Another year, another Madden. That is a phrase often heard around the gaming community. Each year the Fall season kicks off with the release of EA’s titular series, and each year I find myself sinking yet another 60+ hours in taking my Raiders to countless Superbowls. I love this time of year and I love football, but without major change any annual franchise can start to feel like $60 roster updates. Madden NFL 18 makes some strides forward as well as lateral, and the end result is enough to keep me coming back for more.
The first thing I want to talk about is the story mode. Yes, for the first time in franchise history Madden comes with a story mode. Titled Longshot, this single-player mode lets players take on the role of Devin Wade as he attempts to take a second run at his football career, and ultimately make it to the NFL. It is a five hour campaign filled with mini-games, on-the-field action, and even quizzes.
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PS4
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
I love the idea. Madden needs to grow, and this expansion is a step in the right direction. My issue lies in its execution. The story is meant to be heartfelt, but it felt disjointed. There are sequences that felt out of place, and some of the characters feel stiff. It doesn’t help that some performances are stellar, causing the lackluster ones to stand out more. I also encountered a number of visual glitches that took me out of the experience, such as one scene where two people are riding in a truck that simply wasn’t rendered. It was hilarious, but also disappointing.
The actual gameplay of this mode is also hit and miss. I really enjoyed the flashbacks where Devin was playing high school and college games. Some of the other stuff just didn’t hit though. The Simon Says play calling game was just frustrating, while the quicktime button events are simply just not that interesting. I wanted to see more action like the core game. Oh also prep your football knowledge before you play, there are quizzes in the game that no casual football fan would likely know.
I spent most of my time playing franchise, and this year’s game has some improvements. The new menu system feels smooth and quick, and the on-the-field action has been improved. Players now have the option for three unique play styles as well. Arcade mode focuses on simplified mechanics and big plays, simulation is the standard mode of play, and competitive. The latter is more designed with how online play works, and in fact all ranked games are defaulted to this mode. It is nice to have the options, especially for people that don’t want to dig into the more technical side of the sport.
The core mechanics have also seen some revamping. Defensive backs now play the pass a lot better. This is countered with the new Target Passing mode, which allows Quarterbacks to lead receivers in various directions. It took me a while to adjust to the new passing and I threw my share of interceptions early in the season.
Another new mode is called Play Now Live. This is a mode that allows players to take on real-life events happening in the NFL. Each week new updates are added and even the commentary is designed to mimic the actual games. It is cool for fans that want to take revenge or change the outcome of games. Of course right now it is hard to see how it will pan out, but the first pre-season games are already available and so far it works surprisingly well.
Of course a new year of Madden means a focus on its most popular mode, MUT. I have never been one to grind out the cards and dig deep into it, but I respect how much they improve it each year. This year’s version is no exception. Longshot actually factors into MUT with bonuses and card packs.
Squads are also a new addition, and it finally brings back co-op to Madden. This mode allows three players to take on the defensive, offensive, and head coach roles. Each player brings their own MUT decks thus creating a mixture of stars. It is seriously satisfying to work together against other players and plan strategies. This is by far the most interesting mode added to this year’s game.
This year’s Madden also marks the series’ entry into the Frostbite engine. It looks fantastic. Sure, there are still some weird animations when players run into each other after plays, but the visual fidelity the engine brings is incredible. Players look much more realistic, and the amount of face scans is kind of ridiculous. Stadiums also look much more detailed and the game runs at a glorious clip. I cannot wait for the Xbox One X patch to see it in 4K.
Madden NFL 18 makes steps forward, but also lacks any meaningful changes to my favorite mode, which is Franchise. Longshot fell short for me, and I would really love to see a more defined Be A Player mode. Even with that said I will still sink another 60+ hours into this game because of my love of the sport. The refinements are enough to keep me interested, and the new engine makes the game look glorious. I really hope franchise sees a major overhaul next year, but for now I am happy to be plowing through defenses with Marshawn Lynch and dropping dimes with Derek Carr.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.