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Madden NFL 18 - Longshot

I'm still working on my full review of Madden 18. It was starting to get kind of long and rambly, so I decided to break off the section regarding the Longshot story mode (which I've already played to completion) into its own post so that I could be a little more thorough regarding this unique game mode. Well, unique for Madden anyway. Games like 2K's NBA 2k have been doing a similar thing for years.

Longshot is a pretty radically different gameplay mode compared to the rest of Madden, and so it also felt kind of out-of-place in the review for the rest of the game. It's very much its own self-contained thing. In fact, it very easily could have been released as a stand-alone game or "expansion" DLC pack for Madden 18, rather than being a back-of-the-box feature. It's inclusion in the core package is probably one of the reasons that franchise mode received so little attention this year, as I'm sure this thing must have taken a lot of time and resources. Madden is already overpriced as it is (in my opinion) -- especially when you consider how much money EA makes from the Ultimate Team feature -- so I'm certainly happy that I got to play this mode without having to spend any extra money.

The story of Devin Wade

If Madden 18's arcade, simulation, and competitive game modes aren't enough game varieties for you, or if you're one of those "games as art" "snobs" who writes lengthy blogs about ludonarrative dissonance in open world games or about how seemingly-arbitrary game mechanics are actually informing the narrative, then the new "Longshot" story mode might be for you.

This isn't a character-creator like in earlier iterations of Madden's Superstar mode, or NCAA Football's Road to Glory / Race for the Heisman / Campus Legend. Instead, you take on the persona of a character designed by EA, named Devin Wade. Devin is a former college football star who quit after the death of his father and is eventually recruited into a fictional reality television show called "Longshot", in which he's trained to become a potential NFL draftee. Wade is dealing with the trauma of his father's untimely death a few years ago, as well as his own feelings of inadequacy, abandonment, and maybe some guilt. You play through his training process, as well as flashback bits of his high school career (and watch other bits of his college career and some pee wee moments). Surprisingly, one thing that you won't do is have Devin suit up in an NFL uniform, as the mode concludes with him being drafted (or not, as the case may be).

Longshot includes flashbacks of Devin Wade's high school and college careers.

The mode is mostly like watching a movie (a three-and-a-half hour long movie), with the occasional quicktime event, mini-game, or time-sensitive Mass Effect-style dialogue choice. It was half an hour before I actually got to play any football, so if you don't have the patience to sit through hours of cutscenes and dialogue, then you should probably skip this mode altogether. But I was raised on Metal Gear Solid, so it didn't bother me. The inability to skip non-interactive segments, however, does considerably limit my desire to replay the mode for a different ending.

Maybe one of the reasons that the new feature tutorials in Madden 18 are so lackluster is that Tiburon intended for Longshot to act as a tutorial for some of the new mechanics. Quicktime events and minigames require you to use the targeted passing mechanic to throw the ball, but it's much more forgiving than the actual targeted passing feature in-game. When you are thrown into an actual football game, you're also free to use standard passing controls if you don't feel like using targeted passing, so you can mostly ignore that mechanic here as well.

Longshot mini-games and drills frequently utilize a variation of the targeted passing mechanic.

Even though Devin is a quarterback, there's also a few moments in which Devin plays both sides of the ball. This would have been a great way for Tiburon to introduce some of the new DB controls included in Madden 18, but they completely dropped the ball on that opportunity.

An uncanny supporting cast

The story being told here is actually pretty well told. I was expecting a pretty lackluster variation on the old Superstar mode (or NCAA Football's Race for the Heisman / Campus Legend / Road to Glory mode). Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by the actual story. There's actually a bit of depth to these characters, and the writing is pretty solid. It pulls at the heartstrings a few times, and I felt myself rooting for the characters (and wanting to be successful in the gameplay sections) by the end.

The main cast is well-acted and well-animated. Much of the supporting cast, however, falls severely in the uncanny valley (particularly the sleazy television producer Ross Fountain). Not only is Ross oddly animated, but he also has some seriously hammy writing and performances. Some of the main cast can also fall in and out of the uncanny valley under certain lighting conditions and camera angles.

There's also a few cameos appearances that are shown in live-action, which is also a bit awkward. Heck, the whole mode probably could have just been filmed in live action, with the exception of the on-field bits and the full-blown mini-games.

Women play prominent roles in Madden for the first time ever.

While J.R. Lemon does a fine job as the mostly-stoic Devin Wade, the real standout performance (for me) was Rus Blackwell as fictional football coach (and mentor to Devin) Jack Ford. I was actually surprised when I looked up the cast on IMDB and discovered that Jack Ford is not an actual NFL assistant coach. Rus totally nails the performance! Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali also puts in an excellent performance as Devin's father during flashback sequences, but his screen time is very limited.

Marem Hassler, Mandy June Turpin, and Maddy Curley finally put some female faces in a Madden game (and not as cutscene cheerleaders or a floating-head sideline reporter). Hassler's character, Julia Vasco, is probably my second favorite character in the mode after Coach Ford, mostly because she acts as a serious and compassionate counterpoint to the complete asshole that is Producer Ross Fountain. She comes off looking like an absolute hero in almost every scene that she's in because she's almost always working against Ross (who is effectively the bad guy of the piece -- unless you count Devin as his own villain).

Perceivable consequence and stupid questions

While the story does generally flow pretty smoothly, and the decisions you're offered seem reasonable, I have some minor complaints with how the story occasionally asks the player to make relatively blind decisions with little understanding of how it might affect the outcome, or the underlying assumptions.

