I’m gonna just be talking about the story mode because it’s the only thing anyone would be interested in and because it’s the only thing worth reviewing beyond “It’s Madden but looks nicer and has some good and bad additions just like every single other year”. I’m not the type to pretend new sports games don’t add things – Madden especially does a lot, just the majority of it isn’t really that in-your-face. This time around though it actually is, they’ve added a full narrative mode that puts you in the shoes of someone trying to get their big break into the NFL…through a reality TV show.
Actually, one quick note about the game as a whole. Somehow I didn’t know, but apparently Big Boi, Killer Mike, and Jeezy did a song with fucking Hatsune Miku as the intro and the back track the entire time and it made it into this game. Not only is it good, it’s hilarious especially when it comes on after a bunch of fuck awful Drake and that no-talent fucking retard Kendrick’s shit tracks where he can’t even pronounce basic English properly even by rapper (not to say Kendrick Lamar is a rapper) standards to the point it’s less believable as a fluent English speaker than the worst of Engrish. BESH! BE AMBO! BESH! BE AMBO!!!! Really great shit, wish I could dab incorrectly to such powerful lyrics that literally were praised as some of the best in all music history by the mainstream. Then out of nowhere this comes on and it’s fucking great.
Anyway, if you’ve seen any football themed movies or TV shows this is really easy to explain – it’s like one of those but it lets you interact with it. Football fiction is all very similar but in great ways; they all carry a lot of emotional and dramatic story beats mixed with some comedy and loads of incredibly tense and exciting power moments on the field to accompany it and visually represent the development or drama in a character’s life. They are always stories of characters and/or moral tales, rarely are they actually about the sport itself, and very surprisingly this is no different. This isn’t an extended tutorial of the game, this isn’t a sloppily thrown together thing that totally misses the point, and it’s definitely not about the game of gridiron football nor does it ever forget that it isn’t.
I think the most important thing to say early though is that this is absolutely not just a game for people who like or care about football or play these games, much like the movies and TV shows I just mentioned it’s about the characters with football only there as a vehicle to move that story forward and trigger and show development within those characters. It’s suitable for anybody just like how things like Friday Night Lights (both the movie and the completely different show) or Remember The Titans are things that absolutely everyone loves or could love if they actually gave them a chance without turning away on the assumption they’re for sports fanatics. To double down on that idea, the story rarely features gameplay that is what Madden actually has you doing in the real game – they instead developed specific gameplay elements for this mode and cut a lot of others down into simpler and easier to digest things and will often not let you fail (or will give you infinite tries to pass and continue the story).
There are a few points you do play some genuine Madden but even then it’s heavily modified – mostly being 7-on-7 games which play very differently from the real 11-11 and without you ever calling your own plays aside for the very short last bit of the final chapter. Aside from that you’ve got a handful of special moments where you basically do QTEs during a play and can a few times (hilariously) control the ball mid-flight a little bit to avoid a defender and land perfectly in the hands of your receiver. Other things include simply moving the ball to where the receiver will be and picking which one is clearly not being defended, and some even educational to the player such as a test your coach gives you to recall a play he tells you while he explains each part of that play to you (both Devin as well as the player), explaining something most people have no clue about. Including me, and I played the sport…though I was a lineman so that explains why I had no idea what the fuck any of the shit being said meant.
Most of the ‘gameplay’ however comes in a much simpler form – it’s just dialogue options. You might not know it but those can totally be done really badly or really good, here I think they hit the right original Mass Effect level of it giving you a short idea of what he’s going to say and being very accurate to that instead of picking the option that says “politely decline” only to get your character telling a cringey joke and insulting someone before leaving without a word. Here you get what you expect, and that’s actually very important because the decisions feel like they mean something to you thanks to the really well done storytelling. You don’t want to end up saying some fucked up thing to Colt during a heated moment just because you picked the wrong choice, you’d feel terrible for it, and you don’t want to disappoint the coach by choosing something by mistake either. That isn’t to say every choice is obvious for the ‘right’ answer, just that you at least understand what your character is going to do with that choice.
