A review copy of Madden NFL 18 was kindly provided by EA Sports for the purposes of this review. This has not influenced the review in any form.
Madden NFL 18
Formats: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
It seems SOMEONE at EA Tiburon had a shred of humility, at least. In the 8 months between Super Bowl LI and the release of Madden 18, EA secured the services of the architect of the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, and announced a collector’s edition of the new game, entitled “The G.O.A.T. Edition”. It would have been easy for the developers to recreate said comeback in the opening “tutorial” section. Fortunately, for me, at least, I was allowed the opportunity to right the wrongs of February’s past. Thank you, EA.
Madden 18 is exactly what you’d expect from the long running NFL simulator. Now in its 29th season, the juggernaut series sticks true to its established game play, with a handful of minor tweaks to enhance the experience. As ever, EA offer a slight evolution over a drastic revolution.
Frost bitten, twice shy
That’s not to say Tiburon haven’t made several strides forward. Making its series debut is EA’s signature “Frostbite” engine; a physics engine thrown to prominence with the popularity of the Battlefield series of games. Up until now, Madden, as well as other EA Sports titles had run from a bespoke “Ignite” engine, designed to make your sports titles feel more alive. Given my ignorance towards the technicality of video games this means very little to me, but it appears to have allowed for a greater range of player faces? Even behind the visor, just about every player can be made out.
What Frostbite does do, I can confirm, is make the environments looks gorgeous. Stadiums look better than they have before. After spending a considerable amount of time in the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium (it’s me, of course I was going to play a bunch of games there), I can tell you that everything looks beautiful. Shadows and sun glare matches perfectly what fans in Atlanta will experience this season. And, I can assure you, every stadium in the league is given the same treatment.
Madden 18: A Telltale Series
The second major addition to the Madden series, and thanks (or so EA say) to the Frostbite engine, is a story mode. I’ve never understood, while we’re on this topic, why something like this couldn’t be created before Frostbite? Cutscenes and QTEs existed YEARS before Frostbite, so..? Similar to FIFA 17, which introduced “The Journey”, Madden 18 has a story titled “Longshot”. Longshot follows the journey of Devin Wade, a forgotten College Quarterback, looking to get himself in a position to get drafted. Along the way you’ll be presented with dialogue choices to influence what the main man is thinking and feeling, to immerse you in Wade’s story that little bit more.
Longshot is a weird beast to analyse. There’s no doubt it is a worthy addition to the overall package, however, beyond the “actually really enjoyable story”, the gameplay is…strange. Aside from a handful of matches, the gameplay consists mainly of Quick Time Event-style mini games and branching dialogue options. Longshot feels more like something you’d get from Telltale Games than EA Sports. The performances of the actors involved, and the story that’s told, however, keep you engaged and interested throughout. Longshot clocked in at roughly 5 hours, making it more of a distraction than anything else, but I’d likely recommend giving it a once over just to experience the story itself.
Away from story-time is the usual plethora of modes and options to keep you engaged. For many, myself included, Connected Franchise will be the road most traveled over the course of the next 12 months. As with previous incarnations, Connected Franchise allows players to start a career as a player, coach, or owner. One thing this mode has over a standard career mode on FIFA or equivalent is the ability to start an online save with up to 32 other players, and play through the save competitively. It’s something that I, personally, have enjoyed most about Madden for 5 or 6 years. Madden 18’s edition of the mode does nothing to dampen my enjoyment of it.
The addition of a draft board is welcome. In the past, all players in the league would have to be online to be sure you’d be getting the players you want. Now, a draft board allows you to set your preference of who your team selects, meaning you’ve only yourself to blame when you end up with 4 free safeties. It’s the little things that add to an already great package, and it’s a package I hope will eventually spread to EA’s other franchises.
Aside from this addition, however, Connected Franchise is very much what you make of it. If you’re willing to invest a few hours a night into a league with a bunch of friends, it’s perfect. Beyond that, it’s difficult to say it’s a major improvement over last year’s incarnation, and that’s worth taking into account before handing over your hard earned cash.
The Heart of Cards
Rounding out the major game modes is Madden Ultimate Team. It would be remiss of me to not mention that Ultimate Team isn’t a mode I’m particularly fond of. While its an incredibly popular mode, something just doesn’t sit right with me when playing through the squad building time-sink. The constant pursuit of better players, and better cards, resonates with me (or the Pokémon card collecting version of me). I wonder if perhaps the grind nature of the mode is the barrier.
I will concede, however, that Ultimate Team does have plenty here for the person looking to get into the mode. A plethora of single player challenges boast a myriad of player-based rewards to help you on your way. However, as always, the most effective way to build the team you want appears to be sinking your own cash into to the game. That’s not to say you can’t earn the players you’re after through your own means. However, the carrot is dangling at the end of the stick should you want to compete immediately.
Madden 18 is, effectively, a better version of Madden 17. There are still some issues with the game play, such as obvious blocks not being picked up on certain running plays. WHICH IS ANNOYING. But EA Tiburon has proven it can still scheme a good play. If you’re looking for an authentic replication of the league to tide you over between Sunday’s, you’ve no better choice. Ultimate Team is as binge worthy as ever and I’m sure die hards (our Editor-in-Chief included) will be sinking many evenings and nights into completing the solo challenges before testing their skills online. Madden 18 is more Alex Smith than Drew Brees. A safe bet to play a steady game, but the lack of huge leaps forward may frustrate some. Less Super Bowl, more Pro Bowl, this year.