Madden 18 Review: Longshot And MUT Squads Usher In A New Golden Age

9
  • Playstation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Sports
2017-08-25
madden 18 tom brady
The new Frostbite Engine improves the graphics in Madden 18 EA Sports

Madden 05 is my favorite iteration of the long-standing franchise and the one I put the most hours into. It’s easy-to-grasp controls, the implementation of the hit stick and the evolution of the Franchise Mode really made that 05 one of the best Maddens.

Fast forward 13 years and EA Sports’ Madden 18 looks to give my beloved 05 a run for its money. Building upon years of tweaked gameplay controls, a brand-new engine, evolving game modes and adding some game-changing features like a story mode (the first in the history of Madden) makes Madden 18 feel the freshest it’s felt in years and a game that will please newcomers and longtime fans alike.

PRESENTATION

EA Sports has brought Madden 18 to the next level of gaming graphics by jumping to the Frostbite Engine. Stadiums, lighting, the crowds and players look photorealistic and it really brings this Madden to a new era.

One look at the in-game rain effects demonstrates how great the Frostbite Engine is – players will appreciate the way the raindrops fall on the field as well as subtle realistic details like droplets collecting over the camera lens. What’s more, the superior performance of the Frostbite Engine can really be seen in the Madden 18 cutscenes. From teams running onto the field to the opening credits when you first boot up the game and see Tom Brady walk into Gillette Stadium, it’s all really gorgeous to watch. But that’s not even getting to the Longshot story mode, which we’ll get to more later.

madden 18 stadium
Stadiums and the crowd look better than ever in Madden 18 Photo: EA Sports

However, the in-game models and the animations were OK. Rough patches like missing frames and instances where character models would phase through one another affected the game, but that’s definitely something I would expect from a studio (EA Tiburon) using a new game engine for the first time. I’m not giving it a complete pass, but I hope future patches and updates will continue to improve the game’s graphics.

Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis return to do the commentary in Madden 18 and while the two are good at their jobs, their voices began to feel like white noise in the background as I played through game after game. Still, I prefer Gaudin and Davis to the previous team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, as there is a semblance of chemistry between the new duo.

Finally, I have to give a shout out to the soundtrack. While the list is hip-hop heavy, the songs all feel unique and “feel” like they belong in a Madden game.

GAMEPLAY

Every new version of Madden each year EA tries to add new gameplay controls to freshen up how the game plays and feels. A specific position or side of the ball is focused on, with running backs receiving a buff in last year’s game.

This time, Madden 18 doesn’t add too much in terms of gameplay and its controls, it does an amazing job incorporating changes from past games and making it simple for anyone to understand especially in-game.

There are small notifications when you perform different moves as a running back like jukes and hurdles while also prompting you to press a button to shed tacklers. The same can be said for the receivers, where prompts for different inputs flash on the screen to notify players if they’ll be performing aggressive-style catches. And if you’re throwing a ball, the game tells you if you’re throwing a bullet pass or a lob so players can adjust during the game.

None of this is new, but it’s always great to see Madden keep gameplay mechanics that have been around for years so players who continue to play each year are rewarded.

madden 18 marshawn lynch
Running back moves are intact in Madden 18. Photo: EA Sports

What is new is the Target Passing mechanic, where players can now pin where the quarterback wants the ball to go. This is especially helpful to lead receivers away from defenders. While I managed to put this new mechanic into practice in practice modes, it just didn’t seem to click during an actual game. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to move your cursor to where you want a receiver to catch a ball and even then, you have to follow the receiver’s route to even have a chance to complete the pass you’re looking for.

Of course, with more practice, this could be a valuable tool in games, but it seems easier to simply not use it.

Another new feature in Madden 18 are Skill Levels that you choose at the start of the game. There are three different levels to choose from: Arcade, which limits the amount of flags and allows for easy scoring. Simulation, which is the normal Madden experience and closest to an actual NFL game. And there’s Competitive, which is for advanced Madden players and where hit sticks matter.

These levels can be changed in the Settings and while many will simply choose the normal Madden experience, it’s great that EA is keeping the newcomers in mind so they can play a casual game of football without having to have years of gameplay experience behind it.

FRANCHISE MODE AND MORE

Franchise Mode in Madden games is where players go for a great single-player experience and Madden 18 is no exception.

There are minor changes in this year’s Franchise Mode, including some AI updates when it comes to simulating drafts, but the two biggest are the customizable draft boards and the starting points. Let’s start with customizable draft boards first.

With this, players can move potential draft picks they scout up or down on their draft board so it’s easier to keep track of who has been taken and which of the players players want are still available. It’s pretty simple to just select and drop up or down on the board and it’s similar to how you choose your rosters or create your depth charts.

madden 18 draft board
The Draft Board during Franchise Mode can now be altered. Photo: EA Sports

As for your roles in Franchise Mode, players are again asked to choose between Owner, Coach or Player. While creating and building up your own custom Player is great, the real fun in Franchise Mode is playing as the Owner or Coach. Seeing how increasing or decreasing the price of food at the stadium affects the team when you’re the Owner gives another layer of depth that hasn’t been duplicated.