Everyone in this game feels so real, relatable, and believable as human beings instead of coming off awkward and like actors wearing suits covered in dots and a stick attached to their mocapped body and face that has a sensor on the end blocking their eyesight. No, they feel like people, and that goes for EVERYONE. The only character that feels like a made up caricature is the TV executive who is over the top in how much of a cocksucker he is – it’s played up for comedy and it works well with most of his scenes being so fucking stupid on purpose that you laugh but it also makes him feel the most created out of all of them. At one point he even purposefully botches a very famous Friday Night Lights (TV) quote to be an asshole…to the guy played by the actor from the show, which was pretty fun.
They do a fantastic job of developing everyone – especially Devin as well as the all important CHEMISTRY between him and Colt – and of storytelling in general. The early chapters especially are great about mixing in flashbacks at good times and really building up who Devin Wade IS and WHY you should care about him. You learn all about his childhood from pop warner to high school and even play some of it – which is extra fun given EA went the extra mile and, for the high school game parts, actually had some very authentic (probably just actually real) southern local high school sports commentators record commentary – you learn about his super tight bond with Colt (and about Colt himself plenty as well) and why you should care about HIM, you learn about the death of Devin’s father and how traumatic it still is for him to deal with, about him joining the Army to run away from his shame and his loss, and about how it all circled around and he ended up at an NFL Combine (basically a place to show off to scouts in hopes of being hired by a team) which lead to being on the show the game mode is titled for: “Longshot”.
It’s not just Devin, his dad, and Colt with development though – one of the most touching moments comes through probably my favorite character: Coach Ford. This is the guy the television show hires to train the Longshot, a coach fired from the NFL and essentially blacklisted. You learn his story later in the game after he opens up to Devin to explain and apologize for something he does (well, doesn’t do) earlier, but it again is about more than the sport itself and more about how easy it is to become a monster who forgets those you have authority over are still human beings. I’m amazed the NFL didn’t make them cut this part out (they’re notorious for coming down hard on anything negative about the sport even in fiction) because while it isn’t just about the sport, it definitely also is clearly a statement on how so many rookies are – to quote Ford – “abused” by their coach or team managers/owners and end up completely destroying lives and careers for it because they see them as a gear and not a living being. To have a character in an NFL controlled and sanctioned video game outright talk about that is pretty big, kind of like how officially licensed cars being damaged in video games is a fairly new thing for similar reasons.
Practically all of the characters in the game carry the theme of regret with them, even ones who are barely there like the Army captain who helped Devin get back into football. He’s only there a very short bit, but you learn his story as well and it’s just enough to make you care about him and also see how his story relates to the main plot and theme. The only exceptions are Devin’s little entourage from his home town who are just good guys who want to see their hometown hero (and second best Colt) rise to fame.
It manages all this without feeling campy about it either, it definitely makes sure you understand the theme and morals but it handles it without making it like an old after school special. Nor does it ever feel phoned in or like it was just a lazy attempt to try and get a new audience or feature ghost-homies like that retarded basketball game story that Spike Lee directed.
It is important to mention that there ARE multiple endings – including bad ones – I got what I’d call the normal ending; Devin got drafted by the Packers within the last 4 draft picks of the year, but sadly I wasn’t able to get Colt into the NFL. I wasn’t totally satisfied as I liked Colt, but they still give you a few “where are they now?” style sentences before the final short scene and credits to make it feel less shitty for letting your buddy down. The endings for Devin are based around his scouting report…but I’m not entirely sure how to make sure Colt gets drafted – especially while getting yourself drafted, as there are absolutely endings where Devin just doesn’t make it. It’s likely balancing being a good boy for the report while also making sure to keep Colt as much in the spotlight as yourself, but I’m not sure. The scout report is based some on your gameplay performances during the bits you actually play but also heavily based on the dialogue choices you make throughout the narrative. While you can’t make those easier, if you aren’t familiar with Madden I’d definitely put it on easy – at least I assume the main game option will carry over to it but I can’t say for sure. At worst you can just use a guide and hope you don’t suck shit at the game parts.
