A common complaint of yearly sports franchises is that releases often feel like a mere roster change, or a fresh coat of paint on an already existing structure. Obviously large sweeping changes take time to introduce, and only so much can be done in a year, so these complaints do sometimes hold some validity to them. I don’t suspect any of these complaints will be lobbed at Madden NFL 18, though. EA Tiburon has done a lot for the 2017 installment of their football giant, and that hard work has paid dividends.
This is a complete overhaul, and it can be seen on a base level since Madden NFL 18 is no longer using the IGNITE engine, and is now on Frostbite. This leads to some impressive graphics, and it’s really used to the title’s advantage in its story mode as they are able to nail the actors’ performances. Furthermore, this year’s Madden includes a cooperative twist on Ultimate Team, and some big gameplay changes that should help more players be able to jump in and start having fun immediately. It’s really impressive how much has been done in just a single year, and that the game hasn’t lost any mainstays in the process.
As alluded to earlier, the biggest new addition is a story mode called Longshot. I found the mode compelling enough to write a full review of it, but here’s how I summed up the experience:
Electronic Arts isn’t the first company I think of when I think about taking risks with established franchises, but I’m hopeful that Longshot will get them to do more experimentation in the future. It’s a story of personal growth, friendship and overcoming your own demons in a football wrapper, and it’s absolutely a success. As weird as it is to say, one of the year’s best stories is found in Madden NFL 18.
Longshot is really where the Frostbite engine gets to flex its muscles, as the story goes to some pretty cool locations like the Middle East, and the player gets to look at objects other than football stadiums. There are also some real-life stars recreated in the five-hour mode, and I was really impressed with how Madden managed to capture Dan Marino’s likeness in particular. The digital version of the Dolphins legend is the spitting image of the real-life quarterback, and he does a great job in the role of a mentor.
After the story wraps up, players can continue onward with the characters they grew to love in both franchise and MUT modes. I had a great time in the franchise mode in particular since they’ve continued to incorporate some light RPG mechanics where players earn experience during games, and they can then use that to improve both coaches and players. There’s as much depth as one would expect from such a mode, that allows players to play dozens of seasons, but I did find the user interface to be tedious in some spots. Oftentimes I found myself struggling to easily get where I was going in the menus, and their were previous Madden games where I had no such issue.
As far as on the field gameplay goes, there are now three ways to play. Players can either jump into a more arcade-like mode that’ll use a relaxed ruleset and encourage big plays, a simulation experience that players have come to expect from the series, or a competitive mode, which is the simulation-based mode that’s the default for online play. I mainly played with the simulation settings (it is Madden after all), but I did play a couple games with the arcade settings. These were a lot of fun, and will definitely allow for some more high-scoring matches.
The only major addition that really fell flat for me was the ability to lead receivers on by using target passing. To use this feature, players have to hold down the left trigger while passing and then use the left analog stick to determine where the throw will be in relation to the wide receiver. As Madden players know, the quarterback only has a few seconds to get rid of the ball, and while I had some success with the feature in practice mode, I never found it feasible to use during a competitive match. Maybe better players than myself will be able to do some incredible things with the extra precision, but it wasn’t helpful as someone who plays comfortably on All-Pro, but isn’t a world beater.
MUT Squads on the other hand is a mode that really surprised me. I’ve never been into Madden‘s Ultimate Team in the past, but this three-on-three mode will definitely force me to get into it this year. Each player is assigned a position on-field (such as Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, or Defensive Coordinator), and the team takes on players from each of the three players’ separate squads. Having to form real football strategies while playing with other humans is a lot of fun, and while the enjoyment will definitely depend on who you’re playing with, I had a blast in the few matches I was able to put together.
Madden NFL 18 is an impressive leap forward for the series. Not only is Longshot an ambitious and fantastically told story, it’s one that isn’t limited to pre-existing football fans. There’s also more ways to enjoy the game than ever before, as there are several play styles that will mold the game into either a more realistic or arcade-like experience depending on what the user desires. EA Tiburon has set a new high bar for the series, that they’ll have to work towards reaching every year going forward. For now, though, NFL fans can enjoy one of the best sports games that Electronic Arts has ever put out.
Madden NFL 18 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. Part of the review is based upon a build that we played during a trip where Electronic Arts covered travel expenses. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.