Yes, the football season may have just started in the UK, but across the pond, something different is going on: the football season is about to start. Not the one with feet or balls, mind you, but one even more complicated and technical, a sport in which “PA Max Protect” actually means something.
To a new player, the prospect of playing Madden NFL 18 may seem a bit daunting, what with the game being full of technical jargon, but - as with previous iterations - this year’s edition is excellent at breaking in rookies and showing them the ropes of America’s favourite sport (hopefully soon to be replaced by human curling). Madden’s Skills Trainer is so chock full of tutorials ranging from the absolute basics to the most complicated plays that it’s possible to make yourself a tactical mastermind by the end of it.
Not only that, but the trainer itself incorporates itself into other modes. The Franchise mode, in which you can either be player, coach, or owner of any team, uses Skill Trainer tutorials as weekly training drills, while the story-based Longshot mode - a Madden version of FIFA 17’s The Journey mode - is also full of teachings.
New in this year’s Madden is also the ability to choose one of three different play styles that affect gameplay: Arcade mode prioritises scoring and makes running with the ball and tackling easier, Simulation mode is driven by a mix of player ratings and user skill, while Competitive mode emphasises user skill almost entirely. While Madden NFL 18 is excellent for rookies, seasoned veterans are still catered for.
However, there’s not much real change in terms of gameplay mechanics. The only major alteration from previous Madden games is the introduction of the Target Passing mechanic, which allows you to aim your throws more precisely by holding L2. It’s a nice addition, but we’ve seldom used it, and while the gameplay is by no means bad - in fact, the crunching tackles and responsive controls are excellent - we couldn’t help but feel that gameplay-wise, EA trod water this year.
Of course, all eyes are on the aforementioned Longshot mode, a narrative-driven mode revolving around disgraced college quarterback Devin Wade - son of late town sporting hero Cutter Wade - taking one last shot at reaching the NFL alongside long-time friend and wide receiver Colt Cruise. While it starts off in a similar vein to FIFA’s The Journey, with Devin and Colt travelling to the NFL Regional Combine to try and get scouted, it soon goes off the rails as Devin finds himself on reality TV show “Longshot”, which attempts to prepare him for the NFL.
Though the characters are likable and some funny moments are to be had - at one point, Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” is sung unironically by Colt and Devin - the mode suffers because of its incredible lack of gameplay. We finished Longshot in around four hours, which was disappointing to say the least, but it felt like less than half of that time was dedicated to actual gameplay; the majority of the mode being dedicated to the narrative that requires only the tiniest of player involvement. The majority of actual meat on Longshot’s bones is the constant flashbacks to Devin’s high school football days, and just when it seems like the gameplay is about to step up, the story ends.
Granted, you can continue Devin and Colt’s story in Madden Ultimate Team with the “Chronicles of Longshot” set of single player challenges, but said challenges are much more fun than playing the sparse gameplay segments of Longshot itself.
The same can be said of Madden Ultimate Team as whole. Thanks to its focus on single player challenges and its hands-off approach to team building - you can simply let the computer choose your squad and not have to worry about it - it remains both an attractive option for newcomers and a fun experience for die-hard fans. The new MUT Squads mode, in which you team up with two other players and play the roles of Head Coach, Offensive Captain, and Defensive Captain, is also a fun romp with friends, though harder to play with random players due to the importance of communication.
Though the new Longshot mode is ultimately a disappointment and the gameplay hasn't changed much, Madden NFL 18 is still an excellent pigskin sim despite its lack of competition. Welcoming for newcomers and deeply detailed for die-hards, this year's edition of the long-running franchise is certainly not a Maddening experience.