Do you like the sounds of a mix between demolition derby and chess? Because if you do, then you might enjoy the great sport known as American Football. Back again with its yearly instalment of the Madden franchise, EA Sports proudly brings us the 30th game in the series to date. With the opportunity arising to review Madden 19, I couldn’t turn it down after the announcements of the second season of Longshot as well as improved gameplay to boot. I enjoyed Madden 18 last year, so I was keen to see how precisely 19 stacked up against its predecessor.
As someone who considers himself a sports game connoisseur at this juncture in my life, I was intrigued by the continuation of the Longshot story with Longshot: Homecoming. While being aware that FIFA had done the same thing previously, I’m not a fan of the series, so I haven’t encountered this situation until now. Straight from the outset, I loved the feeling of familiarity in being dropped straight back into the story of Devin Wade and his best friend Colt Cruise. At this point in the series, Devin has been signed to the short-list of the Dallas Cowboys in the off-season while Colt is splitting his time between his music and trying to make it onto an NFL list after his exposure on the Longshot TV show. I wasn’t sure what direction they would take the second season, but without spoiling too much, I’m nothing short of impressed with how EA Tiburon has upped the ante with their storytelling and managed to both stay true to the original and shift the dynamic into a whole new area. The story cuts to the core of so many emotions and feelings that people live with in everyday life and comes off as both sincere and poignant while telling the story of discovery and realisation that harkens back to the sports movies of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Kudos to the development team as well, with the balance between cinematics and scenario play being much better than we saw in the first season.
Adversely, I’m disappointed that the decision-making system that was present in the first season is nowhere to be found, as it lends far less emphasis to the reporting system. While the developers tried to take a more comedic approach this time around with the “fan site” report card, it has diminished the feeling of autonomy in gameplay and shaping your “own” Devin Wade. It’s also still affected by the assumption that players are veteran Madden players, and so there’s a level of power imbalance that is disheartening at times when you’re unable to execute a proper scoring drive and fail a challenge. I understand the need for realism and balance, but I do feel the difficulty system could be tweaked a little more to cater to newer players.
Can we talk about polish for a second, though? Because far out, Madden 19 has stepped up and offered an even better gameplay experience. With the introduction of real player motions, this allows you to execute better blocking in defence as well as make smoother cuts with your players during drives. Touchdown celebrations have also been added back into the game, which is the aesthetic icing on the cake in my opinion. It’s a fundamental element of the showmanship of American football and adds to the personality of the game. For longtime fans, it likely also plays as a welcome re-addition since celebrations haven’t been part of the games since Madden NFL 09.
Alongside Longshot: Homecoming, changes have been made to Madden Ultimate Team such as the introduction of 3v3 online matchups as well as “Solo Battles.” Solo Battles focus on daily rewards for completing challenges and ranks you on a leaderboard against other players. This year, I invested a lot more time into Ultimate Team and found it to be very addictive. Collecting players and trying to improve my team to complete challenges gives a clear-cut play/reward system which feels like the proverbial hamster wheel. The chase of always wanting better cards like in other collectable card games is still an alluring and cyclically self-destructive pattern to become caught up in if you’re likely to spend money on virtual currency. Taking into account the existing foundation they’ve perfected and these new additions, however, Marvel Ultimate Team offers a level of enjoyment that is parallel to Longshot but provides an entirely different experience. Coupled with the always fundamental Exhibition/Franchise modes and more, Madden continues to become a well-rounded experience for all different types of fans and game mode enthusiasts.
While a majority of the talent from Longshot Season 1 were back for Homecoming, Mahershala Ali was absent while newcomers included Adam Sandler BFF/collaborator Rob Schneider (Hot Chick, Deuce Bigalow), young star Joey King (Slender Man, Independence Day: Resurgence) and TV star Ron Cephas Jones (Luke Cage, Mr Robot). The stand-out in my eyes, however, was the performance of Barry Corbin in his return as Mathis Bullfrogs coach Hank Jamison, who delivered a level of gravitas this year which highlighted the messages that Longshot: Homecoming is imparting. Once again, the soundtrack also comes littered with current famous musicians such as Post Malone, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj and Pusha T amongst others which add that extra level of adrenaline that you’d experience watching a game on TV or live in person. Rounding out a stellar cast and well-curated soundtrack is the incredible run on the Frostbite graphics engine, which makes Madden NFL 19 pop in a current generation of visually striking games.
Hot damn, I’m even more impressed this year than I was the last. EA took the blueprint for what made Madden 18 great and continued to add building blocks to the formula which were necessary to get it to the next level. With a seeming downswing for NBA games in a time of virtual currencies, Madden manages to offer an experience mostly apart from that which is highly enjoyable and detailed in scope. Will a new favourite sports series be taking up the mantle of king in the Shaw household? Only time will tell! But one thing’s for sure; the gap just closed one hell of a lot.