Of course, choosing the Coach role is probably the most fun and gives players the best Madden experience as you dictate roster moves, which players you want to improve and call the plays for the entire team. Whichever role you choose, Franchise Mode in Madden 18 continues to be a blast.

I definitely appreciate the Skills Trainer mode coming back in Madden 18. It’s a great tool for newcomers to learn the controls and the basics of play calling and reading defenses. It’s also great for returning players who may not have picked up Madden in a few months. There’s nothing wrong with brushing up on the basics.

LONGSHOT

The Story mode in sports games is still relatively new, although it’s something EA Sports has done with FIFA in the past. However, the implementation of a story mode in a Madden game was a bit of a shock to me when it was announced at E3 2017.

The trailer looked promising and the story looked engaging and interesting so I dove in with an open mind. My mind was blown.

EA’s Josh Looman told me that Longshot was a “football movie you can play” and that’s exactly what it is. The story crafted for Longshot is something special and is complimented with some superb acting on all sides.

Each character is fleshed out and even minor characters get their time to shine. Mix that with dialogue that can make you laugh and you have an all-around enjoyable story.

madden 18 devin wade window
The story of Devin Wade is a highlight in Madden 18 Photo: EA Sports

This is also where the potential of the Frostbite Engine is put on display as as the cut scenes are brilliant and the structures, venues and places that you travel to really puts players in the story.

However, one gripe I do have are the transitions between scenes. Without giving away spoilers, there are scenes that start you in an office and the next puts you in a car. The transitions just seem to happen abruptly and it can take out you of the story. I also would have liked to see more of Devin Wade’s past, but I understand that those things were probably cut for time because it’s a substantial story to get through, especially for a sports game.

Longshot isn’t all cutscenes, though, as there are quick time events, dialogue choices and minigames to get through and a lot of those choices affects the ending of the story. Players are given a Scouting Report that can be accessed when the game is paused. It shows players Wade’s character and performance grades as well as positive and negative notes about your decisions and performance in minigames. Not all dialogue choices affect your character score, but with the report, you can easily pinpoint which ones affect the story and your grade.

Each minigame varies up the gameplay, from playing simulated games to target practice. Nothing feels stale and there’s great pacing between story and gameplay so that your time in Longshot doesn’t feel long or dragged out.

Taking about six hours to complete, Longshot is a great mix of story, visuals, acting and gameplay. There’s also different endings you can get, depending on your dialogue choices and your performance, so there’s replayability here and EA gives three save slots for the story mode, which is always great.

Longshot has opened up new and exciting possibilities for what Madden can do in the future and I’m confident that Madden fans old and new will take to Longshot.  

MUT AND MUT SQUADS

I’ll be honest, I never really took to Madden Ultimate Team (MUT). I appreciated it for what it was and the amount of gameplay it gave players, but the grinding aspect of it just didn’t appeal to me. MUT in Madden 18 is pretty much the same from the past games with players completing challenges for in-game currency and experience to open up digital cards to fill out their team with past and current players. Players can then take their teams online to compete in tournaments for even more rewards.

MUT has become very popular in Madden circles and those who enjoyed it in past years will enjoy it in Madden 18. That said, a new twist to the mode is where I began to come around to MUT.  

madden 18 heinz field
In MUT Squads, the Head Coach can decide where you play. Photo: EA Sports

A new cooperative gameplay mode called MUT Squads lets you team-up with up to two other players to take on other teams online. What’s unique about MUT Squads is that each of the three team members choose a role and they can only control that aspect of the game.

There’s Head Coach, Offense and Defense with Head Coach having the least responsibility, which is great for newer players. What MUT Squads does well is bring that co-op/team element to Madden in a way that hasn’t been seen before. Each player on the team has their specialized jobs that contribute to the team. It gives everyone a desire to become better in that particular role.

If I’m better at calling defense, then I can focus my card-collecting to get the best defensive players to make our team’s defense better and the same goes for the offense. It’s great to create a party with friends and enter into games with other teams and gives Madden 18 a very esports feel.

And while I don’t particularly like the grinding/microtransaction aspect of MUT, if it’s to make my team better, I can get behind some grinding to receive some awesome cards and help my team win.

VERDICT

Madden 18 introduces some game-changing new features in Longshot and MUT Squads and they really usher in a new era for the franchise. Both give Madden fans something they’ve never experienced before and open up a ton of possibilities in future games.

The move to the Frostbite engine gives Madden 18 a gorgeous new look and brings that movie-feel to Longshot. While there are some rough spots in the graphics, the thought that Madden will be on Frostbite moving forward is something fans should be excited about.

Controls, gameplay and longstanding modes like Franchise and Madden Ultimate Team remain relatively the same. They are still enjoyable and give the Madden experience that fans have come to expect year and year out. Madden 18 is an experience both new and old fans will be happy with.

REVIEW SUMMARY
Madden NFL 18
9
Longshot And MUT Squads Usher In A New Golden Age
Madden 18 introduces some game-changing new features in Longshot and MUT Squads and they really usher in a new era for the franchise.
  • Frostbite Engine noticeable graphics upgrade
  • MUT Squads is a full co-op experience
  • Longshot is an amazing story and fun
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