‘Madden 18’ Is A Gorgeous Football Game With Something For Everyone, But Key Flaws Remain

Getty Image / EA Sports

Madden 18 is here with a lot to offer to veteran fans and newcomers alike. Not only does the latest iteration of EA’s annual football simulation give fans of all ages and skill levels something to call their own, the addition of the surprisingly touching Longshot story mode and more features to Madden Ultimate Team provide a deep, multi-leveled experience on par with FIFA or the NBA 2K series. But, is it worth picking up if you’ve bought the game year after year? Let’s find out.

The move to Battlefield 1 and Star Wars: Battlefront’s Frostbite engine is immediately apparent. A Madden game has never looked this good. There were multiple moments in which I thought I was watching a broadcasted game. Individual players (especially on the offensive line) actually look like they’re all doing their job, rather than foosball players standing in place reacting to hit boxes. Things can go wrong, players slip, everyone is working, and it brings a sense of immersion that have been missing from previous iterations.

Beyond the highly-detailed player models, the stadiums look absolutely stunning. Sunlight reflecting off the turf in Cowboys Stadium can take your breath away. Combined with the addition of more new animations, the new physics system put in place a few years ago, and slight gameplay tweaks, like throwing (we’ll get into that), Madden 18 is one of the prettiest games on the market. Period.

The one knock on the game is its funky cutscenes between plays and weird moments where a player will be downed, so animations abruptly finish over the field. In one instance, a lineman threw a linebacker five feet in the air after quickly standing up while the linebacker was on top of him after a tackle. But as someone who plays these games year after year, you’re seeing fewer repeats of canned animations. Everything flows.

The big changes to the gameplay come on three levels. Now, you can choose from Arcade, Simulation and Competitive modes, each with their own unique sliders that deliver a distinct playstyle. Arcade will deliver big plays and high scoring, Competitive mode will eliminate the random nature of dropped passes on defense and injuries, and Simulation delivers the purest football experience on the field. I played mostly on simulation, and I’m pleased to say that running, even with an elite O-line, is far more hectic and realistic. Bodies are flying everywhere, and elusive backs squeeze through holes, get tripped up, and work to pump their legs through high tackles as if it were the real thing.

Passing gets the biggest upgrade, with mobile QBs like Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, in my opinion, finally feeling satisfying as they roll out to pass to the open receiver. Leading your pass to a receiver breaking across the middle feels so good. It’s something you never knew you were missing until you had it here. Full disclosure: I barely used the new Advanced Passing mechanic. I could see super competitive players using it to fade a pass into the back of the end zone, but it’s best for pocket passers, and in no way is it a crucial part of the passing game. You may never use it. It’s not quite the maligned QB Vision, but it kinda is.

Unfortunately, Franchise Mode’s only real upgrades come in the speed of simulating and menu load times. Even some of the assets have been reused from previous years, with the pictures of the owners (Fan/Former Player/Business Mogul) being the exact same as years past. Like, the last half-decade past. Lazy.

The Play the Moment feature seems slightly upgraded, but you still are on “normal” speed when, in my opinion at least, it should default on “fast.” It also seems to only hit certain moments over and over again, putting your back to the end zone rather than stopping a streaking team between the 20s. It’s frustrating because you can’t trust the micro-simulation for your team.

All in all, Franchise is a disappointment because it seems like an afterthought. It’s the same media questions, the same amount of stats and the same cheap ways to build a team (trade all your draft picks) that have plagued recent years. Hopefully, after Longshot, upgrades, and expansions to Madden Ultimate Team, and the major graphics overhaul, they can sit down and focus on Franchise for next year.

That said, the Relocation notifications are put at the top of your Things To Do menu, which is nice. Also, let’s mention again how nice this game looks: This game looks nice. Makes you feel like it’s really Sunday. Or Thursday night. Or Monday night. Or even, later in the year, sometime on Saturday.

Insight from the new commentary team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis is much-improved, where last year, the game certainly added dialogue between the two as the season went on, but you were still treated to the same opening comments over and over again. That annoyance is, for the most part, eliminated.

Another frustration comes from the zoom camera, which is the default camera for some reason. In Longshot and almost all training modes in MUT and through the game, Madden does a great job at subtly teaching users how to read defenses and other intricacies of the game. The zoom camera eliminates any type of reading of defenses because you can’t see anything.

If you’re a fan of Madden Ultimate Team, Madden 18 is basically built for you. There are more challenges, more ways to earn packs (and sink money into buying packs), and the introduction of Longshot Chronicles, featuring the stars of the story mode in their own, high school and college (Oregon vs. University of Texas) showdowns. Visiting Devin Wade’s high school field is a low-key breath of fresh air after playing in front of 60,000 fans on the regular, and it breaks up the monotony of constantly grinding out scenario challenges.

So is Madden worth picking up? If you’re a MUT fanatic, yes. If you’re a casual fan interested in the Longshot story mode, absolutely yes. If you’re a hardcore simulation player that enjoys building and keeping a longstanding franchise? Maybe. The graphics are beautiful, but there’s little here to make you abandon your franchise that’s 15 years deep. Like all sports games, Madden’s value to an individual can’t be determined by a simple review. It’s improved across the board (except for franchise), and you can easily get 60 hours out of the game without even trying. But if you’re someone who bought the game last year and you don’t need to keep up with the competitive scene or don’t care about the latest MUT cards, you don’t need to buy this version.

Stay tuned for our stand-alone review of Madden 18‘s Longshot story mode, which follows quarterback Devin Wade in a shockingly good story that takes sports-movie clichés and flips them on their head.

‘Madden 18’s’ Longshot Story Mode Is A Heartfelt Ode To Friendship And Football