It's that time again, as EA Sports starts its annual barrage of sports sims, all polished and updated for the new season. Kicking things of nicely is the latest iteration of their American Football franchise, Madden NFL 18.
And this year it's all change.
Following FIFA 17's lead, last year, with it's single-player campaign mode, “The Journey”, Madden NFL 18 features a movie-quality story mode in “Longshot”. This is a massive inclusion and a total game-changer. Longshot tells the story of one-time college football hopeful, Devin Wade and his last shot at the NFL. The campaign features the likenesses of real actors like Mahershala Ali (most recently seen in Netflix's Luke Cage) playing Devin's father and former Oakland Raiders running back, JR Lemon as Devin, himself.
Longshot adds some meat to the single-player experience, which, like most sports sims up until now, has previous involved picking a team and playing a season. But it also serves as a great introduction to NFL as well as the game, Madden NFL 18.
Longshot is heavy on the drama, with much of the player interaction being simple button presses and Mass Effect-style conversation choices. Slowly gamers are introduced to the Madden game mechanics. The actual football in Longshot is Madden-lite, with gamers only controlling Devin or the catcher. Many of the games/setups are Devin recalling his career up to the point that he washes out during a colleague football game, before trying his hand again to get back into NFL.
Whilst the campaign serves as good intro to the game for newcomers, I can see veterans getting itchy fingers and more than a little frustrated by the restrictive gameplay during the three-hour story. But, if you are keen to experience an interactive NFL movie, you will find Longshot very entertaining.
The inclusion of the story campaign isn't the only change.
For this entry EA have swapped the game engine from Ignite over to Frostbite- the same engine used to power pretty-much all of EA's games from Battlefield 1 to Mass Effect: Andromeda. The engine is superbly optimised and offers almost photoreal graphics. EA have been slowly rolling it out across all their sports titles. It's use, last year, for FIFA 17, shows that the Frostbite engine can add a lot to sports games.
On Xbox One the visuals are outstanding. The muted colour pallet is a lot more realistic; gone are the oversaturated grass tones and instead we have a realistic green. The players' kit is full of detail from the texture of the material to the lacquered metallic finish or the helmets. The screen grabs accompanying this review may look like promo images, but they are not. They were all capture in-game my me. The games physics impressively capture the action, with players looking like they are really connecting on the field. The action is animated with smooth, high-quality realism.
The commentary is still the best of any sports title. The conversations, packed full of facts and stats, between hosts Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis add an unparalleled and very informative level of realism to the game.
The visual tweaks aside, the gameplay is still very similar to past iterations, but with some improved player control and catching options.. New for this year, gamers can choose from three types of gameplay- Arcade, Simulation and Competitive, accommodating casual and hardcore fans.
As well as the new Longshot campaign, you've got all the usual gameplay modes to choose from. New and returning players would be wise to check out the comprehensive drills in the Skills Trainer before trying anything else. EA Sports' deep, collectable card-based mode, Ultimate Team returns and, of course, you've got the instant action of Play Now and Online Head-to-Head. The full NFL experience can be had taking your team all the way to the Superbowl in Franchise mode.
Madden NFL 18 sets a high standard for this year's EA Sports titles. An incredibly polished presentation, fluid gameplay and stunning visuals make this a great entry in the classic NFL series.