It’s that time of the year again, football time. That’s American football, Grid Iron, the NFL or whatever it is you prefer to call it. The NFL has seen a rise in popularity on our shores over the last five years, and I for one am hugely excited for the new season. As a Colts fan, I do say this with optimism, and generally after week four, my story changes to “When does the NBA season start?” Anyhow, a new season brings with it EA’s yearly release of Madden. Since the 90’s, Madden has been one of the most successful sports titles available, and rather than resting on their laurels, EA seems to make a yearly purchase seem worthwhile. The last two releases added so much I presumed that this year would be a mere roster update, oh boy was I wrong!
Anyone who has seen American football knows exactly how this plays out, so rather than defining what everything does, I will let you know of the improvements and additions for this year’s outing. If you have not watched football, nor have you played Madden in the previous few years, it’s safe to assume you’re not reading my review anyhow.
Two years ago, EA added live catching for receivers, where you pressed either of three buttons to attempt a specific type of catch. I liked to call it “press triangle to win” as the aggressive catch was extremely overpowered and unstoppable. They also introduced Draft Champions, one of my favourite Madden modes, and improved the defensive play of the game. Last year they seemed hell bent on making the running back a more playable position whilst evening out the aggressive catch flaw and improving on most aspects. This year it seems to be the Quarter Back’s turn.
Target passing is a new tool for quarterback play. We are used to seeing our route runners and passing to them via the corresponding button that accompanies them. Now we can also hold L2 or the left trigger to bring up targeting. Targeting is a precise mechanism where you use the right stick to match a target icon into a route runners path. It sounds great as an idea but it is seriously difficult to do on the fly. I found myself relying on the various throws instead.
The defence has a few new tricks too. There is now a reaching tackle, which is handy if the ball carrier is shielded by a linesman and the only way to grab them is an outstretched arm. Ball hawk is an addition that gives you more incentive to play as a safety or corner, as opposed to a defensive linesman. Well timed spoils or breaking a line for an interception is great fun, a little tricky but success offers a great feeling.
These new fundamentals are shown in what is a first for a Madden game, the new story mode. In a similar vein to Spike Lee’s Livin Da Dream in NBA 2K16, but thankfully EA’s version, Longshot, is nowhere near as horrendous as Spikes horrible effort. Longshot tells the story of Devin Wade, one of the nation’s greatest High School properties. After joining Texas University as starting quarterback for the Longhorns, Devin’s father is tragically killed in a car accident and his life falls apart, as does his football career. Now in his mid 20’s, Devin heads off to regional tryouts for a shot at redemption and the possibility of an NFL signing. Whilst at regionals, he is offered a unique proposition, to star on a reality show called Longshot and fulfil his dream of an NFL career. The story is full of long cut scenes, a couple shooting gallery challenges and a few game situations mixed with quick time events. It entails a lot of sitting and watching, but the story is heartfelt, reminding me of sporting movies such as Rudy (great flick) and The Blindside. It is a worthy addition and I thoroughly enjoyed it, there are differing endings depending on your choices and skills.
This year, Madden also offers three different play modes. Arcade is an open, high scoring, fast paced action type of game which is aimed at new comers. Simulation is the usual Madden feel, adapting the NFL rules, and Competitive lets you manually adjust settings, turn off injuries and time outs.
Graphics & Audio
Madden 18 has made the move to the Frostbite engine, and it has paid off, making it possibly the best-looking sports simulation title available. The players, fields, stadiums and crowds all are insanely detailed and the lighting is stunning. Longshot looks quite good, with my only criticism being that there were a few minor glitches where Devon’s shirt looked pixelated in two brief scenes, and the bodies are awkwardly chunky in some areas, namely Devon’s butt and Julia’s (show producer) body can look awkward in some scenes.
The menus remain the same as the previous editions, easy to use and all well designed. The sound is great, when a stadium is roaring it can be quite exhilarating. Although I don’t condone booing, it does exist and it would have been nice to hear an objective crowd when a catch is called incomplete when it looked good, or a penalty is called on a third down making a hard task for the home team.
New to the online part of Madden is MUT Squads, where three players can team up with three differing roles. Offensive co-ordinator brings their MUT Team’s offensive line up, picks plays and controls the quarterback. Head Coach controls timeouts, penalty acceptance and any uncontrolled player on offense or defence. Defensive Co-ordinator brings his MUT Team’s defence line up and calls the defensive plays and controls a defensive player. Playing with friends and headsets adds a great social aspect to Madden.
MUT and Franchise online are the main stays that most Madden players flock to. Again, there are a huge number of MUT challenges to partake in offline to earn gold or win reward packs and players. MUT is addictive to say the least. The feeling of landing those Elite players, building your squad and dominating in ranked matches is extremely satisfying.
Draft Champions thankfully returns, but has been renamed MUT Draft. Tickets are required to enter a draft, again these tickets can be bought or picked up via MUT challenges. I love Draft, the ability to choose 20 players from three selections for each adds a real strategy. I have found that receivers and backs are plentiful, so here’s a tip, draft any frontline players either side of the ball you can. Winning games gives you rewards, the more games won the greater the reward, the cap of four wins seems adequate.
Madden 18 is another step forward for the series in its pursuit of perfection. I go in every year thinking “this is the year they do nothing” but EA always seem to add so much each outing. The only addition I’m not a fan of is the Trigger targeting, it is simply too hard to complete. Thankfully it is only a minor aspect of the changes, and one that is not necessary to use, a great idea but it is too finnicky to be a part of your gameplay. The real start is the story mode and the use of Frostbite. If you have missed the last Madden or two, and are a fan of the NFL, it’s time to dust of your cleats, gear up and play some football.