There are a couple of ways you can go with a review of an annual sport sim. You can look at it at face value, say what you like, what you don’t like, comparing it to games knocking around at the time. The other way is to acknowledge that it’s just one more release in a long list of them; you put it up against last year’s iteration, run through the list of new features promoted by the publisher, and see if it’s worth getting two years in a row.
So, what’s new this year? Is it worth getting two years in a row?
Firstly, Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) has been expanded. The card-based team builder now includes long lists of short challenges, as well as full games you can complete to earn and upgrade some of football’s best players. You’re not just locked into earning packs that have a minute chance of containing a good player, or spending an absurd amount of real money on J J Watt. Even if everyone has the same opportunity to get, and upgrade Kellen Winslow, at least now it feels like you can grind your way to a reasonably competitive team.
MUT also includes Squads. With MUT Squads you can combine your roster with up to two friends. Each of you can lead either the defense, offense, or take the role of the head coach, to play 3v3 online matches. In the past MUT has felt a little lite. But, this year there is enough there to give you some hope against those gamers with their overpowered online rosters.
If you’re looking at gameplay tweaks, the main addition is targeted passing. The Target Passing feature lets you lead the receiver away from his assigned route, and hopefully away from the coverage. It’s hard. In real time you tap the trigger, your QB is locked in the pocket with no chance of avoiding defensive players, and two indicators appear in from of your primary receiver. One is his predicted route, the other is where you are going to throw the ball. The trick of course is to throw the ball far enough away for him to avoid the defenders, but close enough so he can still go get it. Good luck with that.
There are also plenty of online game modes to challenge you and your team. The quick game option will set up a match in seconds. I had no lag, no waiting, and no real excuses for when I got totally smashed. Alternatively, Madden Ultimate Team is packed with game modes. You can compete head-to-head, or in multiplayer matches, play seasons, knockout tournaments, and weekend leagues. Once you and your team are good enough, you can register to compete in the MUT Champions world league.
However, if you’re a mortal, and not ready to take on the professionals on the world stage, the game understands. Like the recent MLB and F1 releases, Madden NFL 18 has made an effort to ease new players in. There are still all the plays, playbooks, and players that provide deep and complex gameplay for fans of the franchise, but there is enough training and practice modes – along with a very friendly difficulty curve – that will allow new players plenty of time to get the hang of it all.
If Madden NFL 18 has done anything, it has tried to break out of the box. The game is still there, with the accompanying list of new features, up to date rosters, and deep gameplay, but there’s also Longshot. Longshot is different. It isn’t a career mode, with a few extended cut-scenes and a couple of arbitrary choices, it’s a long movie with Mahershala Ali, Dan Marino, and a few gaming challenges sprinkled in.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Longshot. To begin with, it feels entirely new. Anything that feels new in a sport sim has to be given credit. The problem is, it’s a football movie, so you have to compare it to Any Given Sunday, or The Blindside, or Remember the Titans. If you do that, it doesn’t hit the mark. It’s a bit too hokey, a bit too obvious, a bit over-the-top “Hoorah USA.” But I was intrigued, and in the end enjoyed the experience.
Longshot also acts as a bit of a training mission. Not only do you have to complete RTE’s and beat game situations to advance the story, it also taught me how to call a play. While you can fail the challenges, the main effect this has is on the grade your player ends up with at the end of the story. This is fun because you can add the characters from Longshot, to your rosters in Madden Ultimate Team.
So, is it worth buying two years in a row? The answer is probably a bit of a cop-out. No, it’s not. But, this is only because annually released sports sims never are. But – and this is a big “but” – Longshot is different, and it’s an experience worth having. MUT has never been more engaging, while online is packed with modes and runs great. Madden has never been friendlier to new players, and, who knows? Like me, you might learn something new about football.
Dene received a digital copy of Madden NFL 18 from EA for review.