I found Longshot to be overall a celebration of the sport and often of America itself in a time where most big figures, especially the NFL, are not allowed to feel any sort of positivity toward their nation. This is a time in history where you have players disrespecting the flag, the President, and even more directly the entirety of law enforcement (even wearing cops-as-pigs socks to practices when the media was there) simply to make sure they get more time on TV and thus better negotiating power when trying to lengthen their multi-million dollar contracts (hilariously nobody wants the most infamous of these people because he just so happens to be COMPLETE SHIT at the sport and always was, so he gained nothing and even lost his multi-million dollar job!). It’s disgusting, and this game feels like the NFL staff that work alongside the EA people made it clear they wanted this to not only lack any political stuff but also be clearly pro-American like an old Chevy commercial and to be about overcoming actual adversity and not pretend manufactured adversity created for political purposes or attention whoring reasons. Same reason they included a literal hand-rubbing Jew TV executive who is an absolute objective piece of shit to completely slam on the whole time – and why they didn’t mind including a woman…as long as she didn’t overcome the man in a sport made for men, which she doesn’t and is only around for about 3 minutes anyway. They’re tired of all the bullshit especially now that they’re destroying the game in real life to appease people in various ways.
You’ve got a pair of best friends from a nowhere town in Texas one of them being an Army veteran and the other owning a beat up pick-up truck, you’ve got an acting cast that almost all played football in college or professionally – and at the very least in high school – including some as famous and important to the sport’s history as Dan Marino from the golden era of the sport and Ochocinco (who has one of the most fun small joke bits later in the game) both of which play themselves, and you’ve even got a whole part of the game where you play 7-on-7 in an active army base in Dubai. Colt even becomes a country singer if he doesn’t get drafted, and a bit through the story he even makes a tune about the two of you becoming pros with his geeturr. The only thing the game is missing from MURRICA is a lot more alcohol, guns, and at least 1 dog.
The amount of work and time put into this really shows and absolutely paid off. I honestly have to recommend playing through the story – not buying Madden for it if you aren’t into gridiron football any time soon, but maybe many years down the line when it’s an old sports game and thus very cheap. I beat the story in one long sitting and it was I think around 4 hours long so know that going in as well. Again, if you aren’t into football find a copy of this on ebay or something for 5 dollars or even less in the future, it’s not worth spending 15+ for 4 hours even though they’re a good 4 hours.
Hell, there’s probably a ‘movie version’ someone had to have made by now you could just watch as a long film, though “being” Devin really does work to add a lot to how much things matter or don’t but if you have no intention of ever playing no matter what then maybe just look for something like that on youtube. If you do enjoy the sport, or at least playing video games of it, then this still has all the regulars of Madden and all of them are as good as ever so you’d probably be fine buying it now for Madden with this as a really nice bonus on the side.
Anyway, it goes without saying…or I supposed with everything I’ve been saying; I actually REALLY liked this and absolutely hope that Madden continues in this direction instead of adding more retarded My Ultimate Team bullshit. I’ve always enjoyed the games, but for ages now I was hoping for something like this – hell, even simpler, just some more narrative to be added to the franchise mode or something like the old college games where you felt your player had ‘character’ – and this did WAY BETTER than I ever would have expected from a fucking Madden story mode.
It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s dramatic, it’s genuine and had real work and love put into it, the writing is good, the acting is good, it makes you really care about these characters and creates genuinely touching moments from that, and it was just an overall really good story presented in a great way that managed to make what would be just “another football movie” into something deserving a bit higher praise than that especially with how it managed so well to mix a “movie” with legitimate bits of specially made gameplay elements that actually worked at deepening the experience and never felt jarring. It’s also just something without anything else like it in gaming, but I hope that changes. I’m not saying go hire fucking Telltale to make the next Madden (or even just the story mode), but maybe instead of focusing so much on a pay to win loot box mode that doesn’t even serve a purpose because you can just make custom rosters they could put that effort into more of this in the future releases.