Well before self driving cars, On Demand video streaming, and gluten free foods there has existed a longstanding end of summer tradition that has been a part of our gaming lives for the last 27 years: the Madden release. While this annual event has always meant that the backyard barbecues and pool parties are coming to a close soon, and the school year is right around the corner, this has traditionally been a moment of excitement for us sports gamers. This year for Madden 18 is no different.
In 1990, at the age of 9, I recall placing a cartridge titled “John Madden Football” into my Sega Genesis system not knowing that moment would kickoff a rite of passage that would result in nearly three decades of sports gaming. While I have grown over these years, more so in size than maturity, Madden has grown with me. We have both came a long way from those 16-bit graphics. The original game only contained 16 teams and, since the franchise did not obtain an NFL license until Madden ‘94, the closest resemblance to the real world team you could get was the uniform colors. That is hard to imagine now considering the level of realism the game contains along with all the legends that have graced the cover over the years.
For a lot of us, Madden grew from a video game into being woven into a part of the social fabric of our circle of friends. Madden meant late night sleepovers filled with trash talk, arguments and bragging rights. As soon as the extra point cleared the goalpost in a 21-0 shutout, you better give up the sticks. That was the culture for a lot of us growing up with this franchise. Now we have the ability to play with gamers across the globe in online leagues where you can be cussed at in a language you don’t even speak or understand. This is not meant to be a history lesson, but looking back to that 9 year old with a Sega Genesis, we have certainly come a long way.
At the time of this writing, summer has just kicked off. The sounds of weed whackers and the smell of fresh cut grass are penetrating my living room as I type. While I am being careful as to not wish the summer away, I thought it was a good time to look ahead at what is hopefully to come in the next release(s) for the franchise that has become so deep rooted into our contemporary world.
While having the exclusive NFL rights is a great thing for EA, I have never been a fan of any product not having competition. I believe it leads to complacency and ultimately the people that end up losing out are the consumers. I truly do believe that this has been the case for some iterations of the Madden franchise. In the recent past, some pockets of gamers have referred to the Madden release as simply being a $60 roster update. I would be lying if I did not feel similar when playing some of the versions from a few years ago. One can only wonder if this would still have been the sentiment from these gamers had EA had another studio pushing them to deliver the best possible product every year. Don’t get me wrong, the recent product has been good. I would like to see the product become great.
While the graphics and gameplay have greatly improved over the years, the one area in which I feel the franchise is lacking compared to some of the other sports games that have emerged over the years is the presentation aspect. Some gamers prefer an “arcade” style of play, whereas I believe most prefer a “simulation” style. When I pick up the controller on a rainy Saturday morning I want to feel like I am immersed into the sights, sounds and excitement of an NFL stadium on a Sunday afternoon. Other game franchises such as MLB: The Show and the NBA 2K series seem to be a step ahead at capturing the essence of their respective sports in this regard. With the Madden 18 release this year, EA seems to be taking a step in the direction of some of its gaming peers by introducing a new game engine, a new story mode, and some other bells and whistles. As of now, EA has not completely shown their hand with all the changes of this year’s edition, however, let’s take a look at some the known or rumored to be enhancements.
The Madden 18 release will mark the inaugural year in which EA Sports incorporates the Frostbite game engine into the franchise. For those fans of Battlefield and FIFA, this is great news. This should increase the level of realism in both the player likenesses as well as the stadiums and their surrounding views. This, coupled with authentic cut scenes, would be a leap forward in the presentation area. While simply “looking better” is a good move for any game, I would like to see this used to help capture the look and feel of a real NFL stadium on game day, not just polishing the existing visuals that leave us wanting something more.
Perhaps dove tailed with the inclusion of Frostbite, is the advertisement of new tunnel run outs and fireworks displays. This sounds good and all, but if these are simply generic cut scenes that are the same for every team/stadium, this is missing the mark. The pre-game activities, starting lineups, and in-game sights/sounds should mimic their real life counterparts as closely as possible. I have been fortunate enough to have attended many NFL games in several cities and each venue or team has their own special nuances that make them unique and spectacular. This is what should be the lifeblood of the Madden franchise. My fingers are crossed on this enhancement.
