Narrative-based single-player campaigns are the hot trend when it comes to sports games. First there were 2K’s efforts, then EA got on board with the likes of The Journey in FIFA 17, and The One in this year’s NBA Live 2K18 — but for the last three years, a story called Longshot has been in the works for Madden NFL 18, and all that hard work has paid off.
Longshot begins with a prologue scene that sees protagonist Devin Wade, his best friend Colt Cruise, and Devin’s father — played to perfection by Mahershala Ali — engage in some backyard football. From here, we skip to a very different stage of Wade’s life; his football career has come to an abrupt end, and he’s adrift in his home town with little to no direction.
There’s a lot of exposition at the beginning of Longshot, and not a lot of interactivity. In fact, the entirety of the campaign, which is about four to six hours in length, doesn’t feature a huge amount of traditional Madden gameplay. That’s a bit jarring, and the mode won’t satisfy an appetite for pick-up matches. However, it’s a worthy addition to the game as a whole, and one of the most lovingly crafted sports game campaigns out there.
Mike Young is the creative director on Madden NFL 18, and the co-lead writer for Longshot. Earlier in his career with EA Sports, he played a key role on the team behind the NBA Street games, and there’s a certain connective tissue between those games and this campaign.
The tone of Longshot is very different from the stylized presentation of NBA Street, but it has a similarly well-defined personality. Some of the current crop of sports game campaigns feel like every single football, baseball, and basketball movie thrown into a blender — this one is its own beast, with scenes and characters that will stick with you after the credits roll.
One year after FIFA 17 came out, there aren’t many individual moments from The Journey that stand out to me. But there are plenty from Longshot; a funny scene in the early going that centers on a woman eager to catch up with Empire, an impromptu sing-a-long with its two leads, and the first episode of the reality TV show that drives the plot forward.
None of those elements sound like obvious choices for a story mode in a Madden game, and they’re not. That’s what’s so refreshing about Longshot. It takes a lot of risks, and it aims to surprise throughout. Not every single element pays off, but the overall effect is thoroughly engaging.
The narrative is the most important component here, but the team did a great job of integrating Longshot’s interactive elements — and they took advice from some designers and other creatives who know a thing or two about striking a balance.
It’s easy to see the influence of games like Life is Strange and Telltale’s output, as strange as that might seem from a Madden campaign. However, there’s plenty of football here. One plot point centers around Wade’s football IQ, and by extension, the player’s football IQ. There are sequences where he’s grilled about the intricacies of strategy, so the player has to answer questions to prove their level of knowledge, and the scene plays out differently as a result.
On top of the standard Madden gameplay, there are these trivia segments, mini-games, and training sections that hone in on specific techniques, infrequent scenes where the player controls the ball in-flight during the most crucial passes, and a host of choice-based dialogue options. There’s a lot of variety here, and all the different components help keep things moving in and among the less interactive parts.
Going into Longshot, I wondered how a story mode was going to appeal to Madden devotees. The answer is that Longshot doesn’t; it just does its own thing. Many hardcore players will probably ignore it in favor of the modes that they know and love – at least to begin with – but it’s well worth playing. It’s long enough to tell a story, but doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s an effective way for new players to get to grips with the game’s mechanics piece-by-piece, or an entertaining diversion for veterans who want to take a night off from Franchise mode.
Longshot isn’t perfect; there are rough edges here and there. However, this appears to be a campaign mode that wasn’t created to check a box, or add another bullet point to the game’s list of features. It’s clear that the team, from the writers that worked on the script to the actors portraying its cast of characters, just wanted to make a high-quality experience.
Longshot is a pleasant surprise, and whether Madden fans are sold on the concept of a story mode or not, it’s a very worthy addition to the overall package.
Madden NFL 18 releases on August 25, 2017 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Game Rant attended a preview event for the purposes of this article, for which Electronic Arts provided travel and lodging.