Another season of the NFL has gotten underway. And as we all know, a new NFL season means a new Madden game.
EA Sports have been making Madden games since 1988, and they’ve been released annually since 1990. That’s a whole lot of time to try and keep a franchise fresh, and it’s true that – at certain points – the series has stagnated. With a franchise like this, of course, you can only expect evolution, not revolution, but a number of entries have honestly failed to deliver either. So, which side of the argument does Madden NFL 18 fall into?
Well, this entry does genuinely make a big attempt to take the series forward. The main calling card in Madden 18 is ‘Longshot’. It’s a new take on the ‘career mode’ feature that’s been in the series for a while, in which you control one player, fresh out of the draft, as they begin their journey into professional football.
The twist this time is that there’s a fully fleshed-out narrative; something we’ve also seen in recent NBA 2K and FIFA releases. Your character – Devin Wade – is based in a small town in Texas. He had previously stopped playing football after a tragic family event, but now he wants back in.
The production values in Longshot – as you may expect from a Madden game – are through the roof. The voice acting is generally good, the animations (which have been painstakingly motion-captured) are fantastic, and the inclusion of superstar ex-players and Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali lend the mode a degree of star power.
Longshot also takes a pleasingly high number of chances. It deals with real, emotional issues, offering you the chance to genuinely connect with Wade, and those close to him, and to understand why football matters so much to these people. RPG elements are also present, including a variety of text-choice options that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bioware game. The mode isn’t an unqualified success, with the narrative taking some… odd turns at some points, to say the least, but it’s great to see EA Sports taking big chances like this with such an important franchise.
There are also a solid amount of other changes in the rest of the game. Madden NFL 18 is the first game in the series to use EA’s vaunted Frostbite engine (as seen in Battlefield 1) for its graphics. This has always been a good-looking series, but it really does take a step up this year, with the incredible visuals looking more realistic than ever before.
Madden Ultimate Team – one of the series’ most popular modes – has also received an update. In MUT, you can actually play through some of the most noteworthy scenarios that your Longshot character – Wade – encountered, and even play out some scenes from his future. There’s a whole new side to MUT this year too: MUT Squads. Here, you team up with two other players online, with one of you acting as the offensive captain, one as the defensive captain, and one as the head coach. The squads the three of you bring into the game are all mushed together, to randomly create a whole new squad. It’s a more social alternative to the standard solo competitive MUT play, and can be a lot of fun in practice.
Elsewhere, EA have made a few significant changes to the gameplay itself. There are now three gameplay styles to choose between: Arcade, Simulation and Competitive, each of which make alterations to things like the frequency of injuries and penalties. That’s a nice addition, recognizing that different people are looking for very different things from a game of Madden. Less notably, there’s also the new Target Passing mechanic, wherein – after throwing the ball – you can lead your receiver. It’s something seasoned players will enjoy getting to grips with, but is fiddly enough that casual players will want to leave it well alone.
Overall, this really is an impressive addition to the series. It absolutely, unequivocally is not one of those entries which feels stagnant, or like a simple money-grab. EA Sports have really pushed the boat out here, with the already-excellent graphics having gotten even better, and – most notably of all – with their innovative, ambitious Longshot mode.
NFL fans, looking to celebrate the start of the season, go ahead and pull the trigger. Madden NFL 18 is a true winner.