An excellent single-player story and a leap to a new engine make a strong first impression.
[Editor’s Note: This review is in progress because we only recently received review copies and need to put in more time with it for a thorough review. You can expect our final review early next week. In the meantime, here are our reviewer’s thoughts on the first hours with Madden NFL 2018.]
Ask Tom Brady and Matt Ryan what they think about halftime adjustments. Those adjustments, major or minor, are the key to winning any football game – and that’s exactly the kind of change Madden NFL 18 has made to EA’s series. Madden is coming out of the locker room with more than an adjustment to its gameplay and story mode; the development team just stormed back onto the field with a new engine, improved gameplay, and a story mode finally worth giving a damn about.
Madden 18’s move to the Frostbite Engine has enhanced the graphics dramatically, and the gameplay to an extent. While playing a rematch of last season’s Patriots vs. Falcons Super Bowl, it was easy to get distracted by the lighting effects and the improved body types, which, to my eye, have both taken the largest leap of any of Madden 18’s graphical upgrades. While watching a replay I noticed details like how the glimmer of the sun flickered off of a receiver’s helmet, and even while referees are announcing penalties you can see that the glare in their faces is real.
The body types brought a second glance from the moment I turned on Madden NFL 18. Players still look a bit stiff and can run into each other while walking around between plays, but each position and body type is well represented, which is more than other Maddens can say. And while it’s a smaller touch, stadium and uniform detail have really stuck out to me. The pop from the Seahawks’ lime green and the Buccaneers’ orange is a highly appreciated detail.
Madden doesn’t encounter the same problems as FIFA, and the change is for the better.
On the more tangible side, the switch to the Frostbite Engine doesn’t feel like a full overhaul of Madden’s gameplay, which is a bummer, but my expectations weren’t too high considering FIFA’s first foray with Frostbite encountered speed bumps from using old animations in the new engine. Fortunately, Madden doesn’t encounter the same problems, and the change is for the better. The one-on-one interactions are strong, fluid, and look great in every activity I’ve seen (line play, secondary coverage, and tackling). When I picked off Russell Wilson in the red zone, my DB was tripped up by Doug Baldwin, and when I took a closer look at the replay the animation was spot on. It’s a shame that to truly appreciate the animations you need to watch the replays, but I highly recommend it. Gang tackling looks smoother as well, but we still see bowling pins and unnatural-looking rag dolls on occasion.
Though it’s easy to see the graphical improvements at a glance, EA Sports also took advantage of this opportunity to bring the single-player side of Madden to the next level with the introduction of Longshot mode: a fantastic story-based experience using motion-captured actors and a well-written script. Imagining what it would’ve looked like with last year’s graphics made me appreciate Frostbite’s upgrades even more.
Get Your Popcorn Ready
Madden’s old solo mode, Superstar, was what I considered a waste of space and barely worth discussing. Thankfully, EA Sports eventually saw the light and dropped it after last publishing the mode in Madden 13, which left Franchise as the only real single-player option. With Longshot, EA Sports gets the single-player story mode right by creating a mode that introduces us to more than just Madden NFL 18: it’s an introduction to football – something the series has failed to do since its introduction in 1988.
The Longshot is a single-player experience that has me glued to my TV.
I’m so used to Madden being relegated to a fun, dynamic game of multiplayer football with my best friends, and of course the ever-growing online community. And that was great, but it wasn’t a good look for the NFL’s exclusive console game to lack a strong solo option while single-player modes are doing great things in other sports genres like NBA 2K and EA’s own FIFA series. But in Madden NFL 18, EA Sports has created a theatrical-quality, immersive, emotional, and educational single-player experience that has me glued to my TV. The Longshot story mode – an adventure that has taken me down the career of former blue chip quarterback Devin Wade – has captured my attention as a student of the game and keeps me wanting to come back and find out what happens next.
I’ve been torn down by my coach and brutally hammered by the media.
While walking in Wade’s shoes, I’ve encountered accountability I’ve never felt before in a sports game. The script is very well written, and stays interactive with Mass Effect-like decisions and button prompts that will affect your football IQ, draft grade, and social standing. Even something as trivial as choosing to post a semi-crude video to social media can impact your story. I’ve been torn down by my coach for calling the wrong play and brutally hammered by the media when a press conference quickly got out of hand, and for every big or small mistake I made, I felt bad for Wade because of the repercussions. Those choices have felt meaningful on my first playthrough so far, but considering how dramatic the story can be at times, I won’t be surprised if it sticks to a linear course when I come back to try different options in another of the three save slots.
But the deeper the story goes, the more I wish I could just get my hands on the sticks. After the first two and a half hours of Longshot – upsettingly, that’s already 50 percent through the campaign – I was just entering gameplay for only the second time. At this point in the campaign, I’ve come to the conclusion that traditional gameplay isn’t the point of Longshot; this is meant to be a standalone mode, and it does a hell of a job at telling its story. I can’t wait to see how the rest of it unfolds.
Choose Your Adventure
I play Madden regularly with a handful of friends and acquaintances, but what’s frustrating is we all enjoy to play in a different way. Some like to score as many points as possible and go for it on 4th-and-28. Others will delete my number from their phone if I ever go for it on fourth down early in the game while on my side of the field. It’s all about our own styles. Now, those styles are highlighted in Madden NFL 18 in three distinct ways to play: Arcade, Simulation, and Competitive. All three are available to play offline and in Franchise mode.
Arcade provides tons of scoring, limits penalties, and removes injuries entirely. Plus, the hit stick and fancy ball-carrier moves have an increased chance at succeeding, leading to more of the “Wow!” moments that I crave when playing for bragging rights. During my first game in Arcade mode, I launched an 80-yard bomb to the Titans’ Corey Davis for a quick score, only to be on the receiving end of a similar big play courtesy of Russell Wilson only three plays later. It’s a great mode for beginners and those looking to have a quick and entertaining game of Madden, especially considering the AI tends to be on the forgiving side of things.
Simulation, which is my preferred style, gives the hardcore “Sim Nation” fanbase what it wants: an authentic NFL experience built upon stick skills and player ratings where penalties and injuries stay consistent. While using Simulation in Franchise, it encourages proper team building and play calling, and it heightened my awareness when using newer gameplay mechanics such as ball hawk and target passing (I’ll go deeper on these after I’ve played more with them).
Competitive is the final piece of the Madden puzzle, and one that is slowly showing the acceptance of Madden’s growing eSports community. This mode is heavily weighted on user skill and not much else. Practice up.
I’m not giving Madden NFL 18 a preliminary score just yet because I’m still scratching its surface. I’m headed back in for more to get a feel for the new mechanics and subtleties, and of course to finish my Longshot campaign. You can expect the final review early next week, so check back soon.