1995. That’s the year I first played a John Madden game, and it was amazing. I can still sing the intro music at a second’s notice, I can still remember the joy of seeing an injured player bringing on an ambulance which proceeded to plough down anyone in its way. The Hail Mary play which ended up being my go-to play of choice just because it annoyed my brother. The quarterback sneak. The touchdown dances.
And then I remind myself that I was playing that 22 years ago, and maybe it’s time to let go.
Helping with that is Madden 18, the latest in the (very) long running series of American Football games which takes a hop into the Frostbite engine and gets a huge shot in the arm in terms of visual presentation that you didn’t even realise was needed until you see it in action. EA have always been up there with the best in terms of making games look good, but the new animations, interactions and cut-scenes within the games look staggeringly good now. More importantly the way that players collide has been improved; big hits now feel big, and draw a sharp intake of breath when they happen as you imagine their ribs straining under the sudden impact of a thundering head-on tackle at full speed. Catching a player’s foot or outstretched arm will affect your run, bringing an almost certain epic touchdown to nothing other than a slightly embarrassing stumble out of bounds. Similarly a diving catch, plucking a slight mis-throw out of the air for an amazing gain is a joy to behold, resulting in real world fist pumps and entirely unnecessary insults being thrown towards the losing player.
But it’s in the the various game modes that Madden 18 has really pulled something out of the bag. Ultimate Team is still as deep and involving as you would expect, although is also still as daunting to new players as it’s ever been, despite the efforts to make some areas more accessible and easier to use. There’s also a new story style mode, something now creeping into almost EA Sports games, and it’s this that provides a large chunk of the draw into this latest game. Under the name of the Longshot campaign, you’re taking charge of Devin Wade, an up and coming player who needs to overcome a series of challenges before being dropped into games and eventually, rather nicely, into your Ultimate Team. It’s not a massive campaign to undertake, 5 or 6 hours at the most, but it’s a brilliantly crafted experience and certainly worth its addition into the game.
But my favourite new addition is the Play Now Live mode, keeping track of the current NFL season and letting you replay parts of some key games the days after they’ve actually taken place. The attention to detail here is impressive; commentary is taken from the actual games into the games for example. With this being constantly updated throughout the season there’ll be no shortage or clashes to play out, trying to turn the balance in the favour of your team, or seeing if you could make some better play calls than the real life coaches. This, in my eyes, is the most valuable addition to the game this year, and is likely to become my go-to mode when first firing up the game.
Don’t get me wrong here, while the additions and new game engine are awesome, most of Madden 18 is the same as it’s been for a couple of years now. That’s no bad thing, the gameplay is as good as it’s ever been, and it’s every bit as enjoyable for new players as it is for experts, but don’t expect miracles in the overhaul department. Madden 18 is unashamedly similar to last year, but it’s the new additions that give you a very very difficult choice – wait it out another year for a bigger iteration between Madden 17 and 19, or take the plunge and enjoy some awesome new game modes. Personally, I’d be tempted to go for it. Madden 18 is the best Madden game I’ve played, both in terms of how it looks and what there is to do.
But I still miss the ambulance.
Reviewed on PS4