Madden 18’s Longshot story mode is cheesy football fun

During EA’s EA Press Play event back in June, they announced a story mode for Madden 18 called Longshot. Other than the 68-second trailer EA shared during the event, we didn’t know much about how the gameplay of the story mode would play out. Now that Madden 18 is in stores this week, we got a chance to check out Longshot, and it’s not bad for a first outing.

Texas pride

Longshot’s story follows Devin Wade as he tries to get into the NFL. Portrayed by former NFL running back J.R. Lemon, Wade was a Texas high school star quarterback with an incredibly successful high school career. He followed high school with a commitment to the University of Texas’ football program and a starting position at quarterback, which is a rarity for a freshman. Midway through his first season, however, Wade loses his father in a car accident and quits football to join the Army.

Fast forward to present time, Wade is back in the small house and small Texas town he grew up in with a new vigor, thanks to his pal Colt Cruise (portrayed by Friday Night Lights’ Scott Porter), and a re-dedication to football. The two friends take a road trip to Indiana for the NFL Combine with hopes of impressing NFL scouts enough to be considered an NFL Draft prospect.

After a day of working out and impressing a handful of folks, Wade is approached by a reality show producer about starring in their reality show, Longshot. The premise of the reality show is cameras follow the NFL hopeful’s every move as he trains, practices, and makes decisions with the hopes of raising his profile to become a valuable prospect during the NFL Draft. Of course, there’s twists and turns along the way that will either help or hinder his draft status.

Narrative sports

The gameplay of Longshot mimics Telltale’s style of storytelling where characters are put in different situations and given options on how to react or what to say. Most of the time choices were between a humble response or a brazen response and sometimes a neutral response. I tried to play it more on the humble side, encouraging friends, ignoring haters, and answering questions from the media with honesty instead of defensiveness. The game also has its fair share of QTE (quick time events) similar to a Telltale game, but luckily Longshot was able to separate itself from that aspect with other gameplay choices.

During training and on-field competitions, you’re given targets on a field that you’re supposed to hit in a specific amount of time. You’re given football IQ questions that you have to answer quickly. You’re given play calls you’re supposed to memorize. And being a Madden game, yes, you actually get to play football on both sides of the ball (albeit only as a quarterback and a safety). Whether you’re playing in a flashback from high school, a seven-on-seven match on a practice field, or the story’s finale, you’re tasked with completing specific goals with only a few minutes left on the clock. It may seem easy, but I failed some of the challenges on the first try and you’re not given the opportunity to try again. You just move along in the story, and your scout report moves up or down, affecting your draft status. I liked this aspect of the game and it made me want to play the game again to see if I could improve.

Got a story to tell

I was looking forward to seeing how the folks at EA Sports would approach the life of a professional athlete. These are guys willing to risk their health and life for our entertainment, sacrifice relationships and family to train, and keep going back for more after being cut from a team or overcoming an injury. I wanted to see the passion and the work an athlete has to put in in order for them to succeed and we get a bit of that with Longshot, even if it is sometimes a bit corny and at times annoying.

J.R. Lemon did a great job portraying Devin Wade and I look forward to see (or hear) more from him the future. Scott Porter as Colt Cruise on the other hand was a bit too much at times. I understand his role as a motivator and maybe agitator for Wade, but the loud “dudebro” schtick is a bit tired at this point. By the way, Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, Moonlight, House of Cards) plays Wade’s father, Cutter Wade, in the game but I felt like we didn’t get enough from him. The relationship between Wade and his father is one of the most important aspects of the main character, but we hardly feel any of the connection between the two. We get like a couple of moments of them together but it would have been nice to get more of that dynamic.

One aspect of the story that also didn’t sit well with me was the moments of when Wade is learning to be a quarterback again. For decades, there was a racial stigma around black quarterbacks in the NFL not being intelligent enough to run and command an offense, and were only glorified for their physicality and not their mental preparedness. Some of that is unintentionally perpetuated in Longshot. There are scenes in the game where Wade, a black quarterback, is trying to learn offensive schemes, but he just can’t get it. Other parts, like during the quizzes, he stumbles and pauses before answering simple questions about formations and player positions.

The story uses the excuse that since Wade hasn’t played a down of football in three years, he has forgotten everything and won’t be able to learn a playbook in time for the reality show’s big finale. That didn’t work for me. I don’t believe that a kid who was obsessed with football, had a successful high school career, and played in Division I NCAA football would not be able to pick up simple schemes for a reality show. There’s even a scene where Colt Cruise stops coach Jack Ford (portrayed by veteran voice actor Rus Blackwell who does an excellent job) and brings up the Carolina Panthers giving Cam Newton a watered down playbook so it’d be easier for him to grasp the team’s offense and that they should do the same for Wade. Come on, now.

Couple that with the fact that other than his father’s brief appearance, Wade is always the lone black person in the room. When he’s with his circle of friends, his coaches, the TV producers, and even his military sergeant, he’s always the only one. Can we diversify a bit, please?

Longshot gets a bit corny when it starts to include shout outs from real life NFL players, coaches, and analysts cheering Wade on as you approach the end of the game. Maybe it would have been better if the NFLers participated in the motion capture, but maybe not. They’re terrible actors that break the immersion of the game in the moments they make appearances. In addition to that, the NFL’s fascination with country music is maintained throughout the game, so much so that Colt writes a country song dedicated to Devin Wade about his time on Longshot like it’s an episode of Nashville. NFL fans like more than country music, guys.

Other than those few story missteps, I enjoyed Longshot and was invested in my performance as Devin Wade and was kind of intimidated by coach Jack Ford when he was handing out quizzes and plays. Overall, Longshot is a solid experience for Madden’s very first story mode. Although it’s a “vanilla” experience and doesn’t dig too deep into what means to be an athlete, it’s just enough to offer a feel good story with a happy ending. I’m looking forward to what they give us next year.