Stories in sports games. We’ve been talking about the idea for over a decade and it’s just in the last couple of years we’ve seen the two big sports developers (EA & 2K) start investing in it. Last year both FIFA (from EA) and NBA 2K (from 2K Sports) made stories a huge pillar in their annual releases. This year, EA Sports is following up the success of Alex Hunter in “The Journey” with Longshot the title of a new story mode in Madden NFL 18.
Of course, there’s more to Madden NFL 18 than just the new Longshot mode, like the move to the Frostbite engine and a new Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) Squad mode. But by far the most interesting part of Madden NFL 18 is Longshot, which is a separate mode from the rest of the game. When you select it, it takes you out of the Madden menu and loads a different menu in a new style, which is very reminiscent of Telltale’s Walking Dead series. Longshot is EA Sports take on a modern adventure game, and it has you take on the role of Devin Wade, a former Texas quarterback who leaves school to join the Army after a horrific start to his college career.
The story finds Devin regretting his decisions to quit football and looking for a way back at following his gridiron dreams. He makes his way with long-time best friend Colt Cruise (acted by Scott Porter of Friday Night Lights). You interact with Devin’s story through dialogue choices, light football moments (more like football mini games), life decisions, and playing through full football games. The game starts out with you and best friend Colt going to regional combine workouts where Devin is recruited to join a new reality show, aptly called Longshot. From there you do your best to get noticed by an NFL team in the hopes of being drafted.
The setup feels like Telltale’s The Walking Dead or Life is Strange but with a bigger budget. Visually the mode is gorgeous. Facial animations are great, and each area is well designed. They also have more money to invest in licensed music which pops up quite often in the nearly 3-hour story. Sadly though the rest of Longshot is a mess. The dialogue is completely forgettable. One of the biggest names attached to the project is Academy Award-winning actor Mahershala Ali who’s in Longshot for maybe five-minutes. He continues to shine albeit for very short bursts. The dialogue between the main stars Devin and Colt are often laughable. Much of the first half of Longshot has you picking dialogue with a timer that gives no time for contemplation and I quickly found myself caring very little about the choices I was making. And when you do hit the gridiron, the developers elected for a mini game approach rather than giving you a normal game of Madden to play. It makes sense because it keeps you in the experience, but the mini-games are not well conceived, don't always function properly and end up being frustrating.
Had I not been reviewing Madden NFL 18, I’m not sure I would have made it to the end of Longshot. The paint by number rags to riches story is so mundane that I never cared about any of the outcomes. Unlike The Walking Dead or Life is Strange, I never had a connection to the story or its characters. From a technical standpoint it’s well-made, but with the intangibles that the game constantly tells you Devin has, the mode is completely lacking. There absolutely could be something compelling here, but much like my 49ers in the last decade, it just never comes together.
Luckily, Longshot is a separate experience that is bundled into Madden NFL 18. The big feature this year was the move to Frostbite engine. If you read my FIFA 17 review you know that I was a big fan of the move. It did a lot for the feel of the game. Sadly, the move for Madden NFL 18 is far more subtle. The biggest upgrade from the move to Frostbite is found in the stadiums, which positively come to life in this game. You feel the crowds far more than we have in past Madden games. Player models have also improved, especially when the helmets come off. The rest of Madden NFL 18 looks and feels very familiar. The in-game menus haven’t changed and the on-screen HUD hasn’t been updated, and much of the experience feels like last year’s game. That’s not a bad thing, but I don’t remember the last time a Madden release didn’t have some sort of change to the in-game visual package. There are some noticeable improvements to animations, particularly when you have the ball, but nothing major. Madden looks and plays much like it did last year. There are still spectacular catches to be had and ridiculous cuts to be made. It’s a great game of football, and the small tweaks in this year’s game continue to push that forward.
For me though, the biggest letdown was the un-touched Franchise mode, where you would be hard pressed to find anything that differs from last year. As someone who put some serious time and love into my franchise modes in Madden NFL 17, I was a bit let down that no work had really been done to keep pushing the mode forward.
The only other big new mode this year is the Madden Ultimate Team Squads mode which has added a cooperative mode to their collectible card game allowing for 3 on 3 gameplay. I say this every year but this is a part of the Madden experience that just isn’t there for me. I did, however, test out the mode and can say that unless you’re playing with people you know or can communicate with, it can be quite a challenge to play.
For me, Madden NFL 18 is the first misstep for the series of this generation. The Longshot mode is technically well produced but its story is far from compelling. The rest of Madden NFL 18 feels like very small steps forward for a franchise that could use some big leaps.
I'm the Owner & Editor in Chief of Darkstation.com. After spending seven years as the reviews editor I took over the site in 2010. The rest is history. Now I work with our amazing staff to bring you the best possible video game coverage. Oh and I really like sports games.