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Madden 18 is at its vibrant, emotional best when you have a star quarterback spiralling the ol’ pigskin downfield into the grateful arms of a speedy wide receiver.
It’s particularly satisfying when Devin Wade hooks up with his high school and college buddy, Colt Cruise. Together, the pair of them can carve up the gridiron.
Hang on, I hear you say. Devin Wade? Colt Cruise? Say who?
Welcome to a whole new side of Madden. Following the lead of last year’s Fifa football game, which introduced a new feature called The Journey, Madden 18 introduces Longshot, an interactive story mode.
Enter Devin Wade, a talented QB from the great state of Texas who dropped out of college after a family tragedy and joined the military, and is only slowly revisiting his dream of playing professional football.
Through pick-a-path responses to questions and a handful of football challenges, you get an opportunity to take Devin back to within a sniff of the promised land.
The whole story was filmed by real actors — Colt Cruise is played by the bloke who was Jason Street in the Friday Night Lights television show — and the motion capture work is quite impressive.
It’s a bit short — just a few hours — and there really is not enough actual football gameplay, but I found Longshot surprisingly enjoyable. The story is emotional without slipping into heavy cliche, the dialogue is not too cheesy (though there are some shocking mistakes in the subtitles), and there is a feeling of real satisfaction when you get Devin on track.
Presumably, as Fifa is doing with The Journey, Madden will revisit the Longshot concept in a year’s time, either to see where Devin has got to or to introduce a new contender.
However, outside Longshot, there is a fairly familiar look and feel to Madden.
Ultimate Team again gets a LOT of love — hmm, does it make EA more money or something? — and the mode is deeper than ever with hundreds of solo challenges, multiple online options and lots of unlockables and goodies. A new mode called MUT Squads allows you and two friends to team up, one controlling the offence, one the defence and one the overall coaching plan. Interesting, but doesn’t grab me.
And, of course, Franchise mode is at the heart of the game. Ask me in six months — when my beloved Rams have won five consecutive Super Bowls, and Jared Goff is a 99 overall — for a full review of Franchise, but it certainly looks as good as ever.
On the field, gameplay is largely unchanged. There’s a new (and optional) target passing mechanic — I’m not a fan, yet — and some lovely new physics animations, but there are also a couple of glitches (fumble recoveries, gahhhh) that need ironing out.
Oh, and one MAJOR failing this year — Tom Brady on the cover.