Leading up to the release of Madden 18 (read our review here), expectations for a mostly on-rails story experience in a Madden were low. NBA 2K, FIFA, The Show and Fight Night have all had some semblance of story mode that puts you into the shoes of a pro player, and the last thing the world needs is another Friday Night Lights or Varsity Blues or Rudy story. It’s with much relief and a surprising amount of enthusiasm that Madden‘s Longshot story mode has exceeded all expectations.
The center of the story is the fictional University of Texas dropout Devin Wade. After his father’s tragic death in his freshman year of college, he throws seven interceptions in three-and-a-half games, then abruptly quits the team and joins the Army. Now he’s back for redemption three years later and next to his childhood friend Colt Cruise, who has the most Texas name ever. Colt and Devin are trying to make their way into the NFL by catching the eye of scouts at the regional combine in Indianapolis, but instead, Devin gets an offer to star in the reality show Longshot, which promises weeks of one on one training with a Super Bowl-winning coach ahead of the super-regionals. This is Devin Wade’s best chance to get back in the NFL.
I’ll leave the rest of the plot points out because the mode really deserves to be played (you can watch the first third here if you want to see what it’s like), but the overall gist is that of a few inescapable sports movie clichés, which leads to a genuinely emotional journey that dives into the rarely-explored world of male friendships and competition. Okay, that last part was sarcastic because you know what you’re going to get as a baseline. A smart-aleck friend, odds to overcome, and just about everyone is going to redeem themselves. But Longshot impresses in how it takes the typical sports cliche and turns them on their head with well-developed characters that truly make you feel connected to them.
Yes, for the most part, the game is on-rails, but you will play a good amount of football under the helmet of Devin Wade. You’ll go back to high school to win the big game, then show off your throwing and play-calling skills under the lights of the reality show. The game does a good job of teaching football fans a few of the intricacies of the sport, but the mini-games can also become repetitive and seemingly pointless. There are also moments like these, where catches that seem like they’re about to land right into the soft hands of your receiver for an enjoyable cinematic moment, then you have to replay constantly and nothing makes sense. These are the worst parts of Longshot.
For the most part, EA has out-Telltaled Telltale games. The characters are extremely likable, and let’s just leave the ending ambiguous (it can end many different ways and that’s handled extremely well), but if we don’t continue the journey of Devin Wade or Colt Cruise (who goes from obnoxious to lovable in the blink of an eye), in upcoming Madden’s it’ll feel like a damn shame. Let this be their origin story, EA. Serialized content is it right now, and following Wade through his career in next year’s Madden would legitimately put me over the edge if I was trying to make a decision on a purchase. Imagine taking the chararcter(s) to their retirement?
I’ve played through the game almost twice now, and the performances truly stand out (Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali plays your father), but the writing and directing rival Mass Effect: Andromeda or any Telltale game easily. It’s a well-done tale that’s formulaic, cliché at points and over the top, but it doesn’t matter because the characters are so well crafted. Devin’s quarterback mentor, Jack Ford is subtle and direct. His buddies back home are ridiculous but real. It’s a great cast and the presentation rivals anything on the market today. It doesn’t hurt that the Frostbite engine looks truly beautiful.
EA Sports told us that they believe they made something truly unique and compelling, and that wasn’t hyperbole. Longshot is an enjoyable ride that may not even culminate in a storybook ending, but it’s a journey worth taking. I came into this mode not expecting much, but it could be my favorite part of Madden 18 just because it’s so fresh. Of course, this is just a drop in the bucket when my play time is added up, but what will ultimately stick with me when I move on from Madden is Longshot. It’s not going to win an Academy Award, it has some silly moments of gameplay, but it’s one of the more memorable tales of sports and friendship across any storytelling medium.