Any Monday during football season you can head down to your local sports bar and find Australia’s biggest NFL fans catching up on Sunday’s games. They’re the ones who chuck sickies for the Super Bowl while everyone else saves theirs for the Melbourne Cup. Outside of its die-hard fans, the NFL’s biggest draw for Aussies is clearly through the Madden video game franchise. Thanks to a graphical overhaul and new game modes, Madden NFL 18 is more accessible than ever. Although beyond a few small tweaks and improvements, it’s still basically the same Madden gameplay you’re well accustomed to.
From the opening cinematic, it’s obvious just how gorgeous Madden NFL 18 looks. The great thing about sports games is that the developers understand the importance of attention to detail and Madden NFL 18 is no exception. EA Sports has done an immaculate job recreating both players and stadiums in a game that’s as close to photorealistic as you will find in 2017. From player’s facial expressions and creases in their jerseys, to the reflections of light on their helmets, you will want to take a few seconds extra each replay just to admire the view. The improved graphics are all thanks to the new Frostbite Engine – For context, it’s a modified version of the graphics engine used in last year’s Battlefield 1 and the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront 2.
Madden NFL 18’s Franchise mode is divided into three playstyles: Arcade is for players who don’t take their football too seriously. Arcade offers over-the-top action, with tonnes of scoring, limited penalties and no injuries. It’s the perfect place for newcomers to get a feel for the game. Simulation offers the authentic NFL experience for players who situate their skill levels and player stats above all else, and Competitive is the default style tailored for head-to-head and competition play. Penalties are toned down, and injuries are taken out of the picture.
The real star of Madden NFL 18 is Longshot – the new fully-fledged story mode. Longshot puts you in the shoes of Devin Wade, a sure-fire high school football star turned college dropout still chasing his NFL dream. Over the course of the 4-hour story, You take Devin through a series of highs and lows, personal tragedies and successes all based on the dialogue options you choose and how well you perform in a series of football-based mini games. For a sports game, it’s surprisingly well written and emotional.
Longshot features a strong cast of motion-captured actors, particularly Devin and his friend Colt Cruise – another NFL hopeful along for the ride. You may even recognise a few faces. Academy Award winning actor Mahershala Ali plays Devin’s father Cutter Wade, and later in the story, you receive mentoring from a certain popular retired NFL star.
Longshot truly shines when the story focuses on the smaller details like the relationship between Devin and Colt and their passion for the game. It’s these moments that make the two characters highly relatable and thankfully overshadow the ridiculous Act 2 when Devin appears on an NFL reality show. Devin’s rise to celebrity status and subsequent distance from Colt was out of character for the family-orientated Quarterback.
While I enjoyed Longshot, it’s understandably not for everyone. There’s very little football to be played during the story which contrasts to the whole point of the Madden franchise. Longshot is perfect for enticing gamers who typically shy away from sporting games but it could wind up as nothing more than a brief distraction for returning players. It’s also possible to skip Longshot entirely, although that would be a mistake.
The popular Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) mode makes a return. MUT is where players live out their fantasy league dreams by building a team through randomly drawn collectable cards featuring players, coaches and stadiums. From my experience, growing a better team can be a grind with a not so subtle push towards purchasing cards through micro transactions. Completing Longshot unlocks Devin and Colt cards, plus a load of other characters from the story and around 25 unique MUT challenges. You can still purchase card packs with real money if you choose.
Thankfully the new 3 vs 3 competitive MUT Squads breathe new life into the mode. Squads sees you and 2 other players fill the Offensive Captain, Head Coach and Defensive Captain positions, playing together to take on others online. The captain and coach positions are not permanent; you can switch to any available player once the ball is snapped. The co-op team play is a welcome return and the most fun way to play.
The final new mode is Play Now Live which sees EA Sports follow current NFL events with weekly roster updates and custom games that reflect what’s happening in the real world. Once you have completed the game, you can immediately take your team to a new franchise that reflects the records, rosters and stats of the current NFL landscape. The commentators Charles Davis and Brandon Gaudin already have great chemistry with dialogue referencing your performance throughout the season, but EA has also stated that it will continue to update the dialogue based on events in the current NFL season. The only downside is that the weekly roster updates are mandatory if you wish to access the online features.
Rounding out Madden NFL 18 are 80-plus drills for perfecting your ballgame, plus a bunch of gameplay tweaks that improve target passing, new grabbing tackles and a revamped Ball Hawk mechanic that encourages players to go for the swat or play the receiver more often. Thanks to the Frostbite engine, tackles and plays look much neater. The soundtrack is quite good, including tracks from Big Boi, Imagine Dragons, Steve Aoki, Rick Ross and Snoop Dogg. There are 32 tracks total.
Overall, Madden NFL 18 is the best and most complete entry in years. Thanks to Frostbite, It’s also the best looking NFL game to date. The extraordinary underdog story in Longshot has no right being in a sports game, but I’m so glad that it is. Even if the story and a few small tweaks are not enough to encourage Madden veterans to fork out for an upgrade of a game they already own, there’s no denying Madden NFL 18 is the perfect entry point into the series. Who knows, maybe its success will lead to more Aussies watching Super Bowl 52 when it rolls around next February.
I’m playing through Franchise as the Minnesota Vikings, and unfortunately amassing more losses than wins. I reviewed Madden NFL 18 on PlayStation 4.
Man of Many received a review copy of Madden NFL 18 courtesy of EA.