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Madden 18: Good new modes, still an average game

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A little late, but here’s a review of the latest Electronic Arts NFL outing. It’s better than last year, but it’s still more of the same.

When I concluded my review of Madden 17, I challenged Electronic Arts to make something worth coming back year after year. It’s not that I don’t like football video games, it’s that I don’t like paying $60 year after year for the same football video game with minor improvements. Given the little improvements year after year, it feels more and more baffling why Madden isn’t just a $20 update (answer: people buy it for $60). This year it actually attempts to make you think that things under the hood are changed.

First is its much touted Frostbite Engine. Whatever that is, it makes the graphics look even better than before.

*yawn*

Don’t get me wrong, Madden 18’s graphics are improved, though marginally. I guess that means they are the best yet, but it’s certainly not something to bank and market on. To be fair, this is coming from someone who hasn’t shelled out the cash for a PlayStation Pro, so maybe the graphical upgrades are that much better if you have a higher end system. I’ll withhold judgment on that front. The good news is at least the character artwork no longer resembles the cast of The Night of The Living Dead. Coaches like Kyle Shanahan actually resemble their real life counterparts. It’s an improvement, but that didn’t require a graphics overhaul to accomplish. Let’s also keep in mind a football video game isn’t exactly something to tout character designs and review accordingly.

Beyond Frostbite comes a new passing mechanic that somehow has you playing with little meter sticks in order to get your pass just right into the right area of traffic. It doesn’t work very well. Much like when kicking has to be reinvented every year (and you scratch your head to why when it worked fine), it’s just another mechanic EA handed to an intern and asked to improve so they could tout a new feature in the game. This feature is very much unneeded.

It also gives you the option between Arcade, Simulation and Competitive when you decide to play your games. Arcade is more user-friendly, requiring less nuanced input and more fun factor. While Simulation is...well what Madden has come to be. Arcade mode is a nice touch, but it’s not on the level of Tecmo Super Bowl or NFL Blitz. It feels more like a dumbed down version of Madden, not something that’s pick-up and play—similar to playing Ninja Dog mode in Ninja Gaiden. Madden simply isn’t a game that arcade mode could work—that last statement is merely personal opinion and of all my polarizing criticisms leveled towards the franchise , that is the one I can understand arguments against. Arcade mode isn’t bad, in fact I’d say it’s a great move—it just doesn’t do it for me.

What Madden does have going for it is it’s story mode, Longshot. Sure it’s a collection of quicktime events and responses to help your draft stock, but there is some good care taken into the dialogue and story. The characters are likable despite their immature, post-adolescence and you find yourself emotionally invested in some of the decisions you’d make to help or hurt your draft stock. It’s a shame the story is only about four hours, as you could easily integrate the game’s traditionally boring practice modes into this and not miss a beat. The early scenes in Longshot at the combine would have been perfect to work on the game’s new haphazard passing mechanic and feels like a lost opportunity.

Interestingly enough though, I found myself having the most fun with the most non-Madden part of the game.

Other than that? It’s the same game you’ve been playing for years. Last year, I simply tossed in segments from my Madden 16 review. Thankfully, in my time with Madden 18, it seems like some of the more annoying things of the football sim may have been addressed. Running backs aren’t running around my defense anymore and the circus catches in crucial moments are down to a minimum. I can live with this. I can also wonder if I just got lucky not encountering the problems I had with this series the last two years.

So it’s been a few weeks since it came out. Should you buy it? The story mode at least is taking things in the right direction, but you’re still paying $60 for a game still shelled within 2014 design. While I wonder why EA can’t just release these for $20 a year (well, they stopped other developers from doing that) the story mode actually bumps this up to me wondering why this can’t be $40 a year.

$40 isn’t $60. But if you want to overpay for something or haven’t bought a Madden game since 2015, now’s the time to upgrade the experience. There are worse games to buy.

3/5