Sports games are going through a very competitive phase at the moment, and some could argue that it’s been competitive since the beginning of this gen. Devs are working hard to refine the experience that they’re dishing out, be it through the addition of a story mode or through new interesting features. Hell, you only have to look at how hard FIFA and PES are pushing forward their announcements to ensure that they gain fan momentum. Competition is always good for the consumer, be it Konami, EA, or 2K, so long as they’re keeping each other on their toes, you can always bet that we’ll get the best version of a sports game that they can offer. So what does Madden 18 bring to the table? A well rounded experience that looks and feels absolutely amazing.
Madden NFL 18 has been subject to a complete revamp, being that it’s shifted from the IGNITE engine to the impressive Frostbite engine, a move that’s undoubtedly going to go down well with the crowd. The same can be said about the improved gameplay mechanics and additional features, such as Longshot, Madden NFL 18’s first story mode. Longshot is surprisingly deep, revolving around Devin Wade, a man who has lost his dad to a car accident and since suffers with forms of panic attacks.
Much like in the real world, loss can affect us in different ways, but for Devin, he’s lost the passion he has for the game. However, following his return from the military, Devin and his buddy Colton decide to make one more attempt at joining the NFL Draft, ultimately leading them to the National Football League. I wont dive into any specifics, as this is really something you should witness yourselves first hand, but I will point out that EA Tiburon have absolutely outdone themselves on this front alone. The story isn’t just meaningful and touching, but it manages to grip your attention and hold it firmly until the conclusion.
Longshot plays out a little differently to what you’ll get from the other modes within. You don’t quite get to enjoy any full games, but instead a range of different gameplay functionalities that cater well for the story. Quick time events will see you throwing a pass or dodging a tackle, you’ll get to play some 7 on 7, and other neat additions that will have you achieving all of the tasks that you’re set to accomplish. There’s also some player choice that factors into the story mode that can alter how people will perceive you, though I couldn’t quite grasp whether these decisions altered the story, or just the journey. In any case, the implementation of these additions are well struck and fit right in.
Outside of the story mode, Madden NFL 18 is equally as enjoyable and every bit as impressive. I never played the previous iteration, but I know exactly what complaints were put forward. I don’t think that the fine tuning has completely rid the game of the issues that the series was criticised for via the last outing and prior, but I can safely say that Madden NFL 18 runs well without any technical faults in sight. The game captures the realism of the sport excellently, not just on a mechanical front, but visually too. It goes without saying that the story mode is where the power of Frostbite shines at its brightest, but that’s not to say that the rest of the game doesn’t hold up, because it does.
Everything from the pitch to the cheering crowd looks sensational, showcasing the much loved sport in all of its digital glory is something that EA Tiburon have executed magnificently. My only gripe sits with some of the animations. Tackling and catching animations are near perfect, but that’s never really been a downside for this series in-particular. The biggest criticism has always been with the animations following a harsh tackle, which sadly (although polished in comparison to previous installations) is still an issue. Players will flop to the floor as though they’re rag dolls suffering from a momentary convulsion, and although this doesn’t make itself apparent very often, it happens enough that you’re bound to see it for yourselves regardless.
Gameplay itself is tight and responsive, but much more difficult as a result depending on which way you play. You can now choose from one of three ways to play. You can enjoy the arcade-like mode which offers a relaxed set of rules and pushes you to play big, a competitive mode that’s more sim-based (default for online play) and focuses on the stats of the player along with your skill, or the simulation mode that offers the most authentic experience out of the lot. These choices make the game more accessible for those that wish to choose their own playstyle, and caters for each selection accordingly.
Regardless as to what mode you lean on, the AI remains challenging throughout. Some may argue that the AI is overly aggressive, but I found it to be spot on. AI will react quickly in almost any situation and then act on impulse to ensure that you’re working hard for your game. The improved gameplay mechanics helps to balance out the reworked AI, such as the new passing system (target passing) which allows you to throw precisely where you want to, or / and who you want to connect with. This gives you much more control and accuracy over the ball, offering you fluid gameplay that sits well with how you position yourself anywhere on the pitch.
If you’re new to the series or want to brush up on your know-how, you can take to the helpful Skills Trainer, which will guide you through all of the rules of play in great depth and careful explanation. This is especially useful if you’re a noob and you want to go straight into online play, so be sure to pay this a visit beforehand. Ultimate Team is now the highlight of online play, and although I fully expect the pay-to-win criticism to be a forefront complaint, which wouldn’t be an unfair criticism, there are indeed several ways to earn in-game currency offline. Ultimate Team enables you to trade, auction, and unlock players as you go about making the best possible team, with challenges offering up rewards in the form of currency and upgrade points to further bolster your strengths. Obviously the amount of fun you have will depend on who you’re playing against, but from what I have enjoyed this far, there’s a great deal of entertainment to be had within.
Madden NFL 18 is certainly a step up for the series, technically, mechanically, and visually. There’s still a few issues with the animation in certain circumstances and scenarios, but for the most part, this is easily the best Madden title to date. It controls exceptionally well and comes with some fierce AI that will give you a run for your money. The Ultimate Team will still cost an arm and a leg in exchange for the grind, but I cant see this trade-off going away anytime soon, though it still isn’t a notion that can be forgiven either way. The story mode, albeit brief, is a touching journey that should please anyone who gives it a try, hopefully we see more of the same in future installations. The decision to switch from the IGNITE engine to the Frostbite engine is without a doubt, an excellent choice on the devs part. It’s allowed them to push forward a game that celebrates the much loved sport, offering up an authentic take that plays well, looks incredible, and serves countless hours of fun. If you’ve enjoyed every Madden game so far, you’ll love Madden NFL 18.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.