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Madden 18 on Xbox One

Madden 18 Review: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


One step forward, two steps back.

 

Like probably everyone else that got their hopes up for Madden 18, I feel like an absolute fool. Deep down, I knew it was going to be the same tired game, but I really wanted it to be good, and held out the slightest hope that would be the case. Everything was there: the highly-anticipated Frostbite engine, target passing, Tom Brady being on the cover.

 

But nope, the newest Madden game falls flat in basically every area. And I couldn’t be more disappointed. Here is my 100% unfiltered, unsponsored, and unpaid-for review of Madden 18. [Editor’s note: it will be unfiltered from an opinion standpoint, but still suitable for all audiences…]

 

Gameplay

The most important part of any sports game is gameplay. As long as you have that, I wouldn’t even mind a bare bones franchise or career mode. Unfortunately, the Frostbite engine failed to make significant strides in the department. A game-changer for better gameplay was supposed to be “target passing,” which would give you precise control when throwing with the quarterback, allowing you to throw back-shoulder passes, drop it into zone coverage, or throw guys open.

 

Instead, the feature functions as a gimmick tool for the new story mode, Longshot. So, while there is slightly better depth on normal (i.e. traditional) passing, we still didn’t get the kind of control we would like in the year 2018. Something that did improve the passing was the “RAC-steering” because it allows quarterbacks to hit their receiver and have them turn up field, but there are still times where it doesn’t work.

 

One of the ways where catching in general doesn’t work is still near the sidelines. If a player is wide open on the perimeter, there is still a chance the pass is incomplete with an accurate throw, because the receiver jumps in the air and has his foot/feet go out of bounds. In real life, a player alone on the sidelines should have no problems catching the ball (with two feet in bounds) and running. They are professional athletes, after all.

 

Another positive (bear with me, they are rare) is user-controlled linebackers no longer being undoubtedly the greatest human beings to ever grace the planet. In previous games, anyone with a fast linebacker could patrol the entire middle of the field and basically intercept any pass thrown in his general area, even with their head/back away from the ball. Now, they will probably leave a hole in the defense if they don’t stick to their assigned zone, which is obviously a plus.

 

Now I will rattle off the negatives. A huge concern year after year is the no-huddle offense putting guys out of position. Here’s an example. Down late in the fourth quarter with the Patriots, I obviously went into hurry-up offense. For a few plays, there were no issues, but once I changed formation without huddling (because Madden only gives you the option of four plays, *rolls eyes*), Julian Edelman was lining up at tight end. Like, and in-line, ready-to-block tight end. How do they let that happen every single year?

 

Something else that continues to happen with each new game release is just a pure lack of awareness for ball carriers. The game is so animation heavy that a player is never able to reach the ball out when he’s near the goal line, first-down line, or out of bounds. Every game of every week in the NFL has a player simply reach the ball out at these critical points, whether it is Antonio Brown reaching across for a game-winning touchdown on Christmas or Alex Smith scrambling for a first-down by quickly extending his arm inside the marker as steps out of bounds. Also, they have taken out the ability to go down short of the end zone as far as I can tell (by hitting both LT/RT and X), instead now doing a “tired dive” into the end zone.

 

Poor passing mechanics are also an issue at times. With no pressure around the quarterback, they sometimes will completely shoot open their front hip and throw an inaccurate pass. I am all for inaccuracy at quarterback, which they have added and is a definite good thing, but I mean, that’s high school stuff, not what a professional signal-caller does.

 

Finally, the kicking meter. It, well, isn’t completely accurate at the moment. Hitting the accuracy bar in the green, according to the meter line, never says perfect for me, but doing it above (late) or below (early) does. It’s a minor thing and something you can adjust to, but it’s inexcusable to have an error like that at launch.

 

Overall, I guess the new game styles (Arcade, Simulation, and Competitive) are good for people that want to play in different ways, but I think it should all be simulation. It’s still not accurate to real-life (doing 15-minute quarters is seemingly impossible), but maybe it would be if EA just focused on that. If 2K Sports can make 12-minute quarters realistic every year for NBA 2K, EA should be able to do the same for Madden.

 

 

Graphics and Presentation

Something that Frostbite did make a real improvement on is presentation and graphics, but it’s still lacking in areas that it shouldn’t be. While the fireworks and stadium upgrades are clearly there, they aren’t something I really think about when I’m playing the game. Also, weather is slightly improved, but still missing what everyone really wants: dynamic weather.

