It's August, the heat of the summer is starting to cool down, the kids are going back to school, and the NFL Preseason is in full effect, which signifies one thing. It's Madden Season! With a new Madden comes new updates so read along as I break down all the updates and additions coming to Madden NFL 18, with my official review!
Frostbite Engine Makes All the Difference
Welcome to an all-new Madden experience. That’s what greeted me when I first turned on Madden NFL 18. In previous generations on the annual football game, it was pretty clear, from the beginning, that the graphics were just alright. Simulated movements looked robotic, facial features seemed forced, and the surrounding environment was obviously virtually created. Then EA Sports did something somewhat unexpected.
They added the Frostbite Engine.
EA’s patented engine, that makes graphics look as realistic as possible, has been around the consumer level for the better part of a year now, with games like FIFA 17 and Battlefield 1 at the forefront. So imagine my surprise when I turn on Madden 18, see Gillette Stadium in the loading screen, and have to do a double-take on if it’s the real thing or virtually created. That’s how good Madden NFL 18 looks.
The engine even goes beyond the noticeable in-game upgrades of NFL Stadiums and NFL players. From the moment you call your first play to the last moment when you take a knee, in the victory formation, Madden NFL 18 controls feel buttery smooth. It’s most noticeable in the run game. In previous versions of Madden, players would get stuck on uncoordinated Offensive Linemen. In 18, players are able to weave in and out of blocks to get to the second level, with hopes of breaking off a big run. It makes for a far more enjoyable experience.
The downside to the Frostbite engine is that it tends to have latency issues, at least my copy would deal with it from time-to-time. The good thing is, that’s something EA will address with updates, most likely before you get the game.
Fan Feedback Saves Madden
While it’s most noticeable in the run game, the passing game has improved a lot too. The two biggest factors to improving it were Frostbite and a TON of feedback from the fans. EA said in their E3 2017 Press Conference that they’d taken the time to listen to what fans loved and what they had problems with in 17 and tried to improve upon them in 18, and they did.
Some of the most annoying parts of Madden has been how your receivers can’t run up the field when they’re close to the sideline. That has been fixed. Previous glitches that allow the defender to snatch the ball through the receiver. That seems to be fixed. Quarterbacks not able to throw the ball when a DE is about to hit you. That’s mostly fixed but it’s also a timing deal. If you’re too late, your guy just gets knocked down. However, the most annoying thing that seems to have been fixed is Offensive Linemen aren’t dumb anymore! Praise the Madden Gods!
Let me explain my strange excitement. Last Madden season, each member of the OL could either be your best friend or your worst enemy. 90% of the time they were your worst enemy. I previously mentioned running backs being able to run between the tackles without stumbling every second. Part of that was due to OLs not being all that great, despite having 99 run block. However, what was the worst was in passing situations. If a DL got passed your OL, you were done, there was no more help for your QB, most of the time. In 18, not only do Lineman block better but your guard or RB isn’t just standing there twiddling his thumbs. He is waiting behind your RT to catch the DE and give the QB even more time. Furthermore, blocking in the screen game has improved. 4 out of 5 times, OL would get in the way during HB screens and it would ruin the play. That’s not the case in 18. Now, Linemen are further downfield and backs are far enough back to allow them to block their way up field, which is super helpful. Don’t even get me started on WR screens. Let’s just say they’re a lot more functional in this Madden than before.
I realize that I’m heaping a ton of praise on Madden NFL 18 right now, but that’s because it deserves to be celebrated for what it has fixed. It is a year-long game, so eventually we will find more bugs and things to get annoyed with to report to EA and it’ll be fixed, most likely when 19 comes out. For now, Madden fans will usually just relish in all the positive changes...for like a day and then we’ll find something to yell cuss words at.
Breaking Down the Modes
A new Madden season means that it’s time to see what new modes EA Sports has come up with to further improve the experience. This year, those modes are the new playstyles Arcade, Simulation, and Competitive. It’s likely that this was all created to give the varying levels of Madden players a chance to enjoy the game. For beginners, you have Arcade mode which takes the “No” out of the “No Fun League” by reducing penalties, injuries, and allowing players to make sick plays. I played it a few times and it really is a nice way to scrimmage with your friends.
Next is Simulation, in this mode it’s essentially the Madden experience you’ve known from the beginning. Injuries are on, penalties are on, pretty much every aspect of an NFL game is on. This mode would typically be used for Franchise Mode.