What appears to be a shameless bite from the NBA 2K franchise, is the addition of a story mode. The available trailer does not reveal much for this mode, but I think this has the potential to be a phenomenal feature, if done correctly. If done properly, this mode can be a great change of pace from the standard “log in and play games” approach of a lot of sports games. I get the feeling that this is the flagship enhancement of Madden 18. Although I am not a fan of getting too far away from the root of the game, which is playing seasons/games both online and off, this could add a refreshing take on a franchise that is long in the tooth. I am cautiously optimistic with this addition.
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While on the surface this appears to be bite from MLB: The Show and it’s daily roster exhibition mode, I am very much holding my breath that it is much more than that. This mode appears to allow you the ability to play games with real world updates to depth charts and rosters. In and of itself, this is a pretty cool feature. However, what I have always longed for in the Madden franchise is the ability to do this in a season mode. Meaning, as you progress through your season, the rosters/depth charts update to reflect what they were at the time the real life game was played. If Le’veon Bell smokes some of the green stuff and is suspended for 4 games in real life, he would be suspended for those same 4 games in your Madden season. This would add an intricate layer to Madden representing the real NFL. Of course, applying this feature to a season should be optional as some gamers like to create their own NFL worlds. For those like me who like things to be as authentic as possible, this would be a dream come true.
One of the gameplay enhancements in this release appears to be “target passing”. This looks to provide you the ability to not just throw at a receive and allowing the AI to decide the path of the ball, but allowing you to throw at a particular spot on the field like a real NFL QB does on timing routes. At first blush, this enhancement sounds good to me. Although, I will need to see how it is implemented as this could overcomplicate passing the football if implemented incorrectly. In prior versions, I still felt like the passing game needs a lot of work and hopefully this is a step in the right direction. I still tend to find myself throwing a lot of interceptions versus the AI, and perhaps this will allow myself to have more control and prevent some of the bad interceptions that plague me every year.
Another gameplay enhancement appears to be the ability to give a player an assignment. So, if you would like matchup your best cover corner with the opponents best wide receiver, you now have that option. This option sounds very good to me and can play into the overall game strategy you deploy on a game to game basis. If I am interpreting the above correctly, this should be pretty straight forward to use.
In addition to the Arcade and Simulation game modes, there is a rumored to be Online Multiplayer game mode which would allow 2-6 players play in the same online game. This sounds interesting if you have a group of buddies that all would like to play on the same team during online play. For me personally, I am not sure that this mode appeals to me as I tend to stick more toward the offline season mode and online league mode. For those clamoring for this enhancement, this release appears to be your chance.
All of that said, while I feel we could be heading toward great with the Frostbite engine and gameplay enhancements, I would be remiss to not mention where I fear Madden 18 will fall short and some of notable items that are not listed on this year’s features.
I am going to hammer home what I mentioned throughout this article and that is presentation, presentation, presentation. Therein lies the area that will allow EA to get the most bang for their buck as the gameplay itself is stable and mostly solid. What has been long missed in the Madden franchise is the concept of in game highlights from other NFL games occurring that week. If you are in the middle of a game during your season, you should be stopped to watch a big play that just happened in another game. This would add to the realism and overall excitement to playing the game. With today’s hardware capabilities, it seems like an enhancement that is just waiting to be implemented.
Another presentation feature that is missing is the concept of a weekly “SportsCenter” type of show that goes through all the games of that week and shows stats/highlights. This was attempted in previous versions of Madden, but it fell short at the time. With the latest improvements in hardware/software capabilities, a more complete version should be feasible.
All in all, Madden 18 is showing to have a lot of promise and is potentially heading down the path from good to great. I still think we are a few years away from seeing this game become everything a football fan hopes and dreams of, but as long as the game is trending in the right direction, we can start to feel good about where it is heading. The Story Mode will either become part of our annual excitement or it could simply become a “remember when Madden tried this?” joke. Either way, I cannot wait to find out. In the next coming weeks/months leading up to the release, we will be treated with more official news on Madden 18 and hopefully this game becomes one of the better iterations in the last decade or so. Until then, throw some brats and burgers on the grill, and enjoy all that summer has to offer.
This community submitted article was written and submitted by Tim Kern. If you would like to have an article featured on Mammoth Gamers, please contact us for consideration.