Another year, another new Madden game. It’s the formula we’ve come to expect from EA Sports over the years, but one that’s appreciated thanks to the refinements that are made to the game that those who don’t play them can’t seem to notice. This year around there’ve been a few big changes made, with Madden 18 not only introducing its own unique story mode but also seeing a change of in-game engine as well as some minor tweaks to the gameplay. Again, this might not sound like much to someone who hasn’t played the series before, but returning gamers are going to find that it’s one of the most exciting entries that has graced consoles in quite some time.
The main attraction of Madden 18 is the addition of the new ‘Longshot’ story mode. Following on from the success of ‘The Journey’ in FIFA 17, Longshot tells the story of NFL wannabe star Devon Wade. After a successful spell as Quarterback in College, his career had been set back after the death of his Father. Now though, with the help of his best friend and former teammate Cutter Wade, Devon is hoping for another shot at a pro footballing career and a way to see his name up in lights.
Whilst you wouldn’t typically expect a sports sim to offer too intriguing a story, Longshot actually managed to hook me in from the get go. It helps that there’s some solid actors on board, with each portraying their role in the story perfectly. Devon’s journey really is an emotional rollercoaster, with a lot of ups and downs throughout its roughly three-hour length; it’s hard not to get completely sucked into it all and be rooting for the heroes to succeed.
You actually get to make a plethora of decisions for Devon throughout the story too, making Longshot almost feel like a Telltale Games release. The actions and words you choose won’t only change people’s perception of you, but also have a bearing on how Devon’s story will end; there are three different endings available, with each offering a different yet emotional climax to the tale. It’s certainly worth a second playthrough, just to see how differently things can play out depending on your actions.
Rather than put you in full blown matches of American Football, Longshot instead has you play out specific scenarios. These scenarios are typically set up to be played out in a particular way too, meaning if you don’t do it quite right to begin with you’ve just got to try again. Whilst it doesn’t offer the flexible freedom to play exactly how you want, it does give Longshot an identity of its own rather than having it consist of some cutscenes tacked onto a series of Football matches. Surprisingly, it’ll also give you a few tricks to take into the main game, meaning Longshot can actually feel like a bit of a tutorial at times too – it’s pretty handy for newcomers to the series who decided they wanted to check out the new story mode first. There are also some QTE sequences as well as some mini-games thrown in for good measure, adding a bit more variety to the experience. In all, Longshot is a fantastic addition to the series and something I hope we see a lot more of in the future.
The actual gameplay of main matches hasn’t changed up too much, though you do get an interesting choice at what style of game you want to play between three different types: ‘Arcade’, ‘Simulation’, and ‘Competitive’.
Arcade offers an easy going way to play the game that focuses less on your tactical prowess and more on providing big hits and awesome score lines. It’s a good place to go to if you’re a casual fan and care more about all out entertainment than a realistic experience. Simulation on the other hand is what gamers would’ve previously been used to, with a focus on offering a realistic play-by-play way to play through matches. It’ll require patience, intelligence, and a good American Football head to win your matches. It’s the way the game is MEANT to be played. Competitive is the same as Simulation, but with the difficulty turned up a notch. I’ll be honest, I didn’t toy around with it too much, but it’s the way to play if you want to become a pro at the game. I mainly focused on Simulation, with it providing the purest of Madden 18 experiences for players, though the option to choose between the three is a nice touch for gamers of different skillsets.
Most of the game plays exactly how you would expect it to from the previous entry in the series, with the same pass styles on offer, the same tackle battles to push off defenders, and even the same running skills with spins and jukes aplenty. I mean, EA have managed to get the formula right already, so why change it too much?
Whilst it plays the same though, there’s certainly a better feeling of intelligence upon your AI opponents. It used to be a lot easier to break down offenses, or even score stunning touchdowns from right out of nowhere. Now, the AI is a bit smarter in all aspects of play. The sense of predictability it used to have is gone, and now you need to focus more on lining up each and every throw and tackle perfectly if you want to nail it. It makes for a much more involved experience, where you can’t just simply select one player and hope your team does all the work for you; you’ve got to be switched on and watching everything play out, otherwise you’ll quickly find yourself on the back foot. I really approve of this refinement to the AI, with it making matches feel a lot more competitive and demanding – it’s been too easy in the past to win match after match, so actually working for it makes everything feel a lot more worthwhile.