 

The Frostbite engine allows for dynamic weather in EA’s Battlefield 1, so why couldn’t they implement that into Madden 18? Not only did they not allow for changing weather like cloudy to rainy, light snow to heavy snow, no snow to snow, or all the other possible combinations, but they still don’t even have a differentiation between temperature! Unless it’s snowing, you don’t have the option of playing a cold-weather game, which is a complete joke—and unrealistic.

 

Another thing that is unrealistic is the game times. The options are 1:00, 4:15, 6:30, and 8:30 (all eastern time). First off, when has a game ever been played at 4:15?  As far as I know, late afternoon games start at 4:05, 4:25, or 4:30 on special occasions. The fact that EA can’t even get that right is just pure incompetence. Also, where is the 8:25 start time for Thursday night games? Or 7:10 and 10:20 for the first week of Monday Night Football?

 

It’s a minor thing, but to call yourself a “simulation” football game without having accurate game times is insane. There are plenty of other issues with presentation, including not being able to run down the clock at the end of the same after kneeling it. Every week in the NFL, teams go onto the field and shake hands after the game is clearly over—and it’s not always when the clock hits 0:00. In Madden, the players need to wait around like a bunch of mindless idiots until the clock actually expires. Why is there no option to simply hit a button to trigger the end of the game when the opposing team has no timeouts, you have the ball, and the game clock is lower than the play clock?

 

It should be said that the players look better with Frostbite, including better single-arm sleeves that so many guys wear now, but it should have been in the game years ago. There are still no forearm bands like Antonio Brown wears though, which is something that was in NFL 2K5… Also the long-sleeve undershirts are still not good, as it looks like they are almost painted on. Take a look at Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell in real life and you will see that Madden has nothing like what he wears in the game. Some players, including Maxwell, also have their undershirt hanging out the bottom of their jersey, which isn’t in Madden 18.

 

There are slight improvements in commentary from Charles Davis and Brandon Gaudin, and perhaps it will get even better with in-season updates, but it’s still clear you are playing a video game, which isn’t what die-hard football fans want. NBA 2K has mastered how commentary should be done, and it makes it feel like a real basketball game. It’s cool that they say things during the play now, but I’ve only noticed it once when Marcus Mariota made a nice play outside the pocket and Charles Davis said, “Niiice.”

 

Presentation and graphics were a step in the right direction, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

 

 

Longshot

It’s about time Madden had some heart to it, but I feel that it’s a little displaced. The story of Devin Wade is strong overall, but there are big problems that really hurt Longshot. First of all, Wade would never, ever, in a million years make it to the NFL if he struggles with telling the difference between a single-high safety and slot corner, or can’t even tell what personnel the defense is in. I know they put that in the game so casual players could learn more about football, but it just makes it unrealistic for me.

 

Even more unrealistic, though, is the Ari-Gold-wannabe Ross Fountain, whom is ten times more of a jerk and 100 times less funny than the Entourage character. Fountain, a television producer for the Longshot show Devin Wade stars in, is just a hurricane of unrealistic drama in a mode that actually has some powerful, heartfelt moments.

 

It’s great that you can finally make decisions in Madden 18, as they shape Devin Wade’s scouting report based on what you choose, whether that’s deciding to or not to take a selfie with your best friend Colt Cruise when the both of you are running late, or if you should fire the aforementioned Ross Fountain. You also get an extensive interview, which I thought might have been the best scene in the mode.

 

That said, it’s still Devin Wade’s story, and not your own. EA should have poured the resources used for Longshot into career mode, where you can be yourself and play any position. As I played Longshot, I got the feeling it was just another way to get people to play Ultimate Team (and in turn, spend money), because they make Devin play defensive back throughout the story, with the hope being people will like it and go play the new MUT Squads mode with friends. A quarterback prospect isn’t going to risk an injury by lining up at safety, even if it is just 7-on-7 games.

 

The biggest problem in the mode is probably the lack of save opportunities. I had to go backwards and play the same thing over again three times because the quick flash in the lower right corner that I thought was saving apparently wasn’t. At one point, I only wanted to play about 15 minutes more, but it literally ended up being about an hour before a save occurred. It was lazy of EA to not include an option to save after every new scene.

 

Longshot was a positive overall, but I still feel like it was a cheap gimmick in a lot of areas, including precision passing and MUT aspects. Also, Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali wasn’t in the game for close to as long as I would have expected, so it seemed like more of a name to impress critics and spread the word than anything else. Also, why are your parents both dead in every career mode now?

 

 

Madden Ultimate Team

The hundred-million-dollar-mode (literally) that is Ultimate Team is the best part about Madden every year because they seemingly put all their resources into it. Unfortunately, it has taken a step back in my opinion for Madden 18. They decided to change it so “elite” cards start at an 80 overall, meaning basically everyone is an elite, which is kind of dumb.

