It doesn’t take much for me to get excited about a new game.
As an experienced FIFA player, it’s been hard to make huge changes to the hugely popular franchise each year because it’s so good already. And if it isn’t broke, why fix it?
Madden, on the other hand, is a game I don’t know as well, but it’s been clear over previous years that there’s still so much that can be done to make it better.
And it’s from FIFA that EA Sports and the Madden makers have taken some inspiration for 18’s newest feature – Longshot.
Alex Hunter was the first virtual character we were introduced to by EA, with FIFA 17 players able to take on the career of Hunter as he advanced from a kid all the way through to being a Premier League star.
It was wildly popular, earning rave reviews for everything from the storyline to the graphics.
So it’s no surprise that EA got Madden on board with Frostbite to bring story mode to 18 – and so came the birth of Longshot.
Again, I’m no Madden expert, but have a few tough seasons of online leagues with some seriously capable American players in my locker. While checking out the tweaks to game play and the usual roster upgrades was appealing, it was Longshot that called out to me as I put M18 into my PS4 to begin this review.
It’s safe to say I didn’t regret the choice.
For any fans of Friday Night Lights, Madden hit the mark with the introduction of Jason Street as main character Devin Wade’s best friend Colt Cruise.
He’s the best of a number of famous faces who make up Wade’s family, friends, coaches, teammates and opponents.
Oscar winner Mahershala Ali appears straight away as Wade’s dad and that’s when Madden throw in the first of many decisions you’ll have to make throughout the story. You then meet Colt, who brings the laughs – a big change in style for actor Scott Porter, who plays the more serious Street in Friday Night Lights. Barry Corbin is just another actor who makes an appearance while the more familiar faces of Chad Johnson, Dan Marino, Larry English, Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan soon show up too.
Games are supposed to be fun and all these actors play characters in a game that is exactly that – but they also help provide valuable conviction to something that can also tug at the heart strings.
The death of Wade’s dad has undoubtedly left a mark and that follows him throughout the story, haunting him as he struggles with the expectation of being a Texas Longhorns quarterback and then as a wannabee at the regional draft.
It’s at that draft where you get your hands on a ball for the first time and Longshot does well to alternate between the classic offensive view and a simpler view to ensure Wade makes the throws he’s supposed to in order to continue the story.
Longshot seems like an obvious reference to what it’s like for any young football player trying to make it to the NFL, but that’s taken on a step by the story introducing the brilliant Ross Fountain – the director of TV show Longshot.
And you’re faced with arguably your biggest early decision – take on the show which could put you in front of the NFL scouts you need to get drafted or continue working in the obscurity of Mathis, Wade’s hometown.
I’d be surprised if anyone plays this story mode and opts for the safe bet because where’s the fun in that? I accept the invitation and the Longshot story really begins, taking Wade through live TV appearances, flashbacks to high school, visits to the Army, arguments with producers, a break up with Colt, a make up with Colt and a lot of throws.
But it’s all a tonne of fun – and M18 just about gets it right with the amount of story and game play involved.
Perhaps the only real negative is the above sentence may only apply to certain gamers – and others might find they spend too much time watching the story develop away from practice or game day. But it’s a story mode for a reason and if that doesn’t work for people then the normal game modes are never far away.
Besides, some dedication to getting the story done eventually wind you up at Wade’s biggest test – the Longshot finale.
All the stars are involved, including Wade’s coach Jack Ford, Marino, Justin Forsett, English and Ochocinco, who quickly changes from his suit to helmet and pads to play for Wade’s team.
And then it’s up to you to apply everything you’ve learned in some very informative practice sessions to the field, taking on five challenges, ranging from leading a drive down the field for a touchdown to not passing to Colt – something I had to wrestle with my morals about.
At the end up, depending on how well you’ve done, Wade will get that call from the NFL on draft day, but that isn’t straight forward either and throws up an interesting dilemma that I won’t spoil for you.
From the first throw to the last, Longshot shows with every story and cameo that it’s a welcome addition to the Madden franchise and is very much here to stay. So throw yourself into it and see if you’ve got what it takes to make the NFL – even if it’s only for a few hours!