To try and even the playing field a bit, Madden 18 has introduced a new ‘Target Passing’ system for the Quarterback to deliver more accurate passes to the Receivers. Whilst you will still pick which player you want to throw to with a button, you’re given the ability to manually place where you want to throw the ball. This might mean pinpointing it right in the line of your Receiver’s run, or even slightly adrift to try and catch opposition defenders out.
Whilst the system is a little complicated to get used to initially, it does grant you a lot more flexibility in deciding how each play is going to go. You might mess it up the first few times you toy around with it, but when you throw that perfect pass to the sweet spot and score a touchdown out of nowhere it’s definitely going to bring a smile to your face (and a grimace to your opponent’s). It’s not compulsory and simply tapping or holding the typical pass buttons works too, but it can help you get that competitive edge in some of the more tighter matches.
As per usual, there are a decent variety of game modes on offer to allow you to get your fix of American Football action. Franchise mode is back, allowing you to play through your own fantasy or real life draft as a coach, manager, or player. It’s an NFL fan’s dream, being able to co-ordinate their own draft and pick the cream of the crop, so it makes for an incredibly fun and addictive experience. If you’re smart you might be able to see your team go on through to the Superbowl, or alternatively your season could end in disaster. Who knows? Franchise mode is more of the same that we’ve seen previously in the series, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to play through.
Ultimate Team also makes a return, with the card-based Madden experience once again allowing you to make your own fantasy teams. It’s still fun to play around with and build up your own little team, but you’ve got to be willing to fork out real life cash if you want to get the most out of it. It’s been going on long enough for players to get the score now and most of them have accepted that EA’s pay-to-win system isn’t going anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, you can grind for stuff if you want, but it’s not going to provide the most exciting of experiences.
The switch over to the Frostbite Engine makes for some absolutely stunning visuals in-game. Animations have been improved, player’s likenesses are more realistic than before, whilst the helmets are some of the shiniest I’ve EVER seen. Everything around the field looks impressive too, with the crowd offering a real sense of presence with their noise and the coaches looking like they’re deep in thought whilst running over plays on the side lines. Madden has always been a series that likes to showcase slick visuals, but this newest entry truly tops the lot. The attention to detail is just incredible and it’s hard not to believe you’re not seeing a real life game play out right in front of you at times.
One of the more significant improvements the engine has brought is with tackle animations. You don’t see players falling into a jangled mess as often as before, but rather see realistic thuds that actually make you wince a little with each hit. Seeing players wrapped around each other on the ground is just a lot more realistic, so you’ve got less of the ‘dry humping’ scenarios that’ve often plagued previous entries in the series. Whether that’s a good thing or not is down to the mentality of the player, but it’s good to see EA making some effort at fixing some of the game’s more obvious flaws.
Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis are back on board to provide commentary for each match, giving a detailed analysis of everything on a play by play basis (as well as giving you a row for skipping the half-time show of the Superbowl). There’s a real natural feel to it all though, with both commentators not just going into detail about each match but also the history of each franchise, their players, and even the current going-ons in the world of NFL. It makes for a much more believable experience, which alongside the stunning presentation makes Madden 18 the most realistic entry in the series. Be warned though – as per any sports sim, it won’t take long before you start to hear some of the same remarks said over and over again…
Madden 18 offers enough of the same from a gameplay perspective to ensure that returning gamers will have more of what they have loved over the years, but there have been plenty of refinements made to ensure the whole experience feels fresh too. Tackles are more believable, the AI of your opponent more intelligent, the offense play more tactical – there are just a lot of little tweaks that come together to make Madden 18 feel superior to its predecessors, both from a gameplay perspective but also in presentation too.
Add to that the absolutely brilliant Longshot, the addition of extra game modes, and the stunning visuals brought with the change to the Frostbite Engine and it’s easy to see why Madden 18 is one of the finest entries the series has ever seen. Each year, Madden takes a step closer to the pinnacle of sporting greatness and this year it’s no different – Madden 18 is just all out, action-packed sporting fun and a must buy for any American Football fan.
Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 25/08/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One