Every August a new Madden game is released, and with it often come minimal expectations from the franchise’s core supporters. Yearly sports games like Madden are plagued by short development cycles, causing each release to be fundamentally the same, but with a few new additions. This season, EA Tiburon set out to create something new for Madden 18. On a surface level, visuals and physics in the game have been adapted to utilize the Frostbite engine for the first time. While fans of EA’s other key franchise, ‘Battlefield’, will recognize Frostbite as the game engine for the popular shooter, it performs well on the gridiron as well.
While graphics improvements are slight, running the ball in ‘Madden 18’ felt better than it had in recent memory. Tackling is no longer as robotic, as defenders seem to move fluidly into tackles as players bump into one another. This can also create an unrealistic “bouncing” effect during tackling for some running back such as LaDainian Tomlinson, who can be seen bumping his way up the middle of the line for a first down on a regular basis.
Beyond the overall gameplay, where ‘Madden 18’ really shines is in the new single-player experience, Longshot. For the first time in the franchise’s history, gamers can play through a fictional story of Devin Wade’s journey to the NFL. Devin grew up in Texas with his father, Cutter, who coached the local high school football team and shared his passion for football. Devin’s mother passed away when he was a child, resulting in him spending much of his time with his father and best friend, Colt Cruise.
In high school, after entering a game during his freshman year, Devin begins his journey to becoming a five-star prospect quarterback. Colt plays football as well, and naturally becomes Devin’s greatest receiving threat at wide receiver. Through a number of flashback scenes, gamers have the chance to play some of Devin’s greatest high school games.
With the attention of much of the nation, Devin selects the University of Texas as his college team. Colt receives an offer from the Longhorns as well and the duo stays united as they enter college. However, during just the fourth game of Devin’s college career, he is benched for poor performance. He later learns his father died in a car accident that night. Frustrated by these experiences, Devin leaves the University of Texas while Colt remains and becomes an All-Conference wide receiver.
Four years after becoming a bust for the Longhorns, Devin attempts to restart his football career by trying out at the NFL Regional Combine with Colt. The skills players show and decisions they make affect how scouts see them. This comes through playing a variety of passing mini-games like at the combine or choosing how to react in a particular situation. Much like other story-driven games such as Mass Effect or the Telltale franchises, Longshot uses a decision wheel that allows players to select how they want Devin to react. These decisions all impact the story and outcomes.
While the story takes less than five hours to play, it provides an engulfing experience that creates moments and emotions worthy of an actual Hollywood film. This is in part due to the great cast Tiburon assembled including Academy award-winning Mahershala Ali of “Moonlight” fame as Cutter Wade. Former NFL longshot himself, JR Lemon, plays Devin Wade while Colt Cruise is played by Scott Porter, best known for playing Jason Street on “Friday Night Lights.”
Most disappointing though is the limited amount of football actually played in Longshot. While the often long cutscenes do create an emotional story, time spent controlling Devin outside of a few mini-games is limited to a handful of situational games and seven on seven play reminiscent of ‘NFL Street’. In fact, throughout the entire story, Devin never plays a down in the NFL.
Ideally, Longshot will continue next year in Madden 19 and carry forth players saved data. While news on any potential for this may not be available for months, EA has utilized a carry over system like this before between their ‘NCAA Football’ and ‘Madden’ games to allow players to continue their journeys.