Finally, there is competitive mode. As you could probably guess from the name, it’s for professional Madden players. Now, that’s not to say it’s an overly difficult mode, because it isn’t. That mode is reserved for All-Madden. With this mode, they mainly want players who are good with stick movements to challenge themselves. Stick movements meaning Juke, Hit Stick, Spin, etc. It’ll be used primarily for Esports and qualifying.
EA also took some of their existing modes and placed them under the MUT brand, Madden Ultimate Team. Considering that’s where EA makes their bread and butter off of the game, it makes to add more under that umbrella. The most notable mode moving to MUT is Draft Champions. Meanwhile, they added a new mode in MUT Squads.
This particular addition forms two teams of three to go against each other, with each player selecting to be Offensive or Defensive Captain or Coach. If you’re the Offensive Captain, you’re the QB, plain and simple. If you’re the Defensive Captain you’re performing shifts and calling plays. If you’re Coach you’re there to pretty much do coaching duties. Selecting each role doesn’t exclude a player from playing on either side of the ball, though. Instead, they all have to work together to beat their opponents. It’s an interesting concept and I’d be curious how much EA invests in this mode. I could see them doing future tournaments like Tennis where you have the singles tournament and at the same time the team tournament.
Unrealistic Story That Annoyingly Tows the Company Line
Piggybacking off of the relative success of FIFA 17, EA Sports decided to also develop a story for Madden NFL 18. When I first heard about it, I was pretty excited but also a little hesitant. This is Madden. This is the NFL. You have to get it right. As you can probably tell from the headline, they didn’t.
EA created a story about a kid whose dream is to become a QB in the NFL. Unfortunately hard times come down on the kid and he’s forced to quit playing for a couple of years. When he’s invited to the Regional Scouting Combine, in Indy, his hopes are revitalized as an eccentric TV executive taps him to be the star of a new reality show, aptly called, Longshot.
Playing Longshot was as fun as rubbing my eyes in a pile of salt. For starters, the characters are all underdeveloped and crudely created. The main character, Devin, is always down on himself, always unsure, and doe-eyed for 90% of the acts. It doesn’t really matter what response you choose to give, he never gets better. His best friend Colt tends to have the most energy but even he is overdone, most of the time. Then you’ve got Jack Ford, who doesn’t ever seem like he wants to be there, the eccentric TV exec, who is literally represents the worst of humanity, two high school football commentators who give Texas a bad name, and Mahershala Ali who is the best part of the story and isn’t in it for 85% of it.
They tried really hard to make this story like a movie, but it’s not a movie anyone would want to watch. Draft Day was better than this, and that says a lot. Colt writes a song for Longshots, it’s terrible, but they force feed it down your throats, the love interest is completely forced and not needed, the much-needed comedy relief is way over-the-top, the antagonists are irrelevant and absent, suddenly you go to an Army base overseas for literally no reason, and the drama is completely anti-climactic. I’m all for underdog stories but this one was the kind of story where you root for the kid not to make it. Which just so happens to bring me to my next point.
None of the decisions matter. Throughout Longshot, your scouting report is judged based on your actions and how you hold yourself throughout the draft process. If you so much as sneeze wrong, suddenly there is a note in your report vilifying you. It’s evident that this entire storyline is the NFL trying to create the perfect prospect, and it’s boring. What makes it even worse is that you can go through the entire game, without making hardly any mistakes, and the result will still be the same. Why create a game where you make decisions if none of it amounts to anything?
Plus, Longshot is horribly unrealistic. There are moments where I heard Morgan Freeman, in Wanted, telling me to “Curve the Bullet”, because that’s exactly what they ask you to do. Somehow, you’re supposed to break the laws of physics and control a ball to go around defenders. If you’re telling me that Devin has this power, why in the hell isn’t he the 1st Overall Pick? I don’t care what kind of downtrodden emo kid you are, you have that ability you’re making $15 mil per year for the next 5 years.
Suffice to say, it’s a mess. I never really needed a story, to be honest. For years, EA did a nice job of having you create your own player and develop them over time. I liked that, well enough. I suppose I don’t understand why they needed to make it as preachy, hoaky, and overly dramatic as they did. Plenty of NFL players came from normal households, worked hard, and got drafted. I fully expected it to be like NBA 2K where you play well in high school, pick your college, play a couple of games there to improve your stock, get drafted, and go through the ups and downs of being an NFL star, not a watered-down Friday Night Lights. If this is where EA and the NFL wants to take Madden, they can just save the time and put their focus on the gameplay, because this is neither the Madden story we wanted or deserved.