game took quite a few minutes and then crashed. The second took seven minutes just to load (on an average of a ten second load time) and promptly crashed. The third game finally worked after three minutes of wait. At this point I was almost ready to call it quits.
You begin by choosing your role. That can either be the head coach, offensive coordinator, or defensive coordinator. If you pick either of the coordinators, you get to pick the plays and run the play as the quarterback or linebacker. You also bring your players over from Ultimate Team. I did not have many great players, but I hoped to be competitive.
The idea of Squads does not run well without a headset. Football is such a team sport that communication is a must. I probably would not play the mode without friends either, given the speed at which you must work together. By the second quarter when I threw an interception, my teammates had abandoned me and the other team had lost one of their compatriots.
As sad as it was, I almost won the game. It helps when you do not have some random dude running every route right over the middle when you clearly called another play. Squads might just not be my cup of tea. This is definitely a much more competitive mode, and it introduces a new challenge.
My final involvement with Madden centers around the Frostbite 3 engine. Madden has always looked great. I have had people watch me playing and think a game was on. Frostbite continues the tradition and adds a level of shine and polish to the game that it has never had. There is a fullness the crowd now has where they do not look like a bunch of cardboard cutouts. The animations in each aspect of the game look crisp and clear.
The issue I have with the addition of Frostbite are characters in Longshot. While some of them are well done, there are also moments where the animations are clearly not up to par. Similar to the annoyances with the facial constructions of Mass Effect: Andromeda characters, these problems reappear multiple times during your time with the story. Some scenes meant to convey emotion instead may leave you laughing at the blank look on the face of the character.
The game also has momentary freezes during the transition between scenes, which hurt the immersive quality of the story. While I think Frostbite 3 will lead to improvement, I am not so certain it has led to immediate results.
After playing this year’s Madden I am happy to say I came away mostly positive. The new Longshot mode is the perfect start. I hope they delve into Devin’s story again next year (and Colt’s). Target passing can definitely go, so bring back the vision cones! Squads is something I want to jump into with some friends to see how it would go, as the strategic side intrigues me. Frostbite 3 is a promising engine to use, and I hope EA Tiburon works hard with it to polish up the hiccups that occurred. The future of Madden looks exciting!