The yearly release of Madden has become such a traditional part of gaming that many people purchase the latest game without even thinking about it. It is a franchise that has often gone through phases of very slight improvements and then major wholesale changes. This year’s Madden 18 sits comfortably in the middle, improving upon everything from its predecessor while also introducing some new additions to help shake up the experience.
This is the first time that Madden has used EA’s Frostbite engine and the marked improvement in terms of the animations, physics, and overall look are clear to see immediately. In short, the action shown on screen is simply breathtaking. It is certainly one of the most realistic simulations of a sport that has ever made its way to video game consoles. Characters all have minute attention to detail given to them and even the stadiums are rendered in a better way that includes actual things specific to each location.
It isn’t all about the looks either. The upgrade in terms of physics means that the game plays in a much more lifelike manner than ever before. In particular, player collisions feel powerful and genuine, while the movements of every individual on the field makes them appear to be a real-life player rather than a sprite. There’s also been a significant improvement made to weather conditions and the degradation of the field of play. The setting sun will cause the light to change dramatically and put portions of the stadium into shadow. Meanwhile, heavy action in one particular area or stormy weather can cause the grass to rip up.
The improvements made to the physics and the added control handed over the players makes Madden more difficult than ever before. Thankfully there is a good difficulty and play-type feature that allows you to choose a more arcade-based style fi you want, but the simulation modes require you to put much more thought into everything as the AI will not jump in to save the day for you. This makes it much harder to pull off game-changing moments, yet making an interception or Hail Mary throw is all the more satisfying for it.
Outside of these technical enhancements, the other main addition to this year’s instalment comes in the form of a new gameplay mode. Longshot is a story mode and is similar to The Journey that was introduced in last year’s FIFA 17. It moves away from the more tactical and showpiece world of managing an entire team to the personal story of just a few characters. It is an unusual step for Madden to take considering its history but it is a welcome change of pace to a franchise that has been slow to adapt.
Longshot tells the story of Devin Wade, a former high school quarterback prospect who quit college football after his father died and he went through a period of terrible performances. He’s given one last chance to make it to the NFL after attending the combine and being invited to take part in a brand new reality television show. It’s a very interesting and engaging plot that is appealing because it highlights the personal journeys of those stars in the NFL and how it isn’t always a fairytale to make it as a professional athlete.
Unfortunately the new mode is let down by the sheer lack of gameplay. It is more of an interactive story than it is game. Players are simply asked to make a few decisions along the way that help determine which ending you get, while the moments of action are generally limited to a few flashbacks to college or high school and the odd training session where you have to put your knowledge of football to the test . This lack of gameplay will probably frustrate a lot of players who want to get involved, especially considering how The Journey from FIFA 17 managed to get the split more evenly balanced between story and letting the player actually get stuck in.
Of course, there are also a variety of other game modes to keep players happy regardless of what type of experience they want. The every-present franchise mode makes a return alongside a host of online options such as head-to-head and seasons. Perhaps the most important out of these, though, is Madden Ultimate Team. This year, the developers have reintroduced a co-operative mode in the form of MUT Squads. It gives players the chance to work together with two others, taking on the roles of head coach, offensive captain, and defensive captain. The new mode requires plenty of team work and communication to get right but it is very enjoyable if you can get two friends who you work together well with.
It is definitely nice to see that EA are willing to shake up things when it comes to one of their most vital assets. The addition of Longshot definitely lays the foundations for the developers to experiment with even better story modes in the future and the co-operative MUT Squads provides a new layer to Ultimate Team that has been sorely missed for the last few years. The improvements to both the physics and presentation are also significant and, when combined with the other changes, make Madden 18 the best instalment in the series for some time.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game that was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Madden 18 is available now for various platforms.