The latest member of the Madden franchise has taken a risk, but it may just have redefined expectations for sports gaming.
‘Madden NFL 18. It’s a Madden for everyone and Madden like you’ve never seen it before’ is the bold opening claim following the intro, and it is validated immediately by the choice of gameplay modes.
There’s arcade, simulation and competitive modes effectively adding an extra layer beyond difficulty for the user to alter their gameplay experience.
If you are familiar with the Madden series then simulation is most likely the mode you’ll feel at home within, while arcade mode is effectively Madden lite and an ideal introduction to football gaming.
There are fewer injuries, fewer penalties, and players exceeding their anticipated level to complete more big plays in frenetic games for experienced but casual users.
Then there is ‘Competitive’ which as you may expect from the title centres around tournament and head-to-head play. In EA’s words this is where the ‘hardcore’ fans live:
Competitive is all about head-to-head competition and tournament play. This is where user stick-skills are king and certain outcomes will be heavily weighted based on game situations and ratings thresholds.
Penalties are limited, there are no injuries, and random outcomes are rare. Executing gameplay mechanics and making the right reads dictate success when playing Competitive. EA competitive gaming events and ranked online game modes will be set to this style by default.
Be ready for some trash talk, for this is where the Madden hardcore reside.
The major change, and what may just have moved the goalposts for sports game developers is the introduction of a narrative mode to Madden. In ‘Lonsghot’ story mode you control the fate of Devin Wade as he hunts redemption and to become a pick in the NFL draft, similar to ‘The Journey’ on Fifa 17.
It runs like a movie with the player taking control to make decisions both on and off the field for Wade, a former hot prospect from the University of Texas whose career stalled after his father, played by Mahershala Ali – kudos on that one EA, died in a traffic incident.
The mode is an innovative way to help new users hone their skills, and experienced fans learn to utilise new features such as target passing and defensive blocking.
Is it perfect? No. At times user involvement feels an afterthought to what could’ve been a film script. You guide Devin through the shark infested waters of reality television as he earns the right to tutelage from a man with his own tale of regret, Jack Ford.
But this is a developing style of play that will undoubtedly be refined, and it has to start somewhere.
Your role varies from selecting Devin’s responses to confrontation, questioning, and important life choices, while also taking control of him in training drills, matchplay from his memory, seven-a-side matchups, all the way to the NFL draft – and there are no guarantees your choices will make him a top pick.
If you don’t like this form of narrative well the answer is simple; just don’t play it. The game still has all the regular franchise and online modes to satisfy your gridiron needs – the hours of cinematic play are entirely optional.
Madden 18 has embraced a new sub-genre that you should expect to see more of within major sports titles.
All in all, the longshot concept makes Madden 18 well worth a punt.