It may not be the most well-written Madden game you will ever play. But it definitely is the best all-around football video game you’ve ever seen.
In so many ways, Madden 18 is the NFL football video game you’ve been waiting for: The visuals and gameplay both see incremental improvements that push the to their finest levels ever, and for the first time in the history of the franchise, there’s a decent story mode called “Longshot.” Smart tweaks make every moment of your Madden experience more accessible and more in line with whatever takes place in the actual NFL, and both the solo and multiplayer action overflows with options.
It’s a wildly ambitious package even if its greatest ambition, Longshot, isn’t nearly as cool as you want it to be. Longshot is the series’ first true foray into the story modes that suddenly proliferate the sports gaming landscape, and it has larger goals than any sporting game story mode before it. It aims to give you a deep and relatable experience that feels unique and unforgettable.
In moments, Longshot does this, telling the hard-luck story of Devin Wade, who charts a unique path to the NFL, via reality show, years after leaving his college football team. Wade is instantly sympathetic, and the potent Frostbite engine makes him and a handful of other characters come to believable life.
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When you’re playing through one of Wade’s high school flashbacks on the field, the experience is terrific, and much of the early portion of Longshot also provides a unique football tutorial, forcing you to read defenses and learn some nuances of NFL playcalling (which you will never use again).
But in too many other moments, it strains the bounds of credibility, and too often the story, despite its several endings, robs the gamer of any agency. There’s nothing quite like being ahead, 21-7, against an aging Dan Marino in a 7-on-7 playground game only to have the game cut to a scene in which “the next score wins” for the sake of some dramatic moment.
Longshot can’t decide whether it wants you to guide the story or it wants the story to guide you, and that can frustrate, even when the script is passable and interesting. Most of the characters, from Wade to his friend Colt Cruise to an annoying network exec, are obvious archetypes, but the tale is still decent enough.
Despite its flaws, Longshot is fun, and it’s a solid initial way to break into Madden 18. You get a strong dose of the graphical improvements that underlay the new experience, and the triumph of Frostbite in this sports game. This graphical prowess translates to standard gameplay, where Madden 18 looks excellent, overflowing with lighting effects and far less of a synthetic look to players. There are more varied body types, too, making the football field come even more alive, and everyone moves about with more fluidity. Best of all, the crowds and stadiums showcase greater details, creating a more convincing experience overall than any previous Madden.
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The on-field action remains standout, if largely the same as it’s been in previous years. But the entry points to that action are now drastically improved. Franchise campaign, solid a year ago, sees few upgrades this time around, but it is strong, and you can now start it at any point during the season, with updated rosters. Play Now Live lets you play whatever game is actually taking place in any given week, with the proper rosters, then jump into a season or franchise right there. It’s a much-needed feature that all sports games should duplicate.
Meanwhile, Madden Ultimate Team gains further depth, thanks to online cooperative play. If you’re into Ultimate Team, you’ve been waiting for this, and it plays strongly, rounding out a massively deep Madden package.
What developer EA Tiburon does with Madden 18 is impressive, in large part because there finally truly is something for everyone. The single-player gameplay meshes well with the suite of multiplayer modes to yield a terrific all-around package that’s loaded with replay value.
Madden 18 isn’t perfect in its first try with a deep story mode, but it is still loaded with plenty of fun. Some years, perhaps you can skip Madden.
But this isn’t one of them.