 

The best thing would be to create dynamic base cards where their overalls fluctuate throughout the year as their actual rating decreases or increases. Then, you could have rookie cards, flashback cards, holiday cards, TOTW cards, etc., which would give higher-rated cards of certain players and lower-rated cards of other players, giving everyone a chance to get their favorite player (i.e. a rookie Le’Veon Bell that is a low 80s) without spending money.

 

It feels like the mode has just been so watered down this year, and that includes chemistry. Even the appearance of the cards seem childish in my opinion. They remind me of a Tonka truck or something. It’s weird. Just the whole re-organization of the mode seems off now.

 

The single biggest issue with MUT is no scheme versatility. What I mean is that you can’t put a 4-3 defensive end into a 3-4 outside linebacker spot and keep the chemistry. It really limits players into players that fit the scheme. What if I want to run a 4-3 but get a Leonard Floyd card? I am basically forced to sell the card or switch to a 3-4 because Floyd doesn’t fit the 4-3 if he needs to play outside linebacker in it. It should have a simple fix, but EA has neglected it for years.

 

Another minor (but annoying) issue is that the opposing team now celebrates when you win MUT solos. Don’t ask me why or how EA let that get into the game at launch, but hopefully there is a patch that fixes it soon. Also annoying is that you can’t choose the play style for solo challenges. If it were up to me, I would play simulation all the time, but it’s arcade about 95% of what I’ve played so far.

 

What makes me most angry (check that, infuriated) is that my abbreviation for my name is literally “POS.” I don’t know how it happened or what kind of sick joke it’s supposed to be by EA, but it doesn’t give me an option to switch it. I chatted with EA support for 50 minutes and they did nothing about it other than say it “might” be fixed, which isn’t good enough. I don’t want to play this mode all year for it to keep saying “POS” up top. It’s not that I am offended by it or anything, but it’s my team, and I don’t want that to reflect on me.

 

I’ll still spend most of my time playing MUT, but that’s only because the final section is simply not playable…

 

 

Connected Franchise Mode

Another year, another neglected CFM in Madden. There are apparently changes to scouting and some other minor things, but it’s still a shallow, heartless, and bare-bones experience. As stated, it is almost impossible to play 15-minute quarters without an astronomical score. You could also force yourself to play a certain way so that things work out, which you shouldn’t have to do and limits the experience.

 

Basically, if you’ve played franchise mode in Madden 17, you’ve played it in Madden 18. No one really cares that the scouting is “improved” if we have no use no-name scrubs and can’t edit the draft classes. Here are the other issues that are in franchise mode.

 

The BIG one is having no offensive or defensive coordinators. In real life, they make as huge difference for a team, and that could be extended to position coaches as well. Those who do a good job usually get a head coaching gig, so the fact that I can’t hire Josh McDaniels or someone else as my head coach in CFM (because they aren’t in the game) is inexcusable. Five out of six new head coaches in 2017 were coordinators in 2016. Don’t worry, though, EA has provided us with fake coaches to hire and turn your franchise into a dynasty!

 

We should also be able to start out careers as a coordinator. In NCAA Football games, you could start out as the offensive coordinator for Akron if you really wanted to, and eventually work your way to a head coaching job. The fact that you can just immediately create a coach that replaces Bill Belichick is pretty ridiculous, even for a video game. Ideally, you would have to start as a position coach and work your way up to a head coaching job—or at least make that an option and those who want to just jump in with their favorite team can just use the coach already there, or be the owner. And why is there no general manager option? That’s what I would want to be in Madden, and I think many would feel the same way.

 

Trying to run a backfield by committee is still not as effective as it could/should be. Running backs end up with way too many carries and it’s hard to determine where you should put the sliders to determine the workload split. There should be weekly gameplans that you can install based on the opponent and how your own guys are playing leading up to the game. If I’m the Eagles and one week I want Malcolm Jenkins in the slot but the next week I don’t, there should be an easier way to accomplish that.

 

I’m not sure if others feel the same way, but I hate that it feels like you just mindlessly go through the games, with no changes from September to October to November to December. If I’m playing on Halloween, I want it to feel like Halloween. If it’s Thanksgiving, I want to see my guys eating a turkey leg after a big win! A cold December night doesn’t feel like it in Madden. NBA 2K, which are obviously all indoor games, does a better job with holidays than Madden 18—unless we are talking about MUT.

 

 

There are many more issues I could point out with the game, but it doesn’t appear anything will be done about it as long as EA Sports has the exclusive license to make an NFL game.

 

Madden 18 took one step forward and two steps back.

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