Will ‘Madden 18’s’ Story Mode Be A Fan Favorite From The Past Or On-Rails Like ‘Fight Night Champion?’

We’re a few months into the NFL’s offseason, which means it’s time to start thinking about the digital gridiron. EA released the first trailer for Madden ’18 and amidst the usual promises and platitudes, a big reveal was snuck in at the end of the video: story mode. Or at least, what seems like a story mode. There are no concrete details yet, but considering FIFA ’17’s The Journey mode was so well received, we can all assume this footage is going to put us under the helmet of a player as they make their way to the NFL. Kind of like Fight Night Champion.

Here is the trailer, teasing a player-controlled narrative (and cued for your convenience):

Here’s what we can unpack from the dark footage of a solemn man sitting across from Lucas Oil Stadium: it’s not some horror story in which a man in a sweater is stalking a coliseum, that guy looks like he’s getting mentally prepared for the NFL Combine. The voiceover lends even more to this theory of an on-rails story mode:

“My father used to say ‘when the world knocks you down, get back up again.'”

That’s some really deep stuff right there. You can even take something from the fact that the main character is looking at his reflection in the glass as he looks toward his future at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Andy Dwyer once caught passes.

Hopefully, this is just a trailer, and we get more of an RPG experience. Madden, like many sports games, are already deep experiences where a player’s actions can forge their own unique careers, but the pinnacle of these modes (in Madden) was Superstar Mode in Madden ’06 and ’07. They should be building on those experiences (like Franchise), rather than spending time and resources on what will essentially amount to — pre-determined gameplay moment, cut scene, specific gameplay moment, cut scene, and on and on until there’s a happy ending. It’s 2017, give us players the ability to use creativity and the brutally random nature of sports to deliver an experience that won’t be played once (maybe) and then forgotten.

EA knows that the Franchise Mode is one of the most popular modes in the whole package of Madden, so if they want to go to this pre-determined cut-scene-filled path, that’s fine — just make the football RPG gamers deserve. Remember working towards the Hall of Fame in Superstar Mode? We would start in a humble apartment and eventually, move on to become one of the greats. It was deep, immersive, and it drew on players to create their own narrative through their actions in-game.

Fight Night Champion was a great game, but there were too many things that were outside the control of the player, which almost seemed counter-productive to the meritocracy of sports. Fighting in a prison is cool and all, but would the NFL allow EA to get weird with the story they tell within Madden? The realities of the league could provide fodder for countless stories, but the chances of seeing anything remotely controversial in an NFL narrative are as low as Jay Cutler finding another team.

As much as being involved in a scandal that ends with “gate” would be, we already got Blitz: The League. Madden will not be that. But, we could very well be getting a re-hash of Superstar Mode. One of the best things about the best Madden games. Let’s take a trip down memory lane:

Dealing with an agent, talking to the press and doing your best to compete at a high level led to a Choose Your Own Adventure-style game that was as deep as many RPGs. Expand on this, add social media, something that was virtually non-existent in 2006, to get some fans. Allow users to become divas, to be ball hogs, and add friction between teammates and coaches. Let the drama play out through the actions of the player. If we want to be marketable, we can be. If we want to be a locker room distraction but a stud on the field, so be it. Let us overtrain, spend our money on homes that will add to our happiness level and put the pressure on to play for a big contract. Let our big contract lead to better nutrition and in-home amenities like a pool, gym and personal trainer.

Let us become the player, not become what some writer thinks we should become. Especially not if the cliches are as bad as “My father used to say ‘when the world knocks you down, get back up again.'”

If Tom Brady is the cover athlete and we get a Story Mode, then we should be able to guide our career like he’s guided his. A late round pick works his way to becoming the best ever with a little luck and a lot of hard work. The player’s story is the most important story. Let us create it.