For example, very early in the game, your receiver friend asks you to swap places in line with another QB at the combine so that you can throw your friend the ball (he feels more comfortable catching passes from you). The game doesn't establish that this might be against the rules or anything, and the other QB that you swap with is like "Sure. No problem", but the game still docs you points for "causing a disruption in the combine". In fact, the mode does a pretty bad job of establishing that there are real consequences for failure. Many mini-games will actually force you to retry if you fail, and at other times, you'll be offered false choices in which the story will contrive a reason for you to be successful no matter what you chose.

Rus Blackwell's performance as Jack Ford is the standout, but he sure asks some dumb questions.

In yet other situations, the questions asked are so pathetically easy. Like, in one instance, Coach Ford asks what play should be called on a second and 1 situation in which the defense expects a run. The answer is so obviously "play action pass" that I can't believe the game treats this like a serious question. Heck, the game only provided two options: run or pass. It didn't even try to shake things up by providing more specific options like "run for the first down", "play action shot", or "go deep". Coach Ford and Devin's friend Colt then go on to explain the logic behind running play action in that scenario, as if that's something that a prospective NFL quarterback wouldn't already know.

Maybe have separate difficulty settings
for gameplay and story? Like Silent HIll.

It's a little bit insulting. Perhaps there should have been a difficulty setting so that people who are a bit more knowledgable about Madden (or football in general) could have been given more challenging questions that would be more appropriate to an NFL-caliber interview. Maybe even provide a separate "football difficulty" and "story difficulty" for players who know their football, but maybe don't have the stick skills to feel comfortable playing the gameplay bits on All-Pro or All-Madden. The Silent Hill games have been doing that for 20 years.

I did answer a few similarly easy questions incorrectly, but only because the game presented the button prompts in a counter-intuitive order, and I simply pushed the wrong button. Though I do wonder if this is maybe deliberate, in order to trip up users and railroad Wade into appearing less competent. If that was the idea, then it's a clever, sneaky trick. It still felt a little bit cheap though.

I pushed the wrong button here
because O and X are inverted.

These are all minor problems, as knowing that the game would forgive me for virtually any mistake I make completely deflated any pressure or tension to be correct. These are mostly concessions to keep the story going. After all, if you completely bomb the combine or Longshot tests, then the story would basically be over. Tiburon could have included some alternate endings to account for such "fail states" (maybe even offering achievements/trophies for unlocking them), but I can understand why they didn't.

The sky's the limit for Madden's Longshot

I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised by Longshot. I was expecting Longshot to be a dismissable variation of those old Superstar / Campus Legend / etc. modes of years' past. But it's so much more than that. Longshot is a fine addition if you don't mind sitting and watching for several hours. It's not (by itself) worth buying a $60 game, but it could have made for a decent $10 or $20 DLC expansion. If you're not sold on Madden 18, but you're curious about Longshot, then it might make it worth picking up the game when it inevitably starts showing up in bargain bins in February.

Longshot bumbles a few details of its execution. It does, however, tell an engaging story that goes a little bit above and beyond the typical motivational sports story that we see so often in movies and television. Despite being influenced by Friday Night Lights, it's all very PG, which makes some elements seem kind of campy. Most of the performances are solid, and it makes decent use of the Madden engine during the few moments in which you actually get to play something. And hey, at least it isn't inundated with micro-transactions in the way that MUT or NBA 2k18's "My Career" is! At least, not this year...

I'm very curious to see how the Longshot mode plays out in the future.

The army game provides several potential sequel hooks -- including maybe a woman player?

Will subsequent years' games just copy-paste the same story and characters? Or will EA replace it with a totally new story each year (or every few years)? Will Devin's story get copied over, while also adding additional story modes for different characters at different positions besides quarterback? Maybe a story mode for a coach (as opposed to a player)? Or an elite special teams player arguing for a place in the Hall of Fame? Or heck, maybe even a story mode about a referee who dreams of actually playing (thus, putting the user in the zebra stripes)? Maybe Tiburon will eventually go SJW and tell a real longshot story about a woman attempting to make it into the NFL?

Star Trek: TNG - the sky's the limit

In fact, Longshot provides at least a couple pieces of sequel bait. One idea is to assume that Colt goes undrafted, so he can compete in Longshot. Another potential sequel hook could be playing as the former field goal kicking army Captain McCarthy trying to get a spot on a team (could playing as a kicker carry a Longshot story?). More interestingly, however, could be to put players in the role of army Sergeant Keret as she fights for a spot on an NFL team. Hey, why not?

In any case, the sky's the limit with Longshot, and it's been a long time since I've felt that way about anything in a Madden game.

PROS

  • Cheesy at times, but a well-told story
  • Forces quick decisions when choices are presented
  • Rus Blackwell nails his performance as Coach Jack Ford
  • Women finally play a prominent role in Madden
  • Curious to see where Longshot goes in the future
  • Not inundated with micro-transactions ... yet

CONS

  • Football IQ questions are insultingly easy
  • Sudden and massive spike in difficulty for the finale
  • Supporting cast falls in the uncanny valley
  • Lack of chapter-select or skippable cutscenes hurts replayability

FINAL GRADE FOR LONGSHOT: B

Note: This is a review of the Longshot story mode only,
please click here for my review of Madden NFL 18.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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