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Last year’s Madden NFL 18 revitalized the series with its use of the Frostbite engine, but you know what really made is stand out? Its Longshot story mode.

Following childhood friends Devin Wade and Colton Cruise, it provided a genuinely heartwarming tale that really was a nice surprise. It also carefully balanced interesting gameplay challenges with cutscenes and had a branching story that changed depending on your performance and dialogue choices. Even if you didn’t like American football that much, there was a good chance you still might have enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Longshot Homecoming; Madden NFL 19‘s story mode that is crushingly disappointing.

1st down

My Madden NFL 18 Longshot playthrough ended with Devin Wade being drafted by the Green Bay Packers, while Colton Cruise was ever hopeful that he’d receive a call. And so with Madden NFL 19‘s Longshot Homecoming continuing their story, I hoped it would pick up exactly where the last game left off. Instead, I was disappointed to find that it skips forward a bit, largely eradicating your progress. In Longshot Homecoming, Devin Wade has quickly been dropped by the team that initially drafted him, and now plays for the Houston Cowboys. Colton Cruise, on the other hand, is now trying to make it as a singer-songwriter, though he’s still waiting for that call from the NFL.

Both struggling to keep their heads afloat, despite the gulf of success between then, the game wants you to feel for them both. It does so in such a ham-fisted way though, that it’s hard to. This time, Devin Wade’s story takes a bit of a backseat, allowing Colton Cruise to be the star. The trouble is, the sequence of events is so clichéd and rushed that they have no real impact. Longshot Homecoming moves from one scene to the next, sometimes trying to be funny but missing the mark, other times trying to be heartfelt but failing because it tries too hard.

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Interception

What really soured me on Longshot Homecoming, however, are the changes to its gameplay. Branching dialogue paths have been removed, making it a largely passive experience. Though saying that, you do spend more time actually playing football, but not in a fun way. The original Longshot story mode had you completing a number of challenges and playing football on an Army base. It also integrated quick time events into some of its football sequences and had enjoyable banter between players. Longshot Homecoming has none of that. It pretty much just has you making soulless plays, and if you fail to score a touchdown, it’s time to try again.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the act of playing American football felt as tight as it does in the game’s other modes, but it feels scrappier. Matches are boringly presented, largely thanks to the zoomed out camera, and the animation of players seems troubled, with them frequently walking into each other at the end of plays and then glitching out. Longshot Homecoming’s gameplay sections should have been fun, but I largely found them dull and frustrating. I just wanted them to end so I could progress the story; I never felt that way playing Longshot in Madden NFL 18.

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A few good calls

Thankfully, away from Longshot Homecoming, Madden NFL 19 is otherwise a great game. Not a massive amount has changed since last year’s outing, but there are multiple gameplay refinements and new features to draw in longtime fans. The biggest change on the field is undoubtedly the new enhanced control, which gives the game more fluidity and makes the action look more realistic than ever. It also makes running with the ball more of a viable and attractive proposition. Some players will also appreciate the ability to choose your own celebration when scoring a touchdown.

Mode-wise, it’s perhaps Madden Ultimate Team that has seen the most substantial changes. Upgrading your players is now easier than ever, thanks to being able to do so directly from the player’s card rather than having to go through a myriad of menus. Player progression has also been streamlined due to the introduction of training – a new currency type primarily obtained by selling items you don’t need. It’s the introduction of Solo Battles that stands out the most though. Don’t feel comfortable taking on other players online? Now you don’t need to. Instead, you can play against other players’ teams who are controlled by the CPU.

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Franchise mode has also been given a little bit of a freshen up this year. Alongside a new draft class creator, there are more meaningful additions such as player archetypes and coach schemes, all allowing you to drive the progression of your team down the path of your choosing. There are plenty of little changes too, such as enhanced environments, more player rating categories and the development trait, which determines how much XP players gain from training and playing games. Overall, franchise mode doesn’t feel all that different, but it’s undoubtedly more involving for those who want it to be.

Touchdown

Madden NFL 19 is more of an evolution than a revolution then, but what else did anyone expect? It’s a refinement of last year’s effort with further graphical prowess, more fluidity and a sprinkling of new features. It’s just a shame that its Longshot Homecoming mode is such a let-down. If you’re an avid Madden player then there’s probably enough for you here to make it a worthwhile purchase. Those who just play casually, however, and were banking on Longshot Homecoming being another solid single-player experience, may be better off sticking with Madden NFL 18 for another year until it feels like there are more meaningful developments